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Made In Our America: Letter to Trayvon Martin

Reflections on a boy lost too young, and a culture that allowed it to happen.

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You knew none of this, Trayvon, as you were walking with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea in your hands. But you were a walking dead man-child the moment George Zimmerman ignored the police dispatcher’s order not to pursue you. In that moment, Mr. Zimmerman had become your judge, your juror, and your executioner in a single bound of racist logic. Your life, gone. The final waves of magic of Barack Obama’s historic 2008 election, gone. Myths and lies that America had become a post-racial society, gone. Pretensions and denials that black people can live in gated suburban communities and not think about being black each minute of their existence, gone.

But this is not new, Trayvon. It really began when Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement were still alive. Not only are you the modern-day Emmett Till, but you are also the four little girls bombed to death in Alabama; the scores of black and white civil rights workers murdered for having the audacity to come together, for freedom, for democracy, for America. And you are a victim of the policies of President Ronald Reagan and the Reagan era, too, Trayvon.

I remember those times well. Mr. Reagan may have been the so-called great communicator and symbolic leader of America’s late-20th-century conservative movement, but it was in the 1980s that the seeds were sown for “taking back our country,” which manifest themselves today in the Tea Party, in anti-democracy voter identification laws snaking their way from state to state—one well-financed piece of legislation after another, in the nonstop attacks on the rights and bodies of women, and in the anti-immigration fanaticism masked as protecting our borders and our traditions.

Anyone who cannot see the connections between these multiple efforts, the energies channeled to divide and conquer, to pit Americans against each other, against ourselves and our own interests, Trayvon, can easily become George Zimmerman and patrol a neighborhood because they have been so contaminated with hate and rage that they do not realize they are no longer thinking for themselves.

And what you wanted was a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea and you got death instead.

This land is our land, Trayvon, from one Native American reservation to the next, from ghetto to ghetto, from ocean to ocean, from one long unemployment line or long gas line to the next. We have a black president in the White House and a black boy whose execution was so preposterous that even he, Barack Obama, finally had to admit that you could have been his son.

Yet the president’s slow response time, Trayvon, is a symptom of American racism. Black elected officials, more times than not, and particularly in these times, if they want to get re-elected, are generally not free to speak their minds on sensitive subjects like race, nor free to be the whole, well-rounded, and complex beings that God made them to be. So many, except the ones with guts of steel and more concern for truth than poll numbers and political careers, silence themselves or speak with forked tongues, stick their hands in their pockets, and strike race-neutral poses as often as possible. That, to me, is as demented as the behavior of George Zimmerman, or the Tea Party, or the remarkably offensive Republican primary comments of Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney and Rick Santorum.

Equally demented, Trayvon, are some of the so-called progressives or liberals who do not get the position Barack Obama is in, how he really will never be, as president, the kind of candidate he was, because the office of the presidency is already very restrictive. Add the dynamic of Mr. Obama’s race, or biracialism, and you have a man who appears to some to have lost his swagger, to be, well, powerless to champion and deliver that hope and change so eloquently guaranteed what feels like an eternity ago.

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