Where Are You Going, Trayvon Martin? ~ Mirela Gegprifti

Via Mirela Gegpriftion Jul 24, 2013

race equality

Where are you from and where are you going? This is the time when we should re-examine America’s relationship to racism.

The Zimmerman trial and the resulting verdict of finding him not guilty in the shooting of Trayvon Martin brought to mind a family anecdote.

A few years ago, while chatting on the phone with my friend’s five-year-old son, he cheerfully shared stories of a new friendship he had struck with a little girl while on vacation. When I asked him if he was going to play with her the next day, he said no because she had left for “her America.” What he meant to say was that she and her family had left for home in another state.

This is what it has come down to: within one country, we have created many Americas.

Taking a detour from what was proudly defined as American exceptionalism, recently the country has proven itself to be unapologetically racist, white and black, whiter than white, democratic and republican, Hispanic and Asian and of course a lover of guns.

Here we are, a mere few decades after the civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s, headed by the first black president and the country hits rock bottom on its racial history by letting a murderer walk out of the courtroom free.

From where I stand, my America is linked to people like Trayvon Martin and at a deeper look, our realities indeed collide.

I know what you’re thinking: a white educated young woman has no business complaining about life. Add to it that I am an immigrant and then I ask you to reconsider your position. All is well for me until I open my mouth and my accent flees without return. From there, I have nowhere to hide. My accent becomes my skin color and I remain subject to the sometimes ignorant and sometimes cheerful curiosity of whomever I am speaking with.

George Zimmerman started what would become one of the ugliest racial trials in American history by asking Trayvon Martin the question of where he was going.

The question directed at me is steady as a rock and always the same:

“Where are you from?”

Like Martin did not belong—in Zimmerman’s opinion—in the gated community he was walking in, I, too seem to be subject of inquiry again and again.

While unfortunately it’s become clear that all young black men out there are subject to scrutiny because of their skin color, my share of it is a constant one as well. At the end, people like Martin or people like me find it difficult to claim the belonging of anywhere.

We never succeed in convincing the “Zimmermans” of this world that we belong where we say we belong. Instead, they have to define our lives and categorize us by skin color and accents. We all get asked a similar question:

“Where are you going? Where are you from?”

Convinced that I belong in this country as much as any other good American, over time I have also conducted a few social experiments.

Recently, on a night out, a young man approached me and we started talking. Before I knew it, the question came.

“Where are you from?” he asked.

I looked at him straight in the eyes and replied, “From here.”

He paused for a few seconds and asked again, “No, really, where are you from?”

“Really, from here,” I said.

He looked at me as if I had two heads and there was an undertone of his feeling offended by my answer. What I should have added was: anyone who lives anywhere for a long enough time has the right to claim roots there. Isn’t that obvious? Apparently it wasn’t. I suspect that it will not be for a long time.

My America demands that I give every ounce of my soul to it and it guarantees nothing in return. Like a scene out of a Fellini movie, I often feel I have given all I have—my last rooster, last piece of bread, last cigarette, last kiss, my shoes, my soul, my youth, two graduate degrees (read: thousands of dollars!) and it is never enough.

Where am I from?

The Zimmermans of my America like to feed themselves and their families the myth of the American dream on their dinner table. While they refuse to look at the world around them with a curious and accepting eye, they feel entitled to ask the rest of us where are we from and where are we going.

Of course, all of this gets put into perspective when you add to it the fact that “Zimmermans” have guns.

They can decide at any given time that a hooded sweater on a black teenager or someone speaking with an accent are worrisome people. They deserve to be interrogated by any “decent” citizen out there who feels they’re doing society a favor by asking the questions that they ask.

No matter how challenging, overwhelmingly difficult and non-accepting life can be for immigrants, being white remains the biggest credential one can hold. We can use it as a lifeline at any given time and it works. Trayvon Martin couldn’t.

Clearly, American exceptionalism has come to a full halt.

This is the time when we should collectively reexamine our relationship to racism.

As we do that, let’s remember that racism comes in different shapes and forms just like the many Americas we have come to construct. Sometimes it assumes the face of Trayvon Martin and that of any immigrant struggling to make it in life.

We can only claim to have restored part of the American exceptionalism the moment we stop asking each other the questions:

“Where are you going?” and “Where are you from?”

 

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Ed: Cat Beekmans

Photo: via Pinterest

 

About Mirela Gegprifti

Mirela Gegprifti is a published poet and writer with an interest in well-being and culture. A passionate advocate of self and human development with a master’s degree in feminist literary theory and another in international education, you can follow her reflections in her new blog.

