Trayvon Martin and Contemporary Racial Politics

Much has been said about the tragic loss of life of Trayvon Martin. Many have expressed their concern that his self-confessed murderer has not been arrested.

So, I will keep my comments simple.

1) Why is the mother’s grief insufficient? If her mourning mattered, the inherent brutality of Trayvon’s death was enough, we wouldn’t have to preface accounts of his death with his grade point average and comments about his upstanding nature.

Unfortunately, when black boys die the default assumption is that he was a miscreant and somehow brought his fate upon himself.

To some extent the more virtuous we make Travyon, the more we try to separate him from what we know society assumes about him, the more we reinforce the pernicious view that black men are brutes. This is the very myth that cost Trayvon his life.

2) Trayvon has paid a heavy price for America’s racism. This 2012 edition might be harder to see, because blatantly discriminatory laws have been abolished, but nothing has erased the social devaluing and stigmatization of people of color.

And yet, in the midst of his death and all that it foretells, we have the U.S. Supreme Court debating (again) whether affirmative action should be upheld.

How is this relevant to Trayvon?

Because while Affirmative Action (AA) is far from a perfect solution, it is trying to upend the material damage of persistently biased legal and cultural practices. Most lawsuits against AA are brought by frustrated young whites who say that the system “favours students of color,” and makes them pay for “things that their grandparents did.”

While, I disagree with this understanding of history and how it impacts the present, I empathize. The status quo that favors most whites (outside of AA) isn’t anyone’s fault per se.

And that is what makes things tricky.

It’s no one’s fault that the ship is sinking, but it matters that the ship is going down, especially since we’re all on it.

The problem with this “reverse racism” mentality is that it implicitly, although not intentionally, assumes that people of color enjoy the “perks” of being discriminated against. This logic would imply that people of color want to continue to be subjugated, and to perpetually fear the vulnerability of our children. It suggests that burying our Trayvon’s is a small price to pay for what? The right to complain? A few admissions slots?

So again, I ask: who pays?


Here are a few links to check out, if you haven’t heard about what happened to Trayvon Martin.