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Posted by Dr. Claire McCarthy July 22, 2013 08:20 AM
In the wake of the Zimmerman verdict, African-Americans all over the country are saying: I could be Trayvon Martin. President Obama said, "That could have been me 35 years ago."
We'll never know exactly what happened between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. But it does seem clear that Zimmerman "profiled" Martin, pursuing him because he was a young black man walking at night.
This resonates with African-Americans, who know what it's like to have people make assumptions about them based on their skin color. But so many other people don't know what this is like. While they may be angry about what happened, it doesn't feel like their problem.
I think it's everyone's problem.
It makes me think of what Pastor Martin Niemoller said about the Holocaust. There are lots of different versions of his words (one is on the very moving Holocaust Memorial here in Boston), but all are similar to this one:
In Germany they first came for the Communists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me--
and by that time no one was left to speak up.
I don't mean to minimize the struggles of African-Americans; the racism against them is a shameful part of our history and culture, and even, as Robin Kelley wrote in a powerful blog, part of our justice system. First and foremost, we must face and end this. But each one of us has something about us that someone might use to make assumptions about us. Whether it's our race, gender, sexual orientation, the clothes we wear, the jobs we have, the way we talk or act, our political views, where we live or our friends, there is always, always the possibility that someone will judge us--or hurt us.
We need to fight the racism and bigotry and misperceptions that triggered the events of Trayvon Martin's death not just because they are wrong and dangerous, but because any one of us could be next. If we don't stand up for Trayvon Martin, who will stand up for us?
We are all Trayvon Martin.
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