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I am also not Trayvon Martin

It’s been tough to say much of anything online, or otherwise, since the verdict came down on Saturday evening in which George Zimmerman was acquitted of all charges for the murder of Trayvon Martin.

The murder has stirred up intense conversations about race, necessary, painful conversations about race. Because George Zimmerman is a mixed-race Latino, (his mother is Peruvian, his father white) his race has been called into question in many ways throughout this process. Some people of color, and Latinos, have tried to minimize his Latino-ness. The right wing has tried to play it up, claiming that his mixed heritage means that race could not possible be a factor in the murder. Some have labeled him a “white Latino or hispanic.”

I felt personally very pulled by these conversations because I too could be put in a category with George Zimmerman. I am a light-skinned Latina. My parents are both immigrants from Cuba, but my mother’s parents immigrated to the island from Eastern Europe as Jews fleeing anti-semitism and persecution. My father’s side had been in Cuba for multiple generations.

Race is a complicated socially-constructed and politically-shaped reality. For Latinos in the US, this reality is very different than the reality we might experience in our family’s country of origin. People who would be seen as White in Latin America may be seen as people of color in the US. These categories are fluid, ever changing and also extremely important in shaping our lived realities.

I am not Trayvon Martin, and as someone who could be George Zimmerman, I have a unique responsibility to work against racism within communities of color, including Latino communities. It’s a responsibility that weighs heavily on me. It’s also one that I see as distinct from the responsibility of white people to fight racism.

My understanding of my own identity has been heavily shaped by my knowledge of the political history of race and racial justice organizing in the US. The term woman of color originated as a term meant to build solidarity between Latinos, Blacks, Asians and Native Americans in the US. Loretta Ross has a great clip I originally found at Racialicious that I often refer to:

You can read the transcript at Racialicious, but this is the part that is most important to me:

And they didn’t see it as a biological designation—you’re born Asian, you’re born Black, you’re born African American, whatever—but it is a solidarity definition, a commitment to work in collaboration with other oppressed women of color who have been “minoritized.”

Now, what’s happened in the 30 years since then is that people see it as biology now.

Race is not a biological reality, it’s a social and political one. And that social and political reality differs widely depending on how you are read, how the world interacts with you. Because I am light-skinned, because I speak English without an accent, I walk through the world with relative privilege when it comes to race. But I also have a clearly marked Latino name. I may not even know how that has shaped interactions that happen virtually, or where my name is the first thing someone sees.  There are many ways in which one can be racialized in this country, and that is why the term woman of color, or person of color, was employed—to build solidarity across groups, not ignore differences or presume we all have the same experience.

There is a great post at Black Girl Dangerous, by Asam Ahmad, further extrapolating on this in reference to Trayvon:

We are NOT all Trayvon Martin. People of color keep getting hella mad for being called out on white passing privilege, for being asked to hold themselves accountable to the ways they are not like Trayvon and more like Zimmerman. So many folks seem to be having a hard time acknowledging that this murderer was a Latino who had light-skinned privilege and played into the rules of White supremacy to get away with murder. The fact that so many white folks are identifying with him should tell you something: it is a marker of how some people of color gain access to the toxic privilege of passing for White, of choosing not to identify themselves as poc but coopting into the system of White supremacy instead. Sometimes we do this for our own safety but sometimes, obviously, we do it for other reasons altogether. These are all realities of this case, and they are realities of a hierarchy that accords privilege and oppression on the basis of the amount of melanin in our bodies.

Why do these facts make you mad? Why is it so hard to acknowledge that you have access to forms of privilege that Black folks simply never have? As poc we are so often taught to think of ourselves as oppressed and as nothing else. But oppression is not a static entity and it does not remain constant for all POC. How can this not be obvious to anyone paying the slightest amount of attention right now?

Those of us who are not Black need to be very explicitly clear about this: Trayvon was not murdered because he was a person of color. This verdict was not delivered because he was a person of color. Trayvon was murdered because he was Black. This verdict was delivered because he was Black. Given the amount of intense anti-Black racism that continues to circulate in non-Black poc communities, given the number of ways we continue to benefit from anti-Black racism, it is paramount that we do not forget this. To appropriate the specificity of this injustice, to attempt to universalize this travesty as one faced by all people of color is to perpetuate another form of violence. To not acknowledge the role and specificity of anti-Black racism in this whole charade is another form of violence. This murder and this verdict are very specifically about anti-black racism – about the power of White supremacy and about what it means to have a black body in a White supremacist society.

And our inability to acknowledge these facts are hurting Black folks and African descended folks right now. This is not solidarity. This is not what solidarity can ever look like. It shouldn’t be that fucking hard to sit back and listen to the grieving voices of black people in this moment. It shouldn’t be this hard to not get defensive and keep your mouth shut and just listen.

I’ve been heartened by this and other efforts, like the tumblr We Are Not All Trayvon Martin, have taken on to try and explain the difference between solidarity and appropriation, between allyship and silencing.

Personally, I’ve grown and changed in countless ways over the years in my identity and understanding of my role within the broader community of color. From refusing to write an accent on my last name as a kid and the inclination to be silent about my identity and how I see myself, to instead insisting on spelling out clearly where my privilege lies and what I see as my role, it’s ever evolving. I have big thanks to give to many mixed-race and light-skinned people of color for walking the journey with me.

I’ve realized in the many years that I’ve written this blog, I’ve often assumed my audience was predominantly white. That’s because the doula community is predominantly white, and the full-spectrum doula community I’ve met and interacted with is also predominantly white. I know I’ve been able to feel comfortable, or be welcomed into some of these spaces because of my passing privilege, and it’s something that I think about constantly.

I also know that for doula work to be truly radical, truly transformational, we have to center race as a key factor that shapes the experiences of pregnancy and parenting in this country. We have to talk about it politically, personally, in every aspect of our work. So I’ll start with my vulnerable place, my story, my experience.

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3 Responses to I am also not Trayvon Martin

  1. RoiAnn says:

    Thank you. I am still not sure which pieces of my own story to share, or where or how they will be helpful, or if I should simply listen today – and I so appreciate your grappling with all of this – with your own stumbling blocks – and sharing your own insights publicly. Thank you.

  2. Terry Boggis says:

    Powerful and deep, Miriam. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for this article, Miriam. I really appreciate it as an inmigrant latina mother of a 4 year old and another on the way. Both my kids are going to grow up being light-skinned people of colour. Being an activist myself, I am certain that deep discussions about race, privilege and gender are very important to raise our children in peace and make them and ourselves free and respectful.

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