Southern Trees Bear A Strange Fruit: Why People of Color Aren't Surprised By The Trayvon Martin Verdict

So the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial is in and it’s exactly what I said it would be.
Publish date:
July 15, 2013
racism, trayvon martin, George Zimmerman, M

So the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial is in and it’s exactly what I said it would be.

I’m not surprised. I’m not even outraged, because outrage would require strong emotion. I’m just numb. I feel nothing. Right, that’s kind of a lie. I feel all the things and as such, I can’t differentiate one feeling from another.

Look, I’m not the spokesperson for Black America. I’m one person with a voice. But I do listen to other people of color when they talk about things. Here’s what I’m hearing.

Fear. This is going to happen again. More PoC are going to be killed and more Caucasians are going to insist the very blackness of their victims instigated so much fear in them that they had to shoot and kill. And they’re going to get away with it. It’s going to happen and we know we can’t do anything to stop it.

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.

I’ve talked about the thugification of Trayvon in the past and I’ve talked about the ways in which Florida more and more resembles 1950. The first is a symptom of the second. A return to the false racist stereotypes of the past leads to justifications for the kind of laws that allow someone to stalk and kill an unarmed teenager. Those stereotypes aren’t accurate but that doesn’t matter because the justifications they lead to and the deaths those justifications cause? Those are extremely real.

The idea that George Zimmerman was in fear for his life was barely questioned. Most people, including the prosecution, just accepted that premise and built around it. Everyone, every fucking one, accepted the idea that the man with the firearm was in fear for his life as he was following the boy with the candy.

Can we pause for a minute and review that?

Guy with a gun.

Profiled and followed a boy with some candy.

Boy ends up dead.

The state accepts the assertion that the guy with the gun felt threatened and he gets to go home.

Trayvon Martin is dead.

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

We never had a conversation about Trayvon’s fear. Not really.

Guess what, when you’re a PoC, most encounters with Caucasians you don’t know involve a certain amount of fear.

I’m sorry if this is a surprise to any white people reading this, but it’s true. We don’t know what will happen when we are stopped by a random white person for the possible crime of being in a place, or riding in a car, or existing in the world. Will they randomly accuse us of some imagined wrong and then use that as an excuse to cause trouble? Will they commit some wrong and then blame us, certain that they will not be blamed? Will they erupt into violence?

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,

Real talk, PoC have to live that way. A number of my very dear, liberal, white friends expressed the same sentiment as a result of the verdict; “Who would have thought that you could still be killed just for walking black?”

The answer is: black people. If you are black, you can be forgiven for adding “duh” to the end of that answer. We all thought that. We all live that. We have to. If we don’t live that way, we could die. This is the world as PoC must interact with it. And this verdict will make that world more dangerous. Because as easy at it was before for PoC to be profiled and then killed, the very little pause the possibility of consequences may have given someone inclined to shoot first and ask questions never, will be gone.

I mean, Florida has already had a case wherein someone shouts racial slurs, shoots a black man in the face, leaves him on the ground, calls 911, sits down to finish his fucking dinner and then tells the cops he “only shot a nigger.”

That's the world we live in now and it’s only going to get worse.

The lives of PoC in America simply do not hold as much societal value as those of White Americans and we never have. The story of America is the story of racial tension, from before our birth of a nation (see what I did there?) until right this very second. Walking in certain place while black was illegal and punishable by death under statute in living memory. And Florida just made it clear that is still the case.

Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Clearly that guy didn’t need permission. But there are some people who will look at this verdict as further proof that PoC have no value, because that’s exactly what the verdict is saying. Killing something of no value is no big deal, right.

And that’s where the numbness comes from. Because no matter how deeply the lesson of othering is ingrained, no matter how early the knowledge that we are different and less than is brought home, hope springs eternal.

So many of us think that maybe, just maybe, things will be different this time.

But it’s never different. At least it hasn’t been yet.

Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way. There’s just a hell of a lot of work we have to do, and by we I mean white people. Because this is not a problem that PoC can solve. I know this is usually the time when I try to rally Black America into action, but we are not the mechanism for change in this case. This one is on you, white folks. You’ve got to do the work on this one.

What do I mean by work? Yes, I mean all of the usual things, voting and activism. Donate to the Trayvon Martin Foundation. Write your Congress members. Sign the NAACP petition. Do all of those things.

But more than anything I mean you’ve got to open your mouths and speak when you hear justifications like the one that was the entire basis of the Zimmerman defense. You’ve got to call out the lie that PoC are dangerous to Caucasians and more criminal overall. You got to point out how entirely racist that sentiment is.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

We should be better than that. I want us to be better than that. I presume most of you do too. As I’ve said before, as a PoC, I have to be constantly aware of the fact that I’m not of the norm because if I’m not that lack of awareness could get me very, very killed. That is not a flaw in my character or a blind spot in my awareness. That is a problem with the society I live in. I can’t fix society. Black America doesn’t have that power.

Set your goal; racial equity, not racial harmony. They aren’t the same. One is the state of actually being equal and the other is the state of shutting up and smiling while ignoring the lack of equity.

Fight for your goal. Know that you fight will be a long series of painful failures. That’s how profound change works. It hurts and it’s hard and you get slapped down and discouraged but you keep fighting. The members of the Montgomery Bus Boycott walked for over a year through violence and bombings and attacks, until they won their fight. You can absolutely correct the guy in the next cubicle when he starts talking about how black people are the cause of crime, or when one of your girlfriends says she heard that Trayvon was a thug, or when anyone starts justifying Zimmerman’s fear of the child he stalked and killed.

You can do that. You must do that.

Or we can all keep harvesting the same strange and bitter crop.