I'm surprised by the force with which I feel the impact of the Trayvon Martin verdict. Not just as a mother, as I try and imagine what it must be like, to walk out of a courtroom where a half dozen of your fellow citizens have decided that the fatal shooting of your unarmed seventeen year old is not a crime. Not even because as a person I am horrified that life is repeatedly shown to be worthless. I am sad because of the level of censorship that this case has shown to me to exist. Self censorship, I know amongst my friends, but mainly of myself.
I heard news of the acquittal at about 3:30am on Sunday morning. Since then I have cried about it. I've also been unable to talk about it with the accepted pseudo-legal dispassion and moral high ground that such complex (is it complex?) cases seem, in polite company, to require. That's because I am furious, I am disgusted and I am heartbroken. And yet much as I've wanted to post about it, I have equally avoided doing so.
I haven't wanted to write because it's uncomfortable, it's political, and it's divisive and not just on racial lines. I've explained away my inaction by pointing to the fact that I am not a lawyer; I didn't follow the case all that closely and so feel uncertain whether my opinions are really valid. I feel like a light-weight wading into the American legal, socio-political system when as a Ghanaian I don't really understand the African-American experience. But mainly I haven't wanted to write because I don't want to open myself up to the kinds of attack that cases like this seem to bring. More than this and if I am scrupulously honest, I don't want what I have to say to be dismissed as, predictably, what all Black people feel. As if by the colour of our skin we are one monolithic voice and person, because we are not.
Yet the fact remains that my individual voice is calling me to make a statement about something that happened far away to a boy who is a bit like me. And I have understood that I have talked in the last two days, with two exceptions, only to brown people like me about this case. The unavoidable truth is that among my admittedly not massive, but still sizeable number of Facebook friends, not a single one of my non-Black friends have posted, commented or initiated a conversation about this. And I wonder why this is? It is because this case involves a brown-skinned boy? Is it that the unavoidable racial conversation makes it scary of non-Black people to feel like they have an opinion they can share? When so many sides of the conversation are bound in fearful censorship, how can we communicate and air our opinions, voice our anger and hurt and disappointment and have them heard in ways that are more constructive than defensive posturing or rioting?
Why I was reticent to say quickly, publically and without fear that it's wrong and numbing that an unarmed brown-skinned boy can be gunned down for, what? For being himself? For being imagined to fit the stereotype of a life-threatening thug? Explain it to me. Why is it that I feel that I can't speak openly about this with my entire cosmopolitan, über-opinionated, mainly warm circle of friends? I know it's because to stand firmly and announce my opinion so concretely to the world is scary. It's bound to unearth some fault lines in friendship that may never recover. Maybe that's the reason this particular loss hurts all the more. Because along with a 17 year old I never met dies some of the romanticism of friendship. Perhaps that's why I cannot write without having to stop every few words to blink away the tears that warp the screen. Standing for justice it seems means drawing a line of what you stand for and so who stands with you. And that creates the divide. And that's where we already are: us and them.