I am not Trayvon Martin, but I’m still Black

By Raynise Cange

Before I begin to explain the impact of this issue on me, I want to recap my reasons for writing this article. Trayvon Martin, 17, was shot and killed by a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, who claimed self-defense even though Martin only had a pack of Skittles, Arizona Iced Tea and his cellphone on him. George Zimmerman, the overzealous watchman, essentially stalked Martin after being told not to follow him by a police dispatcher. Due to the Stand Your Ground law in Florida, Zimmerman is permitted to shoot to kill if he feels threatened. Since Trayvon is not alive to tell a different version of the story, Zimmerman claimed he felt threatened because Martin attacked him (no, there were no signs of this alleged attack). So, Trayvon left the scene of a crime in a body bag while his murderer was able to return home to his bed. Now, the shooting happened on the 26th of February, but it began to gain notoriety in the second week of March. The movement calling for legal accountability has gained much momentum in the last few weeks. There have been Hoodie Marches all around the country, including one at the University of Minnesota, to show that a hoodie does not make one a criminal, because Martin was wearing a hoodie. On our campus, there was a small discussion group meeting for one hour seeking a way to bring Trayvon Martin’s story to the greater Macalester community. I personally attempted to raise awareness by handing out Skittles with the message “This is not a weapon” attached to them. But after hearing my fellow peers echo sentiments of, “This is Macalester, it doesn’t happen here” or throwing on a hoodie and saying, “I could be Trayvon,” dismissing their privilege, I realized the issue of race needs to be addressed. I didn’t fully realize the impact that Trayvon Martin’s murder could have until I noticed a status from one of my high school classmates, who said something along the lines of “I am not going to wear a hoodie, but I will say this is a messed up situation. I know if it were me laying on the ground, Zimmerman would have been arrested.” This post, along with three others from white male classmates, who had previously argued that race was not an issue for blacks and only reverse racism existed, stunned me. That is when it hit me that this case would start discussion about race in spheres that I never thought possible. It shocked me that my classmates were involved in a practical application of critical race theory, because discussions of race, mainly due to the lack of minorities, never entered the doors of my classrooms in high school. To see these students speak up and mobilize on their own college campuses shocked and impressed me because they were attempting to create dialogue about this issue and push the message that this is not about a hoodie or Skittles. Trayvon Martin’s death is an issue of race. First and foremost, he was targeted because of his appearance, which speaks highly to the criminalization of black men. Listening to the audiotape of George Zimmerman’s call, it was clear to me that Trayvon was just walking around a neighborhood where his father owns a home, and just his presence was suspicious. However, that is my take on the event, and I believe that I should not place my assumptions upon George Zimmerman. Therefore, I will say he did not racially profile Trayvon Martin. This is still a race issue. Why? Because had it been a young white man, I highly doubt the responding police officer would have ignored protocols such as taking witnesses’ statements, nor do I believe he would have provided the self-defense argument for George Zimmerman. There is no doubt that Zimmerman would have been arrested and charged if Trayvon was white. While sitting in a student organization meeting, one of my friends suggested we shift the conversation from “I am Trayvon Martin” to “This could happen here,” or “This does happen here.” I say this because racial profiling does occur in Minneapolis. I do not identify as male, but due to my short hair I am sometimes perceived that way. One day I was waiting for the light rail from Minneapolis to 46th Street Station when a transit cop approached me and harassed me about paying the fare for the light rail. I attempted to show him my semester Go-To pass, which he ignored, and continued to patronize me about paying the fare, saying he should issue me a ticket for considering riding the light rail without paying for it—even calling me a “hoodlum.” Finally, he acknowledged my bus pass and then wanted to see my student ID to prove I was indeed the owner of the pass. After seeing my ID, which has a picture of me with longer hair, he realized I was female, handed my ID back, smiled and said, “Have a nice night ma’am,” as if nothing happened. Did he proceed to do this to anyone else? No. I was the only black person on the platform. This is only one of the instances I have experienced racial profiling and assumed criminality based on my racial and perceived gender identities. The Trayvon Martin murder reminded me how often profiling happens, and I want to create a discussion not only surrounding the Trayvon Martin case but also addressing the underlying problem of racial profiling and how racism is institutionalized. As a black student on this campus, I want my student body to engage and realize that this incident in Florida could easily happen in the Twin Cities. More importantly, I want people to see that there are material effects of my skin tone on and around Macalester’s campus. And no, I’m not Trayvon Martin, but this could happen here. refresh –>