Love letter during Black History Month
Here are some thoughts during Black History Month for my white-privileged folk (and anyone else who wants to read, obviously), from a fellow white-privileged person. For any nonwhite folk wishing to skip this over today, there’s lots of discussion below on the culture of equating Black lives with their murders; I know that can be a lot on a person’s social media feed.
If you are a white person who has ever hashtagged the name of a murdered black person — how long have you spent reading about their life? I’m not trying to come for you, but rather, sharing a question I have asked myself. This is me on the same level as you, as someone who has also hashtagged the names of those murdered by those who look like me; not me “woker” than you — whatever that means. If we have spent the 60 seconds in rightful remembrance of the worst day of a person’s life and what it means — how many minutes have we spent honoring that life’s other days, and what they mean?
I started thinking about this recently on Trayvon Benjamin Martin’s birthday, which also falls in the first week of Black History Month; the day of his murder falls in the last week. I wanted to hold this child’s memory present , but I didn’t just want to write about his death — nor think of him only as his death. I do think people deserve to have their injustices remembered and screamed; they just also deserve more than that, as whole human beings. Incidentally, that’s why I started writing Trayvon Martin’s name with “Benjamin” in it, after learning his middle name during my internet dive. For me, reading his full name throws off the rhythm of what became a hashtag to remind us that he was a whole human being, with history, a place and people he came from, names the people who loved him called him. Trayvon Benjamin Martin was every day of his 17 years on this earth and all the generations he carried inside him.
In doing an introductory internet scour, I was struck by how long the Wikipedia entry on Trayvon Martin was, yet all the information on his life seemed cast in the specter of his death. Even information about his time in high school reads like evidence from the legal proceedings that put a 17-year-old on trial for his own murder; it was probably gleaned from that source. Searching Amadou Diallo’s name was similar. Granted, I have no idea what the wishes of those families may be — i.e., it’s perfectly valid to not want to give the world greater access to your loved one’s stolen life. I’m also betting that wasn’t the deciding factor in these media coverage decisions.
I was just thinking, you know. I am so many things as a person. Every life is. What if I were murdered, and all that the world came to know of me — the size and shape of the footprint my life got to have — was someone else’s power to blot me out? If that’s all I got to be known by, it feels like my murderer would really have succeeded.
All human lives are and deserved to be held as more than their traumas. More than the oppressive systems that try to squeeze them out of existence, and to which, inexplicably — impossibly — in ways as miraculous as they are mundane — folks simply flip off by continuing to live their lives every day.
I’m not Black, I’ll (quite obviously) never be Black, and if anything, my life and the way I’m allowed to move through the world shares infinitely more in common with a George Zimmerman than a Trayvon Benjamin Martin, and always will. I’m not qualified to speak on what Black folks need or want and it’s not my intent to do or suggest that, though acknowledging how privilege shapes our experience of the world means recognizing I likely do just that, more often than I know, without even realizing it.
And it is from that vantage point that I speak to other white folks — horizontally — on the same plane as you, no better nor worse — to say, I think “Black Lives Matter” needs to mean that every day and every piece of those lives matter. In the fullness of their humanity. Because people need enough space, not just to not die. But to actually get to live.
I think it would be great if we could reflect this Black History Month, and always, on how we put that into action. What that would mean, and what it would require. I’m here for having those conversations.