White people: check your privilege when talking about the Trayvon Martin tragedy

On Monday morning, I did a status update on my personal Facebook profile that said: “White privilege: being able to shoot an unarmed teenager and not be arrested and/or charged with a crime.” Two friends of mine, both of which have proclaimed themselves to be liberal/progressive individuals who are tolerant/aware of racial disparities and other oppressed minorities, responded with:

Friend 1, the white self-proclaimed proud feminist:  “George Zimmerman looks more Hispanic than White… not that changes anything, but he is multi-racial. (which was liked by another friend)

Me: “You can be Hispanic and still consider yourself white (which was liked by the same 3rd friend). I went on to say I was told this information a while back by a U.S. Census Bureau official.

Third friend: “Okay, I disclaimer time: I did not want to debate this issue because I don’t believe that race should be the topic of debate in what happened in Florida., but I think there might a misconception about where we’re all standing on this issue…so here goes.I think Laura is aware of that fact and the history behind this issue… and I know you know that, so I’m not sure why this reaction is happening… I can’t speak for other Hispanics in this debate but I don’t think of myself as black or white. I was never raised to think of myself in that context and I am okay with. I’m an American who is of Hispanic descent. What she’s saying is that there is a real danger of perpetuating the stereo-type that any racial tension in this country always a white man vs.<insert minority here>. What happened to Trayvon was horrible and Zimmerman was an over zealous idiot, but I think we need to be very careful about throwing around phrases like hate-crime and and privilege if we are to learn what really happened in this case and to move forward with due process.”

White feminist friend: The leaked evidence and endless race baiting by the media and New Black Panther Party (which is a hate group the Huey P. Newton Foundation condemns) has guaranteed a fair trial cannot happen. Anyone who wanted to see Zimmerman arrested and tried in a court of law, has witnessed a defense attorneys dream.

I logged into my Facebook account to discover this exchange happened and immediate was filled with disbelief, rage, disappointment and anger. I basically responded to them both saying I was speechless and thanks for the thoughts.

I also informed them I’ll be writing an extensive rebuttal on why their statements are troubling, so here goes…

I am tired of being told by white people, in an effort to dodge the glaring issue of racism in this case, that we need to get all the facts out before we can rush to judgement. I am tired of white people shying away from talking about the blatant use of racism, whiteness and racial profiling by George Zimmerman to pursue Trayvon Martin. I am tired of white people telling people of color to drop the race issue in this case when whiteness grants them the privilege of using my race and blackness as a yardstick to measure my worth.

I am tired of white people in this country telling black people and other people of color to let go of race and quit obsessing about slavery, Jim Crow and lynchings. I am tired of being told by white people that “not everything is about race” and that they don’t see race when they see me or any other person of color. I am tired of listening to white people justify the use of racial profiling by George Zimmerman as his neighbors have claimed eight previous burglaries have been committed by black males, thus implying Zimmerman was right to pursue Trayvon Martin.

I am so fucking sick of white feminists wanting to have their cake and eat it too. I am so fucking sick and tired of these white, faux social justice activists who want people of color to rally around their causes and put their concerns of racial inequality on the back burner for the greater good of a certain movement. I am so fucking sick and tired of white feminists clinging to their contention they are oppressed by male chauvinism, while refusing to acknowledge and check their privilege in the company of other oppressed minorities.

I have never been more disappointed and pissed off in anything about this case as I am right now. For the last six weeks, black people have had to listen to the so-called white “pragmatists” counsel us to not rush to judgement in the Trayvon Martin tragedy. They have repeatedly told us they do not have all the facts and just don’t know what happened on that fateful night in which Trayvon Martin lost his life at the hands of George Zimmerman.

Black people in this country don’t need to reserve judgement for shit in this case. Black people understand that racial profiling is the sole reason why George Zimmerman pursued and confronted Trayvon Martin as we live and negotiate the fact that our blackness is labeled as suspect by whiteness on a daily basis. Black people do not need to listen to arm-chair activists jump on the bandwagon and express their faux solidarity with our struggle by way of Skittles and hoodies, while ignoring and dismissing our calls for them to check their white privilege, racism and whiteness at the door.

