By now, we all know that George Zimmerman was found “not guilty” of the murder of Trayvon Martin. It’s been all in the media, journalistic and social alike. In fact, public outcry via social media is somewhat responsible for the tragedy making news headlines last year (MTV, 2013). Recently, “black Twitter” was influential in the severance of Juror B37’s book deal with her former publisher (Madamenoire, 2013). Indeed, folks have been lamenting and organizing via social media, potentially pushing on the walls of “slactivism” (Huffington Post, 2013). But who has been most involved with the response to the Zimmerman verdict? A Pew Research Center (2013) survey found interest is related to race (Pew Survey).
This finding matches my experience. As a black man deeply affected by the verdict, one of my avenues for expression and connection was social networking sites. Many of my black Facebook friends were having similar reactions to the verdict: not necessarily surprised, due to the known criminalization and killing of black bodies in the United States, but still very much emotional and wanting to enact change. I’d noticed something, though. I’d noticed that my white Facebook friends were not posting about the verdict. I updated my Facebook status last Sunday to read (slightly edited for clarity):
Black Facebook friends: Are your white Facebook friends as silent about Zimmerman’s acquittal as are mine? This is a real question. White Facebook friends: You have no comments? No concerns? Nothing? Silent. I can count on my two hands the number of white allies I’ve seen comment. Please tell me I have more. Are you thinking you shouldn’t “steal our pain” (Razack, 2007)? Are you confused about your “place” in this tragedy? These are real questions I have. I’d love to know what my white (and brown, yellow, red, and multiracial) FB friends are experiencing, because right now, I’m affected by your silence. I’d actually be OK to read you thought the verdict was justified. Are you uncomfortable saying that? Don’t want to be “a racist?” You’re entitled to your opinion, and at least I’d know you had one on this matter. However, right now, all I can take-in is your silence, and “our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter” (MLK). Again, even if you think the verdict is justified, your silence, I argue, is a function of whiteness and white privilege. You can be silent now, or “choosy,” posting about Cory Monteith’s death—which is certainly sad—but you can choose to talk about that, or about your next 5K, or about anything other than Trayvon. I cannot. I will not. A swelling in my community’s intergenerational ethos and soul is underway, and there are people who literally do not feel safe, having received yet another message that their lives mean nothing. So, this matters. It should matter to everyone. Your life is linked to mine, and mine to yours. You having any type of comment on this topic would bring your being into my life, but silence renders you “dead” on the topic, and there is certainly no future for any of us when we can’t even acknowledge another human’s struggle. I do not mean to further polarize the issue; I was just so shocked that whites (on my Facebook minifeed), in particular, are so absent from this conversation. Allies are needed; a coming-together is needed, “because your liberation is bound up with mine” (Australian Aboriginal Women/L. Watson). For too long have we pitted queer folks against people of color, poor whites against undocumented folks, and a host of intracommunity issues exist. Please. TAP INTO (Y)OUR HUMANITY. WE NEED EACH OTHER. I’m interested in organizing, and am in need of community. Please don’t hesitate to inbox me if you’re up for either/both of these things. Thanks for making it to the end of this message.
I was surprised to receive dozens of responses on the Facebook status thread, as well as inbox and text messages, mostly from folks I’d say aspire to be allies of racially/ethnically minoritized people. These folks see racial justice as an obvious part of social justice, and more important, were my Facebook “friends,” some closer to me than others, of course. I thought there might be other people who could relate to either experience—my own or others’.
What saith the readers of this first “Real Talk Thursday?” Have you been vocal about wanting justice for Trayvon? Why or why not? Do you plan to lend your voice to this cause? If so, in what ways and spaces is it important that your voice is heard?
Razack, S. H. (2007). Stealing the pain of others: Reflections on Canadian humanitarian responses. Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 29(4), 375-394.
Venson Curington II works in Residence Education @ The University of Iowa and is a member of the CSJE Directorate. Venson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org