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"To White Folks: The Collective Lament of Trayvon Martin is Not Your Anti-Racist Political Platform”

Pamela S. Booker, MFA, MA's picture
BA in Individualized Studies Blog
"To White Folks: The Collective Lament of Trayvon Martin is Not Your Anti-Racist Political Platform”

by student Suzahn Ebrahimian

A founding member of the OCCUPY movement, Suzahn is a prolific writer and identifies herself as Iranian-American and social agitator. In her moving, critically astute essay in response to the Trayvon Martin-George Zimmerman trial and verdict, she argues that “passion and fury,” alongside issues of race privilege, must be acknowledged and challenged.

Here is her article "To White Folks: The Collective Lament of Trayvon Martin is Not Your Anti-Racist Political Platform" reprinted from TIDAL magazine, July 17, 2013:

I have been in hiding – as much as one can be in 2013. The news of George Zimmerman’s acquittal is obviously not news to you, if you’re reading this. When thinking about this column over the past week, I have been coming up blank repeatedly. It seems like something should be said about this case… but what is there to say? Conversations about the trial are being waged like wars all around me. People were – and still are – talking about what happened with passion and fury. People are taking to the streets in cities from coast to coast, demonstrating their rage with their bodies.

Here I sit. I don’t have much to say. I only have ways of feeling.

News of the jury’s decision hit me softly, as if someone slowly wrapped my head in a blanket and then tossed me into a light-less sea. Then I sank to the bottom. I’m still there, not breathing, not speaking, feeling nothing but pressure and weight. The words of my friends and peers, the poetry, the outrage, the status changes, they are my stepping stones to get through the day.

It seems as if every day, dozens of questions are asked repeatedly.

How do we talk about George Zimmerman? How far must we dig into the prison industrial complex? How many times must we cite the “stand your ground” statistics, that so dutifully uphold white supremacy? Do we call out the entire justice system? Or the jury? Or Zimmerman’s lawyer? Do we cry for Trayvon, or for his parents, or for every black child born in the United States? Where are the white feminists’ outrage for Rachel Jeantel? What the fuck does “justice system” even mean? Why does racism still surprise us? What is to be done?

It is as if all of these question are being shouted at once, as a singular sound, over and over, by thousands of people. My body is full of this sound. It is painful and sustained, digging up thousands of histories from this cold earth. This sound echoes the sounds coming from Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, DRC, Sudan, Liberia, Rwanda, the list goes on and on.

This sound is a collective lament. Some people hear it in a scream, others a chant, others a song – though it always persists; the collective lament, where we ask every question that needs asking. Where we honor the dead and curse the killer. This moment of actualized grief. This moment of riot and lived pain.

I am at the bottom of the sea, with no light to show me the way back to the surface. And I will stay here for a long, long time.

I have a lot to talk about, experiences to share. There have been many generative moments from the past few months I have spent collaborating with the refugee communities of Boise. Building towards mutual aid and taking action outside of the system is empowering and energizing.

But I’m not going to talk about that right now, during this time of mourning, because I have much more to learn than I have to say. As a mixed-racial American citizen who presents as white/female, my world of experiences is limited.

There are times, like now, when I just listen. White supremacy entitles those of us with racial privileges to “help” in the ways that white supremacy tends to do so – by control and cooptation (for example: many people that say “I am Trayvon Martin” never have been, nor will they ever be, Trayvon Martin).

I have read many statements from white folks who intend the best, but really turn their words into a platform for them to publicly distance themselves from racism and white supremacy.

Let me be clear – there is no way to distance yourself from the white supremacist system if you are white. The only way to distance oneself from a white supremacist system is to destroy it. By destroy I do not simply mean internally “checking your privilege,” which I’m not sure is an action at all but more of a stopping of action. I mean literally destroy. Refuse to acknowledge this legal system as legitimate. Take down every prison, every courtroom, take the guns and the authority of the state away from every police officer. Disband our colonialist military.

To be honest, I don’t see that happening just because you wore a hoodie in your profile picture. In fact, I don’t see that happening at all if there is no accountability for ones own participation in this violence.

Even as a mixed person, with an immigrant father who has brown skin, I have benefited from my pale complexion for my entire life. If no one knows my name, I am any other white person; and I get many of the privileges that come with that territory. No amount of anti-racist sentiment or *perceived* anti-racist actions on my part will EVER change that, until the last US courtroom has closed its doors for good.

This is a time to mourn, and we all should mourn in whatever ways we feel are best – on the streets or in writing or by challenging blatantly bigoted/racist people in our lives. But for those of us who experience white privilege, this is also a time to recognize the constant role we play in the racism that constructs everything around us.

Wait, scratch that. Do that recognition part all the time. Don’t wait until the photograph of a murdered teenager is staring you in the face.

Because, I ask; How many pictures of dead children never make it to CBS news?

Until next time,
I am at the bottom of the sea, with no surface in sight.

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