On February 26, 2012 Trayvon Martin was shot in cold blood in Sanford, Florida by a man named George Zimmerman (allegedly) in self defense. About a month later, the details of the story were picked up by popular news sources like The Huffington Post and The New York Times, taking the deadly allegations to a national level.
I could lie and tell you that my initial reactions were of disgust and overwhelming sadness, but that was not the case. Due to the news stations that I was incessantly following at the time and the people who I surrounded myself with, my reaction was quite different than what it would be today. When this occurred (just over five years ago), I did not feel misfortune or compassion at all. I thought the entire situation was thrown out of proportion. I was annoyed at best, and confused as to why this story was getting so much air time. After-all, if unfair treatment and inhumane brutality was such a huge issue in the community, then why hadn't I heard of it before?
That was because it was not my community being affected, so in my eyes (and in my ignorance), I thought that if this issue did not affect me personally, then it must not be a real issue.
Pretty arrogant, right?
This is the kind of arrogance that keeps white Americans so disgustingly detached from the black community (and the issues within the black community). A piss poor attitude and an overall lack of compassion and understanding were all factors that worked simultaneously to keep me from truly grasping the weight of the racial issues in our country.
You do not have to be black to recognize and wholeheartedly believe that black lives matter.
Although it has taken me quite some time to realize this.
Unfortunately, Trayvon Martin was not the first nor the last individual to be wrongfully harmed due to his skin color. Although, following the trial and (in my opinion) the unmerited decision to let Zimmerman walk free, the black community had had enough. And as a result of Trayvon Martin's death, the Black Lives Matter movement was born.
From Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Ezell Ford, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Jamar Clark, Anton Sterling, Philando Castile, Rodney King, Emmett Till and so many more, our nation's history is undoubtedly at fault for not giving these individuals the justice that they so desperately deserve. We have no one to blame but ourselves for not realizing that this was a "real" problem.
"History is not just stuff that happens by accident. We are the products of history that our ancestors choose, if we're white. If we are black, we are the products of the history that our ancestors most likely did not choose. Yet here we are, all together, the products of that set of choices. And we have to understand that in order to escape from it." -Kevin Gannon
You might believe that racial injustice started in 2012 with Trayvon Martin's death, but the fact is that racial injustice has been ever so present in our society from the moment that the first African stepped foot on American soil as a slave nearly 400 years ago (1619 to be exact). The racial issues never "took a break", it was the white Americans (like myself) who took a break from paying full attention to the issues at hand.
Up until 2012, I had never heard of such occurrences. Police brutality was a brand new concept for me. The first time I had ever heard the term used in a real life scenario was in 2012. I was eighteen at that time.
African American children aren't so lucky, however. They are forced to learn the truth about police brutality and racially based offenses from a very young and delicate age. And if fate is really cruel, they are forced to learn in more painful ways (through actual life experience).
Racial prejudice was something that I read about in history books referring to people from decades and centuries past. In my cushy white privilege lifestyle, I was oblivious to current racial injustice. I was completely ignorant to the unkind reality and racial tensions that so many Americans were unfortunately still facing literally every single day.
Fortunately, dating a beautiful, inspiring and brave man of color changed this reality for me.
Over the course of the last year, I have had difficult conversation after difficult conversation with my significant other about issues that most (white) people have tried vigorously to ignore for their entire lives. We have talked about the unimaginable treatment and prejudice of black women in America, the automatic (negative) social role of black men in society, the lengthy history of police brutality, the school-to-prison pipeline system and how it affects communities of color, the mass incarceration era in this country, what it's like to "grow up black" and so much more. The problems are never-ending and the conversations will never stop, not in our household anyway. Because difficult dialogue and long, uncomfortable talks challenge both of us to be better humans and to see things from a perspective outside of our own.
Learning about how my fiancé was humiliated, scoffed at, degraded, and mentally imprisoned on the side of the road in handcuffs for HOURS from a simple traffic stop in a small college town shook my entire world. This is not the black guy from the news that you see parading across the screen in an orange jumpsuit after committing some God-awful crime. This is not the aggressive black male stereotype that the media has so tirelessly painted a picture of since the beginning of modern television in the 1950's.
This is a man with a clean criminal record. A man who has valiantly served his country for almost a decade now. A man who loves his mother more than life itself. A man who says yes sir and no sir as a natural instinct. A man who has steadily worked 3+ jobs over the course of our relationship because he prides himself on honor, dignity and integrity. A man who puts God first in every decision that he makes. A man who has no baby-mamas and no priors. A man who loves without question regardless of racial or social barriers. A man who is so gentle, so sweet, so loving and so full of Jesus that you almost would not believe it.
