Barack Obama’s response to the Trayvon Martin verdict must have disappointed a lot of people. Instead of going HAM, calling down hellfire, invoking some superhero presidential powers to smite Zimmerman, his jurors and everybody in the way, he just said what the president of a democratic nation that runs on the rule of law would say. “That’s the verdict, so that’s the verdict.”
But he also said something a lot of black Americans have been saying, though it takes on greater moment coming from him, being as he is, the president and all. He said “I could have been Trayvon Martin.”
Many people could have been Trayvon. In fact, those of us who listen to so much grown-ups rap music already know that very many people have in fact already been Trayvon, shot and murdered just fwaa by people who go unpunished. It happens so often that, as one angry teenager once said, it’s like “nothing happens. It’s just another nigger dead.”
And it isn’t just gun-toting racists, it’s the police, or it’s criminals of your own race, gangbangers and “thugs”, who could end the life of a black kid just for walking down the wrong road at the wrong time looking like the wrong type of person in the eyes of the wrong armed guy.
America is full of unsung Trayvons, but the creeps come closer to the spine when you wonder how many kids got shot during the LRA for walking. How often is this happening in DRC.
How often does a guy with the means to kill jump to a conclusion basing on the clothing and appearance of a dude across the path and effect those means here in Kampala?
Oh shit. I could be Trayvon Martin. I don’t speak my language fluently and I work at New Vision. When the Ganda extremists were rioting the other year, stopping people in their cars and harassing them, hell, if I was in the wrong place—and I don’t even look Ganda enough. I could have been the victim of a tribally-motivated attack, even though I am of that tribe.
I wear a hoodie over my headphones and get home late. I won’t hear a security guard asking me to identify myself and prove that I am not a thief when I am walking home. I could get shot by a Zimmerman in Najjeera. Oh shit! I just realized that.
Whether Zimmerman was racist in the classic sense or not, he “niggered” Trayvon. As in he assumed the worst things about him just because of the way he looks. The way we nigger a rapper, assuming that because his jeans hang low, he has tattooes, he raps, that he must therefore be a sociopath—painting Common and Lupe with the same brush as Thug Money Killa, Pimp Dogg, Gangsta Murda G and Rick Ross, applying all the prejudice the word “nigger” entails (violent, criminal, oversexed, drug abusing, unintelligent) upon him because of the way he is dressed.
This is, of course, not just a white American thing. Ironically, prejudice does not discriminate. It’s everywhere and anyone can have it. The fact that it is so pervasive and so apparently easy to fall into is what makes it so frightening.
So Obama said what he said, and leaves us to think about what we are going to do next, now as we stand in these ashes.
Well, what else can we do? Obama is hopeful, but he is Obama. Until the time he dreams about, in the meantime, there will be more. Probably were more. Last night even. In some part of the world somewhere. Someone fell.
What can we do?
The only thing we can do with prejudice, Just don’t be it. Just don’t be those people who assume the worst of someone because of the way he or she looks or dresses or what shade their skin is.