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14 Responses to “Where Are You Going, Trayvon Martin? ~ Mirela Gegprifti”

  1. It is almost as bad for blacks in white neighborhoods as it is for whites in black neighborhoods except typically we don't kill blacks we just know to keep an eye on them.. Blacks kill us because they have no pride, self respect, or respect for decency.
    The hatred that whites have for many blacks was brought on by thugs robbing white neighborhoods. You know it, I know it and the entire world knows it.
    Making excuses for your people being the way they are isn't going to change anything and it just boils the hate into a stronger stew and while that is sad, that is again a problem caused by your people.
    Far more whites in America have worked to end slavery than blacks have. Matter of fact most of you are still slaves and your master just happens to be the government who gives you section 8 AFDC WIC and countless other programs.
    YES, more white people use those programs than blacks do but crunch the numbers of blacks v/s whites before you make that tired argument.
    Nice try with the race merchant game though.

  2. Mark Ledbetter says:

    I've lived outside America for over 30 years (and, btw, it's natural that people ask me where I'm from when they hear my accent or even see me). I'm dismayed when I look into my America with my outside perspective and see the rampant racism. However, this article ignores a great deal.

    For example, the writer here says,

    "George Zimmerman started what would become one of the ugliest racial trials in American history by asking Trayvon Martin the question of where he was going."

    Yes, the question is sinister and common. But when I was young, that question was much more sinister and much more common. The progress since then has been great.

    Also, just during the course of the trial, 50 African Americans were killed in Chicago alone, most of them about Trayvon Martin's age, most (all?) of them by other African Americans. The point? One reason things become news is because they are unusual. The Zimmerman killing of Martin was news precisely because it was unusual. The much bigger story – those fifty kids in Chicago – is more important by far, but it's so common and ordinary, it's not news.

    I'd suggest that if you want to write articles about what's important, you might look at those 50 in Chicago instead of the 1 in Sanford, i.e. look at what's happening every day all across America instead of what happens a couple o' times a year.

    Racial tension and gun violence are designated news themes. All times and places probably have their designated themes. Generally, though, if you want to get creative and get to the heart of things, you have to be willing to go off the designated trail.

    • Mirela says:

      Not a bad suggestion…. Here’s another one: why don’t you go ahead and write about it?

      Thanks for reading.

    • Annoyed says:

      Need I state the obvious? Apparently so; here you go: black-on-black crimes are seldom racially-motivated (surprisingly, the same holds true for white-on-white crime). Millions of people seem somehow unable to fathom this stupefyingly obvious distinction when posing over and over again the same ridiculous diversionary argument that black people have no right to be angry about being the victims of racially-motivated crime when they fall victim to crime from other blacks. Not to mention the ludicrous and intellectually-unexamined mentality that "blacks" are somehow accountable for each other. I have no fucking responsibility for the behavior of what you think is "my tribe" thank you very much. Are you responsible for Bernie Madoff?

      • Mark Ledbetter says:

        No, Black-on-Black crime is not racially motivated. But it is much more important in 21st century America than racially motivated crime. It should be handled that way by the media.

        Also, there actually is a racist aspect to Black-on-Black crime: unconscious racism by the mostly White media – including Ele writers – in the stories they choose to feature.

        Black-on-Black crime relates directly to the "American Gulag." The Gulag is the system of jails that holds millions of mostly young minority men for victimless crimes as a result of the war on drugs. Those incarcerated have their lives destroyed and the neighborhoods they come from are destroyed as well. If millions of Whites were incarcerated or their communities destroyed, you KNOW this would be a huge story. In fact, the war on drugs would be quickly ended, just as Prohibition was, and the Gulag dismantled. It's not ended, nor is it made a story of importance, simply because the victims are outside the White power structure.

  3. charlie43 says:

    The author seems to forget that Zimmerman was acquitted by a jury of his peers, who found him not guilty of any crime. This piece is so reminiscent of many people who can't accept that fact. Yes, we are entitled to our opinions. However, in the final analysis, the jury has spoken, and GZ was found to be innocent of any crime. Like it or not, it is the American justice system, and if one is to claim to be "from here" even when it is obvious that they are not, then they must be accepting of the findings of that justice system. I personally cannot pick sides in this case, as there is no supporting evidence to prove that GZ did anything illegal. Yes, he was certainly out of line by following and confronting Martin. We must also accept the fact that GZ was a watch commander in a neighborhood watch system that had seen its neighborhood threatened and vandalized by black youth. However, we do not know what may have prompted these actions, and it is too easy for people to play the race card here. I have to ask myself who has stirred up so much hate and discontent over this acquittal. What I have read makes me sad. From my own point of view, I must accept the fact that GZ was found not guilty, and accept the fact that he was given a fair trial and the defense could prove no wrongdoing. To ME, this is the American way…

    C~

  4. Kate says:

    My Grandmother, who just died at 99,was a young schoolgirl when she taught her Polish immigrant father Jozef to sign his name so that he could become a citizen. He loved America! When I ask someone where are you from, it is with this deep respect for taking up roots and starting a new life with often a new language, different culture, and wide open future.

