Under Suspicion: The Killing of Trayvon Martin
In an opinion piece for the Washington Post, Jonathan Capehart writes that one of the burdens of being a black male is carrying the heavy weight of other people's suspicions. He says the Trayvon Martin story is a reminder that that burden is still his to bear.
You’ve heard me talk about the conversation my mom had with me before my first day at a predominantly white school. Reading about Trayvon reminded me of the list of the “don’ts” I received after my sheltered existence in Hazlet, N.J., was replaced with the reality of Newark when my mother remarried in the 1980s.
“Don’t run in public.” Lest someone think you’re suspicious.
“Don’t run while carrying anything in your hands.” Lest someone think you stole something.
“Don’t talk back to the police.” Lest you give them a reason to take you to jail or worse
There was also being mindful that you are being watched in stores. Watched turned to followed as I got older. To this day, if a sales person is overly attentive to what I might be looking for I leave the store. Never to return. And then there was keeping a distance of deniability from white women when walking on the street. Lest you be accused of any number of offenses, from trying to snatch her purse to sexual assault.
In the early 1990s, I saw a T-shirt for sale on Canal Street in New York that neatly and bluntly summed up my frustration with this situation: “No white lady I don't want your purse.”
All this might seem paranoid. After all, I was taught these things almost 20 years after Jim Crow by African Americans who experienced its soul-crushing force first hand. And this is 2012. So much has changed for the better since then. But then comes along a Trayvon Martin to remind us that the burden of suspicion is still ours to bear. And the cost for taking our lives might be none.
Read Jonathan Capehart's entire piece at the Washington Post.