Black people in this country have had to put up with slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, rapes, beatings and murder at the hands of white people and whiteness who believe that my black skin is a problem and menace to society. Trayvon Martin was a victim of that same systematic degradation and subjugation perpetuated by active racists and passive conformists and practitioners of whiteness. We deserve and have a right to be outraged by the blatant use of racial profiling by George Zimmerman and to have the oppressive nature of racial profiling, racism and whiteness brought to the forefront for discussion.

####

Both of those women have been dear friends of mine for several years. Both of those women have been with me through thick and thin and are well aware of the racial hostility and discrimination I experience on a daily basis, so this is why this issue has gnawed at my feelings since Tuesday morning.

For my friend, who identifies as Hispanic, to say there’s a real danger of “perpetuating the stereotype” of racism in this case is not only patronizing, but down right goddamned laughable. This country’s horrid history of racism and its criminalization of black bodies make race, whiteness and racism the big fucking elephant in the room.

It’s encouraging that my friend wants us to diminish the racial component in this case–her choice to not identify with race and her privilege of not having to suffer the same fate African-Americans go through in this country affords her that luxury. Too bad my black skin, kinky hair, thick lips and broad nose don’t grant me those choices. Too bad my mother and father’s black skin didn’t afford them the luxury of allowing me to refer to myself as raceless. Too bad the good ol’ U.S. of A. has and continues to police black bodies and implements policies that remind black bodies of their otherness. Too bad American society will readily remind me of my blackness, even if I proclaim not to identify as a black woman.

For my white feminist friend, who I may add has been active in bringing justice for the Atlanta Eagle raid victims, to even lump black outrage with this case in with the New Black Panther Party is demonstrative of her inability to see past her white privilege to at least fake outrage and sympathy for people who look like me. For her to hide behind her assertion that Zimmerman won’t get a fair trial as the basis for her criticism of the media coverage is ironic–she never complained about the intense media coverage/scrutiny as tainting the city of Atlanta’s ability to get a fair trial in the homophobic-based Atlanta Eagle raids conducted by the city’s police force. For her to even label the media coverage as race baiting is indicative of her latent discomfort she has with having her fucking white privilege thrown into her face.

My white feminist’s friend’s sentiments are a reflection of why the feminist movement will never have the number of women of color join their ranks as they’d like–and is why I am not a feminist. Feminism is dominated by white, comfortably middle-class, straight cisgendered women who don’t want to expand their thinking and activism to include women who do not look like them. White feminists have a long history of advocating for their advancement at the detriment of black people and have consistently held onto the pedestal granted to them by white male patriarchy. White feminists like my friend like to claim they are tolerant and open to eradicating all forms of oppression–until the tables are turned onto their privilege.

My friend has reinforced the thinking and feeling among women of color that white feminists cannot be trusted to be true allies as they are to hell bent on retaining their status in society as the ideal prototype women should conform to.

####

One famous black author once said (paraphrased, of course) being black in America is to be cognizant of the fact that you are a problem that needs to be solved, monitored and policed. The racial profiling and hate crime George Zimmerman committed when he used Trayvon Martin’s black skin as a reason to hunt him down is a reflection of whiteness’ belief that the problem of blackness is a threat to white people’s way of life and thus needs to be taken care of. For any person to tell a black person to not focus too much on race in this case is one who either is oblivious or could care less about the impact this country’s racist history has on contemporary life.

While it’s wishful thinking for people with racial privilege to suggest looking past race in the Trayvon Martin tragedy, American history and contemporary race relations have too much of a stronghold on our society’s psyche to allow that pie-in-the-sky reasoning to catch on. White people who want black people to take race out of the equation of this story are nothing short of self-serving individuals who refuse to question and dismantle their privilege in the name of moving the conversation of racism forward.