The murder of Trayvon Martin has become a focal point of national attention, which has brought in its train in my week's absence from news of the outside world (even as close to the scene of the crime as I was in Orlando, I purposely tuned out every bit of news I could; I even ignored the weather reports) the ugly, evil parts of our country, the unhindered Id of racial hatred and bloodlust that linger in our national psyche. It is far too easy, I think, to point fingers at "those" racists, at the "Other" white supremacists, and declare them outside the bounds of our national polity. Whether the gussied-up bigots of the "respectable right" on the Internet or the unabashed dregs of humanity from Stormfront and other such nooks and crannies where our worst selves propagate, we are seeing and hearing in and through them the deepest part of ourselves, stripped of our defensive refusal to admit our own racism, our own fear of the Other. To be American is to live with the uneasy truce between this unbridled Id and our Ego's insistence on order in chaos, our national Superego telling us that, with the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr's life and the election of Barack Obama, this ugly past is behind us.
All it takes is the murder of a young black man to remind us how phony this truce is. The maggots crawl over the corpse of the better angel of our collective nature, and we see and hear who we are, who we may always be unless we own it, and in owning it, demand it silence itself.
While I was away, a commenter insisted that new facts had come to light that mitigated my complaint that describing the murder of Trayvon Martin as a tragedy was wrong. I fail to see anything I have read of what has come to light in the past week somehow justifies George Zimmerman killing young Trayvon Martin. Unless, as Charlie Pierce writes in what may well be one of the most beautiful, damning, pieces of writing on this matter I have read, there are just way too many people in our country who believe that some human lives are expendable.
I would also point out that Pierce is spot on highlighting Ta-Nahisi Coates' writings, in particular this piece.
What the future holds in reference to events in Sanford, FL is unclear to me at this moment. What I do know is a young man is dead. He was a young man like all young men, full of contradictions and cross-currents in his life as he struggled to come to terms with his identity; that a seventeen year old might have once been caught with marijuana isn't so much shocking as it is irrelevant. That a young man once flipped off a camera isn't proof of his danger so much as proof he may well have had a sense of humor. We will never be sure how these facets and bits and pieces of his personality might have come together to make Trayvon Martin a man, because George Zimmerman shot him and killed him.
I sit in mourning with Trayvon's family, wishing only this - that someone in a position of authority would say he should not have died that February afternoon, that George Zimmerman's act of violence deserves, at the very least, to be investigated as a crime, and that young Trayvon Martin should not be remembered as anything other than what he was: a young man full of promise that will never be fulfilled because it is still far too easy and convenient to see a young black man as a threat, rather than a human being.
UPDATE: I referenced above what was purported to be a photo of Trayvon Martin flipping the bird. The photo, apparently, was not of Trayvon Martin at all. Even this attempt to portray the young man as some kind of threat has failed utterly and completely. I apologize for repeating the slur without checking my facts first.