I was feeling really proud of our Las Vegas community this weekend. There was not one, not two, but at least three Trayvon Martin events. ProgressNow Nevada held a rally on Saturday at the Courthouse. There was an event by some “Granny’s” in North Las Vegas early on Sunday and then a large gathering in the Las Vegas Arts District at Raw Remedies on Colorado Avenue.
Even in 80-degree temps, the crowd on Colorado Avenue were wearing hoodies in honor of the slain 17-year-old as a protest to Geraldo Rivera’s glib, racist remarks that part of the reason why Martin was shot dead on the street was because of how he was dressed. We in the sexual violence prevention community are all too acquainted with Rivera’s victim-blaming mind-set. Why change what’s broken in our society — be it violence, racism, or misogyny — when you can just blame the victim for what he or she was wearing. Raped? Well, how tight were your jeans or how many condoms did you have in your purse? Murdered on the street? Was he wearing a hoodie?
I have been holding back in writing very much about Martin. Part of this is out of respect for the community. It’s not only arrogant but incredibly insulting when the concerned white progressive steals the mic and proceeds to tell you how you feel. Even at the event I went to, where I was one of barely a handful of whites (at least whites not in the media), there was a moment when I wanted to slap the mic out of a couple of “well-intentioned” white folks’ hands. (Pssst: Your white guilt is showing.)
But this is not to say that as a pasty white Polish gal I have no right to my own feelings of outrage about Trayvon Martin. And I am outraged! I keep thinking about if it had been my daughter or the child or any one I know. When the mothers and fathers at the rally spoke, I understood — at least in part — the fear and anger in their voices. What if it was my own kid? What if it’s yours? How can I not be outraged when I hear a story like Trayvon’s?
And then when I add in all the layers of racism and inequities built into our society, I am angry that there will probably be no justice for Trayvon Martin. Twenty-one years later, we still have not learned the lessons of the Rodney King beatings. The criminal justice system is in the business of incarcerating black men, not protecting them. The very laws that are supposed to be a symbol of how civilized we are can so often be used as tools of oppression (for women, too). They can protect bigots with phrases like, “self defense.”
Meanwhile, the media is as ham-fisted with this as ever. We have Geraldo’s idiotic comments, which only serve to reinforce racist stereotypes, not challenge them. But also the subtle messages, like the constant repetition of Martin’s “A and B student” standing. Translation: He was not a thug. (And I am going to check myself here, too, because I have been guilty of mentioning his grades in a past post.) But I also want to circle back to that observation about the event today. Why was it that the majority of white people there were in the media? Newsrooms are not known for their diversity, even in 2012. How is that influencing the narrative?
There was something else I noticed, too. People were talking about how they knew about the events through social media. But I didn’t know about the event at Raw Remedies until someone at my church mentioned it to me this morning. I had heard of the ProgressNow Nevada event on Saturday through my social media. So what does that say about me? Because I know that many of my friends and family are outraged by what happened to Trayvon Martin, just like I am. So why are we not in the loop? And how do we get plugged in? And what does that say about how our social networks work, too? I’m sure it has something to do with how many whites are using social networking sites compared with blacks and other races. (Hint: There’s a cavernous gap.) But I can’t help but to think that there’s more too it than just blaming the technology.
It also got me thinking: How much are we living adjacent to each other and not actually interacting with each other as a community — across boundaries of race, sex, class, sexuality, ethnicity….?
One of the speakers at the event today talked about how we need to get back to being a village for each other again. How we all need to take more responsibility for each other. I feel like there is some real wisdom in that, regardless of race or neighborhood. I don’t know my neighbors because they’re all new after the housing bust and foreclosure glut (every house on my street went foreclosure except mine). The transient nature of this town makes me leery of forming attachments too soon. But at the same time, I am nervous about letting my daughter start to play out in our drive way (we don’t have a yard) because nobody knows we have a toddler (not that she would be out there alone). Who’s fault is that?
I wish I could offer more than outrage. I wish I could offer some kind of hope. Maybe that’s not mine to give. Maybe outrage is the only natural response to a situation like this.