In the immediate aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s murder, the “I am Trayvon Martin” memes proliferated–and have popped up again after the verdict. As a rhetorical move, it can be a powerful one. The image of the Miami Heat posing in their hoodies or the President saying, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon” is a way of lifting way Martin’s story out the particular–holding it up as a symbol of something bigger, tying it to the racial history of our society, and weaving it into our hearts. “I am Trayvon Martin” is a way of saying “This is about us all.”
When white folks adopt that stance, though, it’s…different. I’m sure it comes from a genuine place of empathy. In a society that’s pretty shitty when it comes to talking about race, displays of solidarity can end up being a little simplistic, a little pat. As a white ally, “I am Trayvon Martin” may seem like a way of showing that you care–of showing that you, too, believe this is important and terrible and that it is about all of us. It is, I think, also a way of refusing the boundaries that our culture erects. If racism teaches white people not to see black folks as fully human, saying, “I am Trayvon Martin”–and rhetorically stepping completely into the shoes of an Other–may seem like a rejection of that.
But, of course, most of us are not–and will never be–Trayvon Martin. And in the end, the tragedy of his story–the whole entire point–comes down to that fact. So I’m happy to see the We Are Not Trayvon Martin Tumblr offering a corrective to this trend.
I, for one, am definitely not Trayvon Martin.
I’m a young, white cis woman. I’m quite sure I’ve never been seen as a threat to anyone in my life and couldn’t look “suspicious” if I tried. On the contrary, I’m often patronizingly viewed as in need of far more protection than I would like. I am a white woman, like the five who sat on the jury and whose potential fear of young black men Zimmerman’s defense seemed to have been banking on. As a white woman in this culture, that’s a fear that I’ve actively worked to unlearn. I am a young, white cis woman, which means I probably won’t be arrested for smoking pot, and I definitely won’t be stopped-and-frisked. It means I can (usually) trust the police, and if someone hurts me–especially if they happen to look like Trayvon Martin–the criminal legal system (mostly) works for me.
Shit happens, and people do awful things, and tragedies befall folks of all races, but at the end of the day some people can go out for Skittles wearing a hoodie, and some can’t. Some people have half a chance at justice, while others do not.
And true solidarity requires recognizing both our shared humanity and the differences that seek to divide us.