Tuesday, May 29, 2012
The Trayvon Martin Tragedy and the Cooptation of Fear
I started writing this blog entry, this memorial, a month or so ago. Trayvon Martin is still on my mind. In 2005 Florida became the first state to pass a “Stand Your Ground” law under Republican governor Jeb Bush and under the Presidency of George W. Bush. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground Law” permitted a gun toting George Zimmerman to hunt down and murder a black teenager whom he felt was a threat to him. The one aggressively carrying the gun is the one entrusted with the determination of threat. This situation is reminiscent of the permissive lynching of black men or teenagers like Emit Till whose death at the hands of some white men was justified on the basis of a perceived or contrived threat to white men’s wives and sisters. White men who felt that black men and other men of color were a threat to them or their sisters, wives, daughters, mothers, aunts, and nieces could murder said black males in cold blood on their own word that a black male delivered a threat via a glance or whistle. Such constructed and contrived feelings of some among the majority and of those who identify with the majority based on similarity of skin color or other physical features continue to be in some places the sole basis for assaulting and murdering people who are ostensibly other. These others have the misfortune of transgressing the imagined and constructed boundaries of space and place reserved for whites only. An out of place other who transgresses spaces reserved for the majority must be put back in his or her place or eliminated as an example to others who think the world is their playground. For people like Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin had transgressed space allotted for white people like him and needed to be put back in his place. So Zimmerman pursued the young teenager that carried ice tea in one hand and skittles in his pocket.
I reject the feelings of fear usurped by Zimmerman as one who identifies with the majority and takes a stand against a young teenager who is ostensibly black and therefore out of place. I reject the usurpation of fear by the majority or those who identify with them as a basis for determining whether one is a threat. I reject this usurpation of fear because despite the history of violence in this country perpetrated by the white majority against the Native Indians and black slaves and free(d) blacks, representatives of the majority culture (and those who aligned themselves with it) have co-opted and usurped the fear that should logically and experientially belong to racialized, deracinated, colonized, and racialized minorities. Despite White America’s history of being the aggressor and agent of violence against Native Indians and Africans shipped to America’s shores as slave, many white peoples’ fears of racialized minorities (backed historically by gun- and Bible-toting colonists and more lately by powerful lobbyist such as the NRA and wealth without conscious) have been given voice and legitimization. This same usurpation of fear phenomenon played out in South Africa and other places around the globe. I remember when Apartheid ended in South Africa, the greatest fear was the fear of retaliation by blacks against whites and/or Afrikaners. Never mind the perpetual fear that terrorized “blacks” and “colored” people during Apartheid’s bloody reign. The people who should be fearful are not permitted to express their fearfulness in any rhetorical and/or public way. But those who have been the perpetrators of violence are licensed to continue committing acts of violence against those they have historically victimized.
I reject this usurpation of fear because my feelings of fear as a black female are seldom acknowledged or too of ten considered to be without foundation despite the majority people’s not so distant history of violence against black people and against women in general. There is stark contrast between Zimmerman and Marissa Alexander’s cases. Both live in Florida. One is a “white” Hispanic male and the other is obviously an African American female. Zimmerman killed a young teenager whom he felt was a threat to his life. Marissa fired a warning shot at her ex-husband who had a history and record of abusing her. Florida’s “stand your ground law” allowed Zimmerman to avoid initial arrest. The same law provided no shelter or defense for Marissa who was sentenced to 20 years in prison on May 14, 2012. Fear for her life, despite past abuse and threats, was not an adequate defense for Marissa to fire a warning shot at her abuser. But fear of an unarmed “black” teenager by a male who identifies with the majority in a racialized society is enough to keep him out of jail until the human public pressed for a proper investigation and arrest.
If anybody should be entitled to feelings of fear in this society it should be racialized minorities and women. Yet, they are not the ones who vociferously lobby for the right to carry guns. I reject the cooptation of the fears that racialized minorities should more legitimately be entitled to express given the history of violence perpetrated against us in this country. Native Indians were victimized violently when their lives, land, culture, dignity, and human rights were (and continue to be) snatched from under their feet like a worn out mat. Africans and African Americans were enslaved, murdered, raped, disenfranchised, lynched, discriminated against, and continue to experience racism and de facto separate and unequal treatment in education, housing, health care, and jurisprudence. Women have been the inordinate victims of sexual and domestic violence globally and continue to disproportionately, experience sexual and domestic violence.
Our right to (but decision not to) live in constant fear is co-opted when a white majority and/or those who aligned themselves with them pass laws allowing them to kill another human being because they feel threatened or fear for their lives. Their fear is justified and ours is paranoia. Not surprisingly an organization like the NRA, a majority white male group, is the primary financial supporter of and lobbyist for the law that made Zimmerman believe he could hunt down and shoot Trayvon Martin with impunity. When the murder of a black teen like Trayvon Martin by someone hiding behind the shoot-and-ask-questions later law receives the media attention it deserves, the NRA accuses the media of “sensationalizing” the event. Executive VP of the NRA Wayne LaPierre called the media coverage of this case “a national disgrace.” At an NRA rally, Ted Nugent called our duly elected President of the United States of America, President Barack Obama, “vile and evil” and said that he would be dead – sowing fear and violence. But Nugent and other card-carrying (and non) members of the NRA promote the idea that they need to defend themselves from the rest of us. This trivializing of the victim’s tragedy by the perpetrator’s perceived legal and racial privilege is another way of co-opting the legitimate fears of many minorities and women who associate more with the victim, and rightfully so.