Trayvon Martin’s death: a wakeup call for America

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The recent death of teenager Trayvon Martin seems unreal.

As if the nature of the crime wasn’t troubling enough, Zimmerman, the man who took Martin’s life, who claimed his response was the result of self-defense, has not been arrested or charged with a crime.

In such a clear-cut situation, people’s responses should be outrage across the board. While much of the public and the media have had this reaction, this has not been the case everywhere.

Some news stories have framed the story as one about gun-related issues. For instance, many news outlets have discussed Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” Law, which permits people to use deadly force against others if the so-called “victim” fears for their lives. 

While gun control speculation is always relevant to regrettable shootings, this is not a situation about the failures of gun regulation. To turn the death of an innocent teenager into a discussion of partisan issues evades the real, important issues at hand.

Another number of news outlets have also focused on the hooded sweatshirt Martin was wearing when he was killed. 

Fox News commentator, Geraldo Rivera, said that the hoodie Martin was wearing when he was killed was as responsible for Martin’s death as Zimmerman was, which sparked a great deal of backlash.

While the backlash relates to the fact that Martin’s death was not about a hoodie, the comment and the backlash heavily distracts people from the real reason why Martin was killed.

Even with all of these different angles creating distracting noise, the undeniable elephant in the room is the racial aspect of the killing.

Trayvon Martin was an African-American teenager minding his own business, whom a white man found “suspicious,” and subsequently shot to death. To deny that this is a case of racism is absurd.

It is an immense understatement to say that the discussion surrounding Martin’s death has showcased the difficulty Americans have talking about race, and racially-charged conflicts in particular.

In my small, racially homogenous, suburban hometown I have heard people – including African American people – earnestly say that they don’t think racism is a big issue in America anymore. 

Yet, anytime someone talks about privilege of a particular group, people become uncomfortable. Those being told they are privileged often become defensive and angry; probably because they recognize the claim as an accusation. White privilege is no exception. 

Martin’s death should be a wake-up call for both those who believe that racism is not a major issue today, and for white people who don’t believe they are privileged because of race.

White privilege means not worrying about your children, or yourself, being shot to death because of racism – whether the racism is a direct cause, such as in the Martin case, or more institutionalized. 

It is important to understand that for many people, this is a justified, ever-present fear; Trayvon Martin’s death shows just how real such threats are.

While many aspects of Martin’s death are worth considering and discussing, we must not turn our backs on the racially-related reasons why Martin died.

Instead, let us, as a society, allow his tragic death to spark a deep look at race in America, and the many ways in which it is still a major issue we must reckon with.

While it is true that Martin’s death is not unique in the sense that many people are killed, or victimized due to racism, this particular case has gotten America’s attention. It would only add to the amount of failures surrounding deaths like these if we let Martin’s death fade from the spotlight without a meaningful impact.