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Trayvon Martin and the legacy of suspicion

Pastor Michael Walrond Jr | 3/29/2012, 3:31 p.m.
Pastor Michael Walrond Jr.

The senseless and tragic killing of Trayvon Martin, a young African-American male, has sparked outrage and protest all over the country. Cries for justice can be heard from Florida to New York, as people long to make sense of a tragedy that seems completely irrational.

Many believe that Martin's death is another manifestation of the dark legacy of racism that has plagued this country since its birth. The historic frustration felt by those who have borne the brunt of racism's debilitating blow has often cast a shadow over the noblest aspirations for affirmation and acceptance.

Those who have been warriors for racial justice and harmony have often yearned for our country to come to itself and eradicate that which has been a blemish on the American landscape. However, the harsh and painful reality is that there is no resolution on the horizon for subjective behaviors and attitudes steeped in racism, racial stereotyping and racial profiling.

Racism is irrational. Prejudice based on the color of one's skin is a nonsensical disposition, and the harmful actions connected to this disposition are also clothed in absurdity. This is why when a young man like Martin is killed and the death appears to have racial motivations and undertones, our groaning for answers to the question of "why?" will yield no rational fruit. This is because of the irrational nature of the underlying ethos that appears to be the impetus of the act: racism.

As despicable as the actions of George Zimmerman were, we cannot allow emotions connected to racism, and the racialized issues of this case, to become a smokescreen and distract us from the arduous task of pursuing justice. Justice work is hard work, and when the rallies are over, the protests die down and the hoodies are put up, the work of and for justice cannot fade.

I am an African-American man who, on numerous occasions, has experienced the dehumanizing impact of racism and the indignities that accompany it; therefore, I am not shocked, nor am I surprised, when I hear callous stories about tragedies connected to racism. The insane legacy of racism in America is deeply entrenched in our culture, and culturally insensitive comments--such as the hoodie remark made by Geraldo Rivera--also have a deep and long history. To be sure, the sustained presence of these realities does not justify their presence, but it lets us know that our engagement with these issues must be just as sustained and not situational.

Martin was killed by a man who viewed him with suspicion solely because of race and appearance. It would seem that for Zimmerman, Martin embodied an image that seemed out of place in that particular community, and what Trayvon embodied gave rise to a racialized hermeneutic of suspicion.

The truth is that countless Black people in general, and Black men in particular, live life seeking to navigate through boundaries of suspicion. Again, this is part of the depressing reality of living in a country where race is used as a critical factor in determining the value of a human life.

I hope for a day when this will no longer be the case, but I also hope for a day when we will be just as outraged and vigilant about the senseless deaths of numerous Black boys like Martin in numerous communities in this country, no matter who the assailant may be.