White People Need to Join the Justice for Trayvon Martin Movement in Greater Numbers
Whatever you think about the Trayvon Martin case, it's clear that a major travesty of justice occurred in Sanford, FL a few weeks back. So it's no surprise that a large spontaneous nationwide movement arose to see Martin's killer, George Zimmerman, brought to trial, and ideally to usher in a top-to-bottom housecleaning in the Sanford Police Department - and possibly in the Sanford city government itself for good measure.
And it's great to see such a movement grow so quickly. It gives me hope.
What I think is problematic is that white people are not yet joining the new justice movement in serious numbers. Certainly not in Boston. I've been to two public actions for Martin since the case came to light. One rally in March in Harvard Square. And one march yesterday from Ruggles to Dudley Square (which we'll file a news piece on in a couple of days, btw). Both events were called by the new Boston4Justice network - that's led by a number of young African-Americans around town. The first event drew about 200 people. The second drew closer to 300 people. Credible turnouts, but not what's needed to effect change. Those actions could have been bigger. And would have been, if white Bostonians - including many progressive "usual suspects" that I was surprised to find missing - had turned out for them in greater numbers.
Which is why I decided to say a few words on this topic this week. Because I'm not one to let fellow white people off the hook on these matters.
No indeed. There's work to be done.
So let me unpack my concerns here a bit.
While both the Boston actions I attended were multiracial, the active attendees were predominantly black (although the Harvard Square rally was the more diverse of the two since quite a few passers-by joined in).* And that makes sense. Lots of people think that Martin was basically executed in cold blood by Zimmerman. And one would have to be simple to think that racism is dead in the US. It's not. It's very much alive. So African-American parents - including a friend of mine who has been posting his fears on Facebook - are getting very active very fast ... because they don't want their kids to be the next victim of some racist wannabe vigilante. And African-American students and youth, for their part, are getting involved in great numbers too ... because they don't want to be the next statistic. And everybody that's already involved is also there because they're sick and tired of this kind of thing continuing to happen.
But this particular fight, and the ongoing battle against the systemic racism that allowed Zimmerman to get off scot-free after killing Martin, are probably not going to be won by African-Americans alone.
No. Racism also has to be fought by the people it privileges, if it's going to be wiped out. Otherwise, it just keeps festering and reemerging time and time again. And - leaving fine distinctions aside, and recognizing that "race" is a social construct - that means white people have to fight racism in their daily lives if racism is going to be made a thing of the past. And that doesn't mean everyone's going to suddenly be angels, and that all the racist messages and (covert and overt) training that white people have absorbed in their lives are just going to evaporate. But everyone's got to start somewhere.
There's lots of ways that fight needs to happen. They all take lifelong commitment and a lot of hard work. They mean if you're white and you're at some family event and a relative makes a racist remark, then you have to take that on. You have to argue with the racists you encounter. You have to make it clear that you won't accept such busted thinking in 21st century America. Same if you're in school or at a bar or at a ballgame or wherever. If you see racism in the workplace, you have to go after it. If you see a racist hate crime being committed, you have to help out however you can. If there's anti-racist legislation being proposed, you need to put pressure on the relevant legislators to sign on. And so on.
But this is tricky business. Racists can often be subtle, and cover their tracks effectively. They are often in positions of power. In key societal institutions like the Sanford PD. Constant vigilance is required by active anti-racists. Like I said, it's hard work.
By comparison, joining the justice movement for Trayvon Martin is easy as pie. The racism in and around the case couldn't be clearer. No special vigilance is required to see it. It's there plain as day. And there's already a movement on the ground, ready to go.
So if you're white, and you hear about a public action for justice for Trayvon Martin being called somewhere in your area - then go to the action.
Just go. Do your part. Help out.
And of course this goes for everyone else too, whatever your racial and ethnic background.
Just go. Do your part. Help out.
That's how solidarity between peoples is built. In practice. Not just with fine sentiments.
And that's how fights for justice get big, and win.
So if you want justice for Trayvon Martin, and you want to do your part to fight racism in the US, then get out in the streets.
Find the local justice group in your area, and just get out there. If you go, and your friends go, and their friends, from every background and walk of life. And if people keep doing this all over the country. This justice movement will get big. And it will win.
Conversely, if the movement remains primarily an African-American thing, then it could lose. And that would be bad for everyone in this society. Most especially African-Americans who will continue to suffer violent racist attacks from the George Zimmermans of the world.
That's all I have to say this week.
*NOTE: There was also a Town Hall Forum on Justice for Trayvon organized by The Blackstoniannewspaper at Hibernian Hall in Dudley Square on Friday, but I wasn't there, and so can't speak to the diversity of its attendees - although the Globe reported that there were 150 people there.
If you'd like to get in touch with Boston4Justice, email them at Boston4Justice [at] gmail [dot] com. Or follow them on Twitter at @Boston4Justice.
Jason Pramas is Editor/Publisher of Open Media Boston