Who was Julian Bond?

Today I’m writing to all the would-be dreamers, the young people who would believe they could make a difference if only they knew what to do, and our future leaders—the only leaders who will be left in 50 years time.

You may have heard that Saturday, August 15th, Julian Bond died. Who was Julian Bond? He was, at least when he was young, no different from any other person who knew something needed to be done.

Back in the 1960s, Julian Bond was just a college student. He was studying English at Morehouse College, and he had a sense that Blacks in America deserved something better than segregation.

How did he respond? While he was a student at Morehouse, he and over 200 other Black students attended a meeting organized by Ella Baker, someone who had learned how to organize people in the 1930s. This student organization became the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and it grew and grew until it became the driving force behind the Civil Rights Movement. Its members organized sit-ins, freedom rides, and voter-registration drives.

—But Julian Bond, at the start, was only a small part—just one person who believed in something and decided to get involved. Does that sound like you?

After leaving Morehