New York Times columnist Brent Staples charges that the death of Trayvon Martin is reflective of the criminalization of black males, regardless of their age. Some people see black men in public and surmise where they might be in their lives — a businessman dressed for the gym or a pimple-faced hoodie-wearing teen on the way to school — while others, like George Zimmerman, simply see the dangerous black male stereotype despite appearances that prove otherwise.
Young black men know that in far too many settings they will be seen not as individuals, but as the “other,” and given no benefit of the doubt. By the time they have grown into adult bodies — even though they are still children — they are well versed in the experience of being treated as criminals until proved otherwise by cops who stop and search them and eyed warily by nighttime pedestrians who cower on the sidewalks.
Society’s message to black boys — “we fear you and view you as dangerous” — is constantly reinforced. Boys who are seduced by this version of themselves end up on a fast track to prison and to the graveyard. But even those who keep their distance from this deadly idea are at risk of losing their lives to it. The death of Trayvon Martin vividly underscores that danger.
Very few Americans make a conscious decision to subscribe to racist views. But the toxic connotations that the culture has associated with blackness have been embedded in thought, language and social convention for hundreds of years. This makes it easy for people to see the world through a profoundly bigoted lens without being aware that they are doing so.
Read Brent Staples’ entire column at the New York Times.