In Conversation with History: Speaking Back to Trayvon

January 13, 2024
5 mins read

By David J. Leonard | with thanks to NewBlackMan
Monday, April 9, 2012.
In wake of the murder of Trayvon Martin, in the face of anger, sadness, frustration, outrage, sadness, and more anger, I found myself returning to several quotes that reflect on racism, violence, injustice, and resistance.  I found myself wanting to dialogue with these thinkers, these organic intellectuals, and those who continue to promote “freedom dreams.”  This is my conversation within an experimental dialogue that emphasizes the continuity of violence and resistance throughout our history.
Sojourner Truth: “That man over there says that women need to be helped into carriages, and lifted over ditches, and to have the best place everywhere. Nobody ever helps me into carriages, or over mud puddles, or gives me any best place! And ain’t I a woman?”  
DJL: Why does this continue to be so true for women, for people of color, for the poor?  The parent over there sends their child out to play, without a worry; the child over can go to the park, walk to school, or go to the store, without any fears. Innocence is protected.  Nobody can say that for Trayvon Martin; ain’t he a person; ain’t a child? 
Frederick Douglas: “Where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them.”  
DJL: Mr. Douglas, your words remain true today.  Where Trayvon’s was deprived of his humanity, where his rights were ignored, where his future was denied “neither persons nor property will be safe.”  
Kahil Gibran: “Learnt silence from the talkative, toleration from the intolerant, and kindness from the unkind; yet, I am ungrateful to these teachers.”
DJL: Yes, in just three weeks, we have seen injustice from those responsible for justice, terror from those who claim to protect, and erasure from those responsible for education and informing the collective.  We have once again seen the stains and violence of American racism.  Yet, we have seen the apathy and ignorance concerning these painful realities.
Shirley Chisholm: “Most Americans have never seen the ignorance, degradation, hunger, sickness, and futility in which many other Americans live. Until a problem reaches their doorsteps, they’re not going to understand. . . Racism is so universal in this country, so widespread and deep-seated, that it is invisible because it is so normal.” 
DJL: Ms. Chisholm, we are still seeing this today.  When black and suspicious becomes normalized, racism is invisible; when the murder of black youth is not breaking news “it invisible because it is so normal.” When black death goes unnoticed it has become normal and acceptable.  Only when fathers and mothers, grandmothers and grandfathers, brothers and sisters, and sons and daughters begin to contemplate “what if,” what if my family or friends couldn’t go to the store without fear, without threat, without potential death will we see change. 
Albert Camus: “In such a world of conflict, a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, not to be on the side of the executioners.” 
DJL: Why do people continue to side with the executioners? But not in every case?  It must stop.  In a world where black youth can’t walk to the store to buy skittles and something to drink, where black youth are deemed suspicious for walking while black, in “a world of victims and executioners, it is the job of thinking people, not to be on the side of the executioners.” It is the job of thinking people not to silence the critics, the fighters of freedom.
Paul Robeson: “The answer to injustice is not to silence the critic but to end the injustice.” 
DJL: Indeed, because in a world with Trayvon Martin, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant, Aiyana Jones, Robbie Tolan and so many more, “the answer to injustice is not to silence the critic,” to denounce those who bring up race, who are angry, who are outraged by the consequences of American racism and white privilege, “but to end the injustice.” 
Paulo Freire: “Washing one’s hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”
DJL: In a world of injustice, where all violence, where all pain, where all suffering, and where all injustice is not treated equal, ignore, denying, and minimizing will not bring about justice.  Too many people are“washing their hands.”  They might as well keep it real and own the fact that “to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”
Haile Selassie: “Throughout history it has been the inaction of those who could have acted, the indifference of those who should have known better, the silence of the voice of justice when it mattered most, that has made it possible for evil to triumph.” 
DJL: Don’t we know this? In the weeks since Trayvon was murdered, the silence from the “justice” system, the silence from “our leaders,” the silence from the media, and from our collective inaction “has made it possible for evil to triumph.”  
Grace Lee Boggs: “Each of us needs to be awakened to a personal and compassionate recognition of the inseparable interconnection between our minds, hearts, and bodies, between our physical and psychical well-being, and between our selves and all the other selves in our country and in the world.”  DJL: I am tired of the silence, lethargy and apathy. I am sick of how we sleep through the pain of some.  In a world where young black boys, and young Latino girls are unable to walk freely, I hope everyone from every community will wake up to the pain and suffering, wake up to view every life equally.  Our collective sleepiness is killing people and destroying families.   
Aimé Césaire: “When I turn on my radio, when I hear that Negroes have been lynched in America, I say that we have been lied to…; when I turn on my radio, when I hear that Jews have been insulted, mistreated, persecuted, I say that we have been lied to…; when, finally, I turn on my radio and hear that in Africa forced labor has been inaugurated and legalized, I say that we have certainly been lied to.”
DJL: I know; when I open my books to learn about contemporary slavery, I think we have been lied to, racism is not dead; when I turn on my radio and hear about another case of police brutality, I think we have been bamboozled, racism is not dead; when I go on social media and see another slur, another dehumanizing image, and “another joke,” I know we have been led astray, racism is not dead.  And when I hear about Trayvon Martin, a boy walking while black, I know that racism is alive and well and that only when we rise up and demand change, we will the lying end.  
Jacques Derrida: “We must do and think the impossible.  If only the possible happened, nothing more would happen.  If I only did what I can do, I wouldn’t do anything.”  If we don’t demand and imagine a new reality, we aren’t do anything.  
DJL: Amen! We must do and think the impossible; we must think justice for Trayvon and demand a world free of degradation, dehumanization, and fear.  
Fred Hampton: “Let me just say: Peace to you, if you’re willing to fight for it.”  
DJL: Peace and justice for Trayvon, peace and justice for the Martin family, and peace and justice so there are no more Trayvons, that is if we are “willing to fight for it”
David J. Leonard is Associate Professor in the Department of Critical Culture, Gender and Race Studies at Washington State University, Pullman. He has written on sport, video games, film, and social movements, appearing in both popular and academic mediums. His work explores the political economy of popular culture, examining the interplay between racism, state violence, and popular representations through contextual, textual, and subtextual analysis.  Leonard’s latest book After Artest: Race and the Assault on Blackness will be published by SUNY Press in May of 2012.

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