Those who were paying attention both celebrated Trayvon Martin’s 23rd birthday and mourned the six-year remembrance of his death in the month of February, all while celebrating Black History Month and navigating racial politics.
Martin was a 17-year-old boy killed by a community watchman in a gated neighborhood in Florida where Martin’s father lived. Unarmed and walking home from 7-Eleven, it is argued by many Martin was targeted purely due to racial profiling.
George Zimmerman, the man responsible for Martin’s death, evaded persecution through lack of evidence and Florida’s stand-your-ground law. According to the Official Internet Site of the Florida Legislature this law states a person within their residence or dwelling is not required to retreat and may use “deadly force if he or she reasonably believes that using or threatening to use such force is necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or herself or another or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony.”
The incident was a familiar tragedy to American families of color, for which we often see too little justice if any at all. In the past, some legislation allowed and encouraged discrimination against people of color, such as the Three-Fifths Compromise and Jim Crow laws, but today such inequitable statutes are rightfully outlawed. The declared unconstitutionality of discriminatory laws does not ensure laws will not have racial outcomes. The War on Drugs for instance does not contain specific language pertaining to race or other identities, but very often has overwhelmingly racial consequences due to systemic racism and racial profiling.
Black Lives Matter stands up and sinks its teeth into oppression
The acquittal of the innocent teen’s murderer sparked a new movement for racial justice that unapologetically lays bare the systemic racism nurturing atrocities that have claimed the lives of countless people of color since the theft of this continent.
The Black Lives Matter movement is a new crusade for an old, enduring issue. Many argue racism has decreased since the civil rights movement, but that is just not the case. An opinion of that level of oversight is likely the result of specific privileges. Racism is alive and well, thriving within the hive of financial and bureaucratic securities of prisons, public schools systems and residential segregation.
The movement acts as an important rung in the climb to awaken the U.S., and the world, to the constant injustices within the everyday lives of people of color. Speaking out and demanding change is not the only means of racial justice advancement. Positive black representation in media is imperative to progress. After groundbreaking social media movements such as #OscarsSoWhite of 2015, Hollywood and other media platforms have made more of an effort to be inclusive. But there is still quite a bit of misunderstanding within media. People of color do not need permission from Hollywood, media or the government — people of color need them to move the hell out of the way.
Black history cannot be contained in Black History Month
According the the U.S. African American History Month website, black history month was a concept created by historian and Harvard graduate Carter G. Woodson, and was originally observed for one week in February beginning in 1926. The idea caught on and gained tremendous popularity through the advocacy of African-American communities. President Gerald Ford then expanded the observance to a full month starting in 1976. While Black History Month is undeniably an important part of every year in the U.S., too often we subscribe to whitewashed versions of black history that leave out the most important parts and whole truths.
The month-long observation of black history may lead people to believe black history is not American history, but an appendage of American history — a side note to mention. Furthermore, when celebrating black history for a single month we suggest that it can be forgotten after the designated 28 days. It gives people permission to not think about it for the rest of the year. But in truth, every single day that black communities persevere and demand equity is black history.
What we must understand
Malcolm X, who was assassinated on the the 21st of this month in 1965, famously said, “Our history did not begin in chains.” Understand black history does not start with enslavement forced upon stolen people, broken families and destroyed lives. What is taught in American schools regarding black history merely skims the surface of a world history that runs rich and more deeply than we can ever fully know.
Understand the civil rights movement did not fix things. The New York Times said the FBI tagged Martin Luther King, Jr. as the most dangerous man in the U.S. after his “I Have a Dream Speech,” as he threatened to dismantle the forced oppression of black lives. King was assassinated less than eight months after his famous speech. While progress was made through the undying dedication and sacrifices made by activists, ordinary citizens and the passing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, further efforts for true equal treatment were squelched by King’s murder.
The civil right movement caused the government to step up their oppressive efforts in new and more clever ways. Jim Crow laws were replaced by mass incarceration, disenfranchisement, education and employment inequities, the War on Drugs and racial profiling. The only people who should be satisfied with the results of the civil rights movement are those who stomped it out.
Understand every advancement is noteworthy and necessary, that black lives must be respected, encouraged and celebrated. Each day the U.S. witnesses people of color tearing down walls toward racial justice, cultural appreciation, real black representation, real black love, real black bodies, real black culture, real black opinions, real black lives, real change — and it all matters.