I have a feeling that July 13, 2013 will go down in history as one of “those” days. You know – one of those days where we sit back, reminisce, and ask each other: “Where were you the day George Zimmerman was acquitted?”
Where was I? I was in the east end of Toronto, laughing over Menchies frozen yogurt at 11pm with one of my homegirls. I pulled up Twitter to show her a video saved in my favourites, and saw tweet after tweet expressing pain, anger, sadness, and disbelief over the outcome of the Zimmerman trial. Our laughs turned to silence as we both delved into our phones, Menchies melting, while we read and caught up on what had occurred. Days have passed, media runs have been made, protests and vigils have been held, Trayvon is still gone – but I feel like we’re all still acclimating to life after the verdict.
I live in Canada – the proverbial land of maple syrup, poutine, and multiculturalism. I’ve had more than a few people ask me why I was so invested in Trayvon Martin’s murder. “It happened in the States!” they said. “You know how gun-crazy and racist they are down there.” Early discussions of Trayvon’s case elicited little more than a tsk tsk and furrowed brow, then a reminder that “We have it SO much better up here.”
While I don’t want to make this post an entire shitstorm of Canada’s social issues, be aware that racism and bigotry – the catalysts behind Trayvon’s murder – are not limited to the United States of America. We have George Zimmermans aplenty here – they may not all have easy access to firearms, but the diseased mentality and abuse of power is the same. You really have to look no further than the injustices against our First Nations people to understand, but the omission of Mathieu Da Costa from history books, cross burnings in Nova Scotia, and suspicions of police involvement in Junior Alexander Manon’s death all paint a picture that many of us choose to ignore. We do have certain things better here. I do love this country and am happy that my parents chose to immigrate here. I am proud to travel the world and say that Canada is my home. However, some people want to imagine that we stiff-arm racism here the way we stiff-arm hip hop artists that try to enter the country (how’s that for irony?), and it just isn’t true. Honest dialogues about race in Canada are desperately needed.
Back to why I’ve been so invested in Trayvon Martin. Driving lessons from my father included a special class on how to handle yourself when (not if) police pull you over for no apparent reason. Growing up, I gave myself the job of protecting my brother from the assumptions made about him through the lens of prejudice, and I haven’t been able to let that fierce protectress role go. Having been the passenger many a time when HomieLoverFriend was pulled over for a DWB (driving while Black), my fury only increased while his detachment kept him cool. It was that cool detachment that infuriated me yet again last year. He walked into the house much later than usual, and explained he had been detained on the street by police. As he ran to catch his bus after work, a police cruiser cut him off by driving up on the sidewalk in front of him. Apparently, a Black man running down the street roused so much suspicion that he was forced to provide identification and a sufficient explanation before he was allowed to go. The energies that surrounded Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman that fateful night exist around me and mine as we move through the world on a daily basis. Geography or the colour of my passport don’t change that fact.
I first wrote about Trayvon Martin in a piece on this blog last year. That post led to an ugly, still-unresolved incident where I was accused of being a racist and told that some “very important people” felt extremely offended by my views. I’m ashamed to say that the incident almost led to the end of ’83 To Infinity, but I quickly decided against that. Trayvon’s story was too important, and I came to understand that my telling of his story made people uncomfortable. Those people wanted me to put their comfort over my own; wanted me to take their feelings into consideration while they trampled on mine; wanted me to get back in their box of how they thought I should act, speak, and behave. Again, Trayvon’s story – like the stories of so many other Black lives lost – is too important, and I’ll never regret my choice of sharing it in my words.
So much has been said about Trayvon’s murder, the court case, and the Zimmerman verdict. To my American friends who struggle under the systems and laws that perpetuate this violence, please know that the world is watching. While ignorance transcends any man-made border, love and support do as well – we are with you.
Toronto: There is a peaceful protest in support of Trayvon Martin scheduled for TODAY at 2pm in front of the Eaton’s Centre. If you attend, please do ensure to share photos/video on any of your social media channels!