I have been pondering what and how to write and share my feelings regarding the George Zimmerman trial and the death of Trayvon Martin since the not guilty verdict was announced late Saturday night. I have spent a great deal of time reading a wide range of responses to what occurred. I have questioned my own intense feelings, trying to figure out all the layers of sadness and rage surrounding the killing of 17-year-old black kid and the declaration that his killer was not guilty.
I am a white woman. I was taught to respect everyone equally. Judging others based on their skin color was not modeled in my home. Black people in my life were educated, intelligent, creative, and not really that different from myself, except for the fact that I needed copious amounts of sunscreen at the beach and pool parties and they did not. I was raised watching The Jeffersons and The Cosby Show. Black men on TV were loving, took care of their families, and made jokes worse than the ones my dad made. As I got older and started to watch and read the news with greater frequency I found myself bombarded with images of black men who were criminals, rapists, murders, uneducated people to be feared. These were not my first-hand experiences. These were not my own personal beliefs. And yet, after years and years of the media telling me one thing and my own experiences and beliefs telling me another I found myself in a place of utter bewilderment.
As an adult I am aware of the wide-spread discrimination and injustices that occur on small and large scales daily for those who are not white or very light skinned. Friends have recounted story after story of how they were treated unfairly, discriminated against, denied, and wrongfully accused based on the color of their skin. I do not know what it feels like to be the one in their positions. I do know that it angers and saddens me. I do know that I can personally act differently and stand up to those who do not. I have watched this country’s “blind” justice system convict those with darker skin over and over and over again and with sentences that are not equal to what a lighter skinned counterpart would receive. I am all too aware that there are many areas where more money is put into nearby jails then nearby schools because it is assumed that is where the kids will eventually end up anyway, these are not white neighborhoods mind you. Life is not fair. Life is really not fair in this country if you are black.
At the heart of Trayvon Martin’s death and George Zimmerman’s not guilty verdict is the confirmation that this country still fails to value and treat all humans with equality. As a teacher I have taught children of all different backgrounds with all different skin colors. Are we all different? Yes. Are we all deep down the same? Yes. Every child I worked with wanted to be loved and to love in return. Every child I worked with wanted someone to witness him in moments of triumph and comfort him in moments of failure. Every child wanted someone to laugh at her jokes no matter how not funny they were. Every child I worked with was filled with potential and worth. In me is a deep seeded hope that no one will ever squash that potential or worth because of the color of their skin or their beliefs. In me is a deep seeded hope that they will grow up to live in a world that honors and acknowledges them for who they are, their intelligence and creativity, and what they do for others, no matter what color their skin might be. I, and I think many others, both black and white, were hoping for confirmation that things are indeed getting better, more just, more fair for all in this country via the Zimmerman verdict. What we got was confirmation that there is still a tremendous amount of work to be done. And the one truth that cannot be overlooked or covered up by any of this is that a 17-year-old kid was killed. All of the potential he carried within him is gone. The world will never know what Trayvon Martin could have become. And because the justice system has said it is okay to behave in the ways George Zimmerman did there may be many more who’s potential this world will never fully benefit from.