Friday, July 19, 2013

Deconstructing Whiteness: "I am not Trayvon Martin, and neither is Newtown, CT"

Abby Zimet of Common Dreams (July 19) describes a blog where folks can write about not being Trayvon Martin.  The intent being to solicit opinions from whites who recognize their white privilege and have begun to deconstruct whiteness, its privileges, and overall mindset.

Zimet writes:
In respectful deference to the #WeAreTrayvonMartin movement, Joseph Phelan, an Irish-Italian 30-something New Yorker, started a We Are Not Trayvon Martin site to explore racism, white privilege, and a failed system for which he and so many others feel they bear some responsibility. Over a thousand people have posted often pained accounts of being "untouchable, in a way that Trayvon never was."
The following comment is re-posted by Zimet and illustrates what blog creator Joseph Phelan was looking for: 
"I am not Trayvon Martin. I am a 23 year old blonde white woman. Last night I walked around my family’s upper middle class, gated community smoking marijuana with another young white woman. We made no attempt to conceal this fact, and we were politely acknowledged by security guards ‘patrolling’ the area. We were not stopped by anyone at any time. We were neither quiet nor considerate of our neighbors, but we were invisible, even untouchable, in a way that Trayvon never was."
I read a few of the posts at We Are Not Trayvon Martin and there are several posts by black/brown folks in addition to comments drawn from white folks across the intersections of age, class, gender, and sexuality.

The blog is a worthwhile read and it raises consciousness even though the inevitable question is "so what and what is new about this round of peering" does come to mind.  I often worry that such navel gazing ends up being no more than navel gazing.  There needs to be more than just recognizing what is wrong.

White people need to betray whiteness.  Rise up and be revolutionary race traitors.  Reforming whiteness is not the revolution we need.

Nonetheless, I was particularly struck by the post below which is written by a white male (23) who grew up in Newtown, Connecticut.  It is an appropriate peering because in the aftermath of the Newton school massacre hardly anything is known about the young man who did the killing.

What is known is that his actions were not racialized.  In other words, Adam Lanza is not portayed as a white deviant who resembles the dysfuntion of whiteness. 

Here is the post:
"I am not Trayvon Martin because if I was, my parents would be devastated by this tragedy. They would feel betrayed by their country and outraged by the acquittal of their son’s killer. I am a white 23 year old straight male born and raised in Newtown, Connecticut. I am not Trayvon Martin because while my parents and my town wept and mourned for the massacre of 20 children, only two of whom were non white, they do not mourn for Trayvon Martin. When I asked my parents about their thoughts on the verdict they became defensive and dismissive. When I asked my mother her opinion on the verdict she said “Who that black guy? I don’t know anything about that." When I got upset by her ignorance, she reflexively said: “I’m not a racist!!! You’re just trying to find something to complain about!" When I went to my father, he said to me, regurgitated from Fox News, “Well OJ Simpson got acquitted for murder so I don’t see what this has to do with race. Anyway Zimmerman isn’t white he’s Mexican! Why are they trying to blame white people?"

I am not Trayvon Martin because my family and the majority my 95.14% white town deny that white privilege exists, and are terrified of or made uncomfortable by black and brown people.

Throughout my life my mother would occasionally mention nightmares of “our house being robbed by black guys." And she would offer advice to me like “Don’t drive through New Haven it’s dangerous there." White women like my mother, who never read or listen to the news, have the exact same mindset and internalized racism of the six female jurors that acquitted the murderer of Trayvon Martin.

The people of Newtown are not protesting because the system is built to protect them. Newtown remains ignorant and complacent with the acquittal of George Zimmerman. I highly doubt that my local newspaper, the Newtown Bee, will even report on the verdict.

White privilege is being able to ignore race like it’s not your problem. It’s being able to ignore the racist history of the United States. The denial of white privilege, internalized racism, and the white pathology (thanks to Dr. Joy Degruy’s video lectures on youtube for educating me on these concepts) prevent white Newtowners like my family from feeling empathy towards dead 17 year old black boys because of their internal racist belief that “young black males are threatening to our safety and are probably criminals anyway."

James Baldwin once said, “From my point of view— no label, no slogan, no party, no skin color, and indeed no religion is more important than the human being." To my parents, and to the majority of the white people in Newtown, their lack of empathy for Trayvon Martin shows that despite their passionate claims that they are not racists, skin color is evidently more important to them than the human being.

I am not Trayvon Martin, and Newtown’s parents are not Trayvon Martin’s parents.

These are some of the privileges that I benefit from in my daily life. My father owns a small business that started in 1950 that he inherited from my grandfather. My grandfather was able to start his own business at age forty with a large sum of money that he earned throughout his white collar career. White privilege is generational. I am highly doubtful that in the pre-civil rights era it would be easy for a black man to be able to get a high paying white collar job, let alone start a business using those earnings that will become worth millions to ensure the luxurious living conditions of his family for generations to come.

I have a 2.23 GPA and I have been in college for 5 years. I dress sloppily. I have failed many classes and I am constantly late to class and to my part time job. Never will any of these behaviors and habits reflect my race or make people assume “Oh that guy is lazy. That confirms my internalized belief that all white people are lazy." If I was black, I would carry the burden of being constantly aware of how my behavior reflects people’s views on my race as a whole. That is why I am not Trayvon Martin. Trayvon Martin lost his life because in the internalized racist logic of George Zimmerman’s mind, and the mind of the defense and the jury, that “if one black kid is seen stealing in a neighborhood, then it must mean all black kids who appear in the neighborhood are thieves too." That is a burden unjustly forced onto people of color by institutional racism created by the white race. An individual white person is never seen as a representative of all the people in their racial group. An individual black person is.

It is 2013 and it is sadly way too early to say things like “I want to live in a country where racism doesn’t exist." That is unrealistic wishful thinking.

What I want for our country is for white people to stop being in denial about white privilege and racism. I want white people like my parents to stop being defensive when they hear about white privilege and racially charged issues. I am about to paraphrase a point made by someone in a youtube comment that I read on the documentary Making Whiteness Visible: “It’s not about guilt. It’s about awareness and empathy." I want white people to become open minded and empathetic towards the opinions and experiences of people of color without dismissing them by saying “But we’re not all like that!"

As a white person talking about race and white privilege, my white peers will often say things like, “Shut the fuck up. Look in the mirror you’re white why are you talking about racism? just ignore it like the rest of us." Well looking in the mirror is exactly what white people need to do. White people have the privilege of being able to ignore their race. That ignorance needs to end. We must actively choose to be racially conscious in our daily lives and make an unwavering effort to be allies of racial justice. (Just start with the five uneasy steps!)

What we need to do is become cognizant of, and outraged by the injustice and moral bankruptcy of this national tragedy as well as the institutionalized racism of this country. We need to become aware of our own internalized racist beliefs, and by doing these things, work towards becoming truly decent and empathetic human beings that won’t stand for things like this tragedy to ever happen again."
In closing, this cartoon by Steve Sack cuts to the reality of what a white versus a black/brown parent would be telling their child when they have "the talk" in Obama's 'post-race' America:


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