    However, you are right when you say there are many Americas–and it is this diversity, this anything goes in our country, that makes it so difficult to know where someone is coming from when they want to know. Certainly, a man in a bar deserves no more respect than he is treating you with, but if you’re looking for a fun evening and pleasant laughs, perhaps consider he liked the way you looked and wanted to get to know you better.

    In my view, it is not the question itself that started this problem, but where both Martin and Zimmerman were coming from. Zimmerman, from violence and carrying a gun because there had been break-ins and relatively minor thefts in the neighborhood–no rapes, assaults, shootings, or even disorderly conduct. This killing came from aggression over fear of someone taking STUFF. I believe Martin and his reaction to Zimmerman’s aggression was in line with an immature, city kid raised in a tough neighborhood in a violent city.

  5. Catherine says:

    First of all, I am tired of people extrapolating information out of the little they know of the Martin/Zimmerman issue. There were black people living in that community. Zimmerman (who is half Hispanic) did not know if Martin was black at the beginning but he did know that he did not recognize Martin (since he was new to the area) while fulfilling his responsibility as a neighborhood watch in a community that had experienced at least eight burglaries, nine thefts and one shooting in addition to dozens of reported break-ins in the past year. Zimmerman called the number (not 911) he was supposed to call to report suspicious activity and stated that the subject of his concern was acting strange like he was on drugs. The toxicology report indicated that Martin had evidence of marijuana in his system. When Zimmerman was told by the dispatcher that Zimmerman did not need to follow Martin, Zimmerman said, "Okay." The incident where Martin punched Zimmerman in the nose (thereby breaking it) and then had Zimmerman on the ground, beating his head against the sidewalk happened not far from Zimmerman's vehicle. The racial remarks (as evidenced by Martin's conversation with his friend where he called Zimmerman "a creepy assed cracker," "cracker" being a disparaging term for Southern white people) and violence were all initiated by Martin. Zimmerman did what he was supposed to do: report and describe an unknown person walking between buildings, etc. in his community. If Martin had continued to where he was staying, the police may have located him and questioned him but he would still be alive. It is unfair to state that if Zimmerman had not followed Martin or , Martin would still be alive when Martin was clearly the aggressor.

    Thank you, Mr Ledbetter, for pointing out some truly noteworthy information. I would like to add that very little was heard about the incident earlier this year in Brunswick, GA, where a 17 year old black boy shot a 13 month old child in the face because the child's mother (both were white) claimed she had no money to give him when she and her child were threatened. The mother was shot in the leg and was grazed by another bullet.

    Mr. Zimmerman, by the way, recently helped to rescue a family trapped in an overturned SUV. The family were going to be interviewed by the press but changed their minds because they were AFRAID to say anything positive about Zimmerman.

    My question is: what would YOU do if someone bigger and stronger than you attacked you and had you on the ground beating your head against the sidewalk?

  6. Catherine says:

    And by the way, I often ask foreigners where they are from and where they are going because I simply am interested in them as people. I think it is important to be friendly and welcoming toward people who are new to the United States or who are visiting.

  7. Nadia says:

    I sincerely hope the two comments above are not representative of the readership here. If so, I’ve clearly stumbled into the wrong place.

    The first comment is so misinformed it barely deserves an answer but I will bite anyway. Your comment is just like the husband who beats his wife and then derides her for becoming bitter. If a population is denied the ability to educate themselves and better themselves how can they at the same time be derided for being uneducated and not interested in bettering themselves.

    Commenter two- I see the point you are trying to make but the difference is im sure the African Americans who killed the kids in Chicago will be tried and punished justly without half a nation coming to their defense. The terrible thing here is our courts have ruled that Trayvon does not deserve the same justice because he is black.

  8. Mark Ledbetter says:

    Nadia, don't worry. I'm surprised at the tenor of the remarks here so far. Usually my comments are way off the norm. Judging from your comments, I have a feeling you should be at home here. I'm not sure why there are not more comments like yours.

    Still, the fifty kids in Chicago should be about fifty times more newsworthy than the one kid in Sanford. THAT's the story here. You are right about the court system and American racism but, in my opinion, you are wrong about that being reason enough to make a small story big while we ignore the really big and important story.

    Racism in America and in the court system are much less than they once were. Violence in African American communities are much greater than they once were. Focusing on the first while ignoring the second has the kind of moral clarity, which attracts us, but it trivializes real tragedies happening on an hourly basis in America.

    At least that's the way things look from my position outside America looking in.

    • Nadia says:

      Mark, I realize this is old news now, but it is so refreshing to see a well considered reply on an internet comments section I had to respond. I do understand your point more clearly now and agree. I believe Trayvons killing was not given fair justice by the American courts system and that is a tragedy, but I do also believe that in general, violence in America is a greater issue and more deserving of media attention.

  9. neil says:

    Trevon knocked down and beat up a guy who had a gun. Not too smart.

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