There are a million things to say about the Trayvon Martin killing. There are political and racial angles, there’s gun issues, there’s notions about how all of these things intersect with gated communities and homeowner associations (HOAs). There’s the reactionary politics and the need for “side-taking” in increasingly polarizing times when everything ultimately breaks into camps along “right” and “left” factions.
But all of these millions of things have been said and are being said. And they should be. They need to be said. What I want to express here, however, is a different thing.
For all of us, on whatever side we fall, Trayvon Martin is ultimately an abstraction. His death and the official police reaction (or non-reaction) to it are viewed, as a matter of necessity, through our own personal filters and the attitudes we hold and therefore the actions we take.
For many people on the right who feel, on a territorial level, threatened upon any discussion of issues involving citizens and firearms and have an almost reflexive need to gainsay what they perceive as “left-wing thought”, the reality of this young boy’s life has been reduced to an abstraction of media overplay and hysteria and it aids their confirmation bias about a “left wing media.
A loose collection of facts having precisely nothing to do with his shooting, concerning school suspension or pot use* along with an article-of-faith style belief that “mainstream media” is a de facto biased and specifically hostile force acts as some kind of totem to transform him into an unknowable uncertainty; he exists a potential thug/criminal/menace and blameworthy in some respect simply because there is a conditioning to think every story HAS to have two equal and opposite sides.
The boy who died is lost in the shuffle there.
And on the part of those moved to anger or tears or gut-churning frustration and rage at the situation, we too engage in a form of abstraction. By necessity, but still. For as much as it is a heartening and proper thing to see young people proclaim, “I am Trayvon Martin,” together, as much as it seems like the proper and correct response to don hoodies and act in solidarity– on a fundamental level, they/we are NOT Trayvon Martin. Metaphorically, symbolically, as an poetic expression, we are LIKE him or those that we know and love are LIKE him and “there but for the grace of god” and all that– but the I AM construction is a poetic device. You are not. I am not. I am not saying that these marches, these discussions are all not needed or important. They are. But there’s something being lost here that I think needs to remain.
Trayvon Martin is dead and only got to see seventeen summers and will not see an eighteenth. No one image of him is going to sum up who or what he was: He was, like all of us, an accumulation of time and images. But unlike us, his accumulation is done. He is dead and his father will never get to hold him again and his mother will never get to hold him again. We get to talk about it all and get to be angry and sad or outraged.
There are a million intersections into a million different sticky areas of society contained within this set of circumstances and you can get lost in the weeds depending on who you are talking to and what branches you start down. But they are all abstractions from the reality of this very simple set of facts:
A young boy was walking to his father’s house and he was mistrusted a priori by an overzealous, twitchy man who confronted him for no defensible reason at all and then killed him.
Everything else is commentary. We engage through metaphor, we abstract and discuss broader issues, but the reality is this: A boy went walking one night and didn’t make it alive to his house.
Here’s where my head is at, at the moment, when I think about this.
No matter who you are, on what area of the political spectrum you fall, this is what I want you to consider, when considering Trayvon Martin and his family.
Each and every parent out there can tell you a laundry list of near misses and childhood scares that act as a narrative thread to describe a child’s first ten years.
Ask them. If you don’t have children, ask your parents.
Late nights with high fevers, falls from stairs or monkey bars. Waiting on test results, the existential shaking with relief when they came back all OK. Ask any mother or father: there was the time they got lost at a fair or an amusement park for ten panic-filled minutes. There was the time they fell into the pool and didn’t know how to swim; the aunt or uncle who pulled them out by their hair. The broken arm that, for a lucky chance of angle and momentum could have just as easily been a broken neck. The car accident where everybody was somehow OK.
Every one of us here, our first few years are a collection of near misses and close calls. Every one of our kids. Your kid. My kids.
Consider, before you abstract Trayvon Martin in one way or another, that for two people, he was not an abstraction or a political football or a cause or an exegesis on racism and assumptions about black males. He was their little baby who survived all those fevers, those falls and tumbles, those million and three lucky breaks that early childhood give us. He, like us, made it through all that and, if I am allowed here to be guilty of the act that I am naming, I will imagine that his parents may have breathed a sigh of relief when they looked at their increasingly grown young man that those days, for all their moments of parental terror and uncertainty, were things of the past.
But he didn’t survive his walk home to his dad’s house.
* about the pot use: If you were to shoot every 17 year old boy who smoked pot when I went to High School, there would be no graduating class. When you see conservative media discuss young black kids and pot, there is always the language of “dealer.” You know what they called a 17 year old who smoked pot in my school? A 17 year old.