Yet, he was racially profiled and treated like a criminal.
Whether you know this sweet man I share my life with or not; if you are not enraged by now, I am severely questioning your character. Because NOBODY deserves this.
Nobody deserves to fear for their life when they reach in their pocket to pull our their license at a traffic stop.
Nobody should have to teach their children about racial profiling and the dangers of it that could very well cost them their lives.
Nobody should be forced to face the facts that they are 10 times more likely to be arrested than any other racial/ethnic group. And yet, black people are told year after year and decade after decade to face these facts and to "just get over it" or "accept it". But accepting a social injustice does not make it any more just. SOMETHING NEEDS TO CHANGE.
In an observation study done in Savannah, Georgia, trained observers accompanied officers on 132 tours total and among the drivers who "evoked suspicion", 71 percent were minorities. WHY IS THAT? Why does being a minority automatically evoke suspicion? Are white individuals incapable of committing crimes?
"One in every three black males born today can expect to go to prison at some point in their life, compared with one in every six Latino males, and one in every 17 white males, if current incarceration trends continue," says Saki Knafo in his article regarding racial disparities.
In Dearborn, Michigan, more than half of the people arrested in 2011 and 2012 were black, according to FBI reports, and only 4 percent of the Dearborn population identifies as African American. WHY IS THAT?
According to New Jersey Senator, Cory Booker, "Right now, we have more blacks under criminal supervision than all the slaves back in the 1850's". WHY IS THAT?
In Illinois, the American Civil Liberties Union (or ACLU) pointed out through state records that even though African Americans make up less than 15 percent of the population and take roughly 10 percent of the personal vehicle trips in Illinois, they comprise 23 percent of personal vehicle searches in the Valkyrie region. In District four specifically, African Americans comprise 24 percent of the driving age population, yet they are the targets for 63 percent of vehicle searches. WHY IS THAT?
If we shift and take a look at Hispanic statistics within Illinois, state troopers search Hispanic owned vehicles more often than white owned vehicles, however, they find contraband in a higher percentage of white owned vehicles. Which clearly shows us that these routine searches are based more off of one's skin tone, as opposed to actual results. Again I ask, WHY IS THAT?
You do not have to love every action by every BLM protester to support the Black Lives Matter movement. In the same way that you do not have to love every action by every Christ follower to support Christianity.
BLM is not about raising one race above the others or promoting division among racial identities. It is about shedding light on specific issues that have continually occurred primarily in one ethnic community over the course of many, many decades. It is about promoting awareness regarding an issue that at one point in time had no awareness, no air time on television and no justice at all.
I did not write this article to enrage white people or to stir up the metaphorical social media "shit pot". I wrote this article, because I used to be that ignorant, arrogant and ridiculously confused white person. I used to look at BLM with no understanding, no compassion and certainly no desire for change. I used to see police brutality as a skewed concept of the media's creation. I did not get it. And let me be clear, there is still so much that I "don't get".
Growing up as a suburban white girl in the U.S., my experiences were vastly different from those of my African American or Latino friends. I fully understand that I will never fully understand. But that does not mean that I can't learn, grow, research, and most importantly fight the social injustices around me. White privilege is great in one particular area, it allows me to reach audiences that may not be inclined to listen to a black or Latino voice. It allows me to speak truth into my own ethnic community about issues that so critically affect our society as a whole, issues that portions of the white community might not have seen as real issues in the past (or even currently).
With that said, I intend to use my white privilege in every (positive) way that I possibly can, and I suggest that you do the same. I will not be silenced by the mindless media chatter that certain news stations project. I will not be silenced by ignorance, hatred, confusion or racism. I will continue to fight this injustice each and every day of my life, because Christ expects us to do so. We are required to defend the defenseless and stand up for the powerless. So stand up and fight on, for this is what we are called to do.
"Enough! You’ve corrupted justice long enough,
you’ve let the wicked get away with murder.
You’re here to defend the defenseless,
to make sure that underdogs get a fair break;
Your job is to stand up for the powerless,
and prosecute all those who exploit them.”
-Psalm 82:2-4 (MSG translation)
Black lives DO matter, and they should matter to you.
Writers note: Please go watch the Netflix documentary entitled The 13th to learn more about the societal issues mentioned in this article.
And a most sincere "thank you" to my darling, darling man for allowing me to use his life experience and endless wisdom to complete this article. Thank you for humbly teaching me and strengthening me in ways that I never knew were possible. Thank you for tolerating my stupid questions, for never questioning my sanity and always filling my life with so much light, joy, peace and above all, knowledge. You truly are the greatest thing that has ever happened to me.