My thoughts on the brutal slaying of Trayvon Martin.
I'm at a complete loss over the disappointing verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. Ever since the verdict was announced on Saturday, and George Zimmerman was found not guilty of second degree murder or voluntary manslaughter in the brutal slaying of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in February 2012, I have been feeling this overwhelming sense of sadness, numbness, and complete bewilderment at how the jury could have gotten this so wrong.
I watched much of the trial over the past two weeks and at times have felt torn about the outcome: no matter what the verdict, people would suffer. Trayvon's parents would never again see or hold their beloved son, and no guilty verdict would change that. Zimmerman's parents and supporters would be devastated at a possible life sentence. However, each and every time my emotional veil would come down over my eyes for a moment I would somehow hear the following words in my head: He was just 17-years-old, unarmed, and going to the corner store for a package of Skittles. He was profiled. Racially profiled.
I cannot imagine what it must feel like to learn that your son's brutal death was somehow "justified" in the minds of a jury. What could ever make that premise true? How do parents hold on to faith and the possibility of a future without bitterness, after hearing the words "not guilty"? I just don't know.
Much has been made about the issue of race in this trial and as a non-African American, I cannot begin to understand the role that outward and subtle prejudice plays in the lives of African Americans. I can want to understand and I can educate myself as much as possible, but my thoughts on what it must "feel like" to be an African American woman in the U.S. are meaningless. But I can share my own experiences with prejudice, but of a different kind.
As many of you know, I am a transplanted, Jewish New Yorker. I live outside of Boston now, but until I moved here the first time in 1982, to attend college, I had absolutely no understanding of what anti-Semitism was. The community in which I grew up was largely a mix of Jews with Polish and Russian lineage and Catholics with Italian bloodlines. In addition, now that I think about it, my public high school was also about 50/50 black/white and so I did not experience racial or religious segragation. If I did, I was unaware of it. In many of the NY burroughs, and my hometown of Staten Island was no exception, communities and schools were more socio-economically divided. My neighborhood consisted of small business owners like my dad, who owned a bagel bakery. Our neighbors owned a gas/service station. There was the occasional podiatrist or dentist in the mix, but for the most part, it was an equality of economics that determined our community's makeup. I honestly never encourntered any anit-Semitism during my childhood that I can recall, and I cannot think of a single racial incident at my high school. Not one
Fast forward to 1982.
During my freshman year at college, I was working with a team of classmates on a school project. In fact, a bunch of student teams were scattered about the study lounge areas of a campus building one afternoon when I overheard a student from my group, chatting a few feet away with some of her friends. I heard her describe our project team as consisting of a few guys and that "Jew girl from New York." For a moment after I heard these words, and I can remember the feeling of it to this day, I was shocked to realize she was talking about me. No one had ever referred to me as a "Jew" let alone a "Jew girl from New York" and I was dumbfounded that this description would be used as the most obvious identifier of who I was. It simply hadn't occured to me that there was anything negatively distinctive about me as a Jewish person that would identify me in this way.
I was floored.
Another incident, two years later:
I was invited to an on campus dinner party at the brownstone apartment of one of my classmates, a lovely girl who hailed from Main Line Philadelphia and who spent her high school years at an elite, all girls prep school. Most of her friends had similar backgrounds and had cute little nicknames like "Monkey" or "Chip" and I recall one guy named "Brooks". Quite a far cry from the Karen-Randy-Stacey-Lisa-Michelle monikers of my childhood. Nontheless, I had some friends in this new starchy, blueblood lot, and I was happy to attend. I brought a bottle of champagne (first mistake) as a hostess gift, much the same way my parents might have to a dinner party.
When I opened the door to a room full of girls in faded jeans, untucked starched white shirts, pearls, headbands, and blunt blond bobs (say that three times fast), I immediately begrudged my own idiotic choice of a navy blue drop waist dress (too fancy, even it was Laura Ashley) and my bottle of champagne (unknowingly trying too hard). The hostess accepted the gift and said to me with total sincerity: "How cute of you to even think to bring champagne." The message was clear: I did not belong in the WASP set and my champagne and outfit choice was much better suited for a Long Island Bar Mitzvah.
These memorable jabs are just that--jabs at feeling less-than, excluded, and identified as "different" in a way that I could not have possibly understood, but that others in a different group, inherently felt and sniffed out even before I arrived. Call it some kind of sumbliminal profiling, it was clear that I was welcome to attend the party but I was truly a guest of the group. An outsider.
I still carry some of this uneasiness to this day, yet at no point in time was my freedom, safety, liberties, or life, ever in danger.
How could a 17-year-old-boy lose his life to a wanna-be cop, a vigilante with a racial ax to grind, who somehow found it reasonable to use deadly force when faced with a young, black teenage boy? I can never know what it was like to be that young man, or any young man who fits the same racial and social makeup of Trayvon Martin. There is nothing I can do about this fact.
But I am thankful as all hell that I can and never will know what it is like to be filled with the smug rationale of a racist like George Zimmerman. And for this I am more than grateful.