I am not Trayvon Martin. I am a 56 year-old white woman whose life has been mostly defined by privilege. When I get stopped by police officers for speeding or a busted tail light, they usually end up apologizing. Just last month I was denied a Global Entry (think express line in Customs) because of a civil disobedience arrest and the officer apologized to me, saying he agreed with why I protested. My own awakening as “active-participant-in-a-racist-society-privileging-me” occurred at age 44. The setting was a class on social identity at Boston University. We were separated into racial identity groups and then asked to report back our findings. As a young woman of color spoke, it was as if a screen had been lifted revealing the existence of an entire reality unlike my own! I listened to her speak of their collective experiences of daily life in Boston and I was stunned. The contrast in our experiences of shopping in any retail store, interacting with police at a traffic stop, riding public transportation and simply walking down the street were startling to me. Equally startling was how the contrast was not at all surprising to her or other members of her identity group. Worse still was how rapidly several members of the white identity group sought to negate the experiences of the people of color or tell similar stories of a single instance in which they felt marginalized.
I would love to be able to write how rapidly I became informed, started to work on acknowledging my own white privilege, strived to be an accountable white ally and spent time each day working to dismantle our racist systems. I cannot. It was not until several years later I came to realize how close to home the racism was located and how my lack of active participation was the same as condoning the injustice. As a member of a progressive, liberal faith community, I believed we were collectively among those who understood white privilege and systemic racism and were activists in building multicultural community. Following a national gatherings in Texas I learned how wrong I was in that perception. Having heard white supremacists had come to protest our gathering, I was outraged. Next I heard local police had profiled our youth of color, while leaving white-appearing youth alone. I was appalled. Then I heard stories of white members of our own faith community making racist assumptions and behaving in racist manners. Car keys were tossed to one person of color, assumed to be a valet. Other people of color were assumed to be wait or housekeeping staff. Youth of color trying to enter an event were assumed to be ‘not ours.’ These were just some of the racist incidents caused by our own community. I had been looking too easily outside of my own community for the presence of racism and privilege. Part of my own privilege was in choosing the easy places to be outraged and seek change. Now that I knew it was our own family. Now I knew it was me. I am not Trayvon Martin but I am the racist system that leads to gated communities in which any person of color is seen as ‘outsider.’ I am the racist system that leads to law-enforcement practices and policies that devalue people who are black or brown. I am the racist system that breeds fear of young men of color in hoodies and protects young white men with varsity letters. I am the racist system that equates justice with a protection of the status quo in terms of racial power. I am the racist systems that requires nation-wide protest to even attempt to access justice. I am not Trayvon Martin but I am the racist system that caused him to lose his life. And it is this certain knowledge that calls me to the work of anti-racism, anti-oppression and multiculturalism each day.
Fuck I’m going to cry. This is how you ally. This is how you show us that you care. By actually doing something and being selfless, rather than assuming because you didn’t shoot one of us you’re not part of the problem and deserve a cookie. It still amazes me that there are people out there who actually do these kinds of things, because so many “allies” just “support” for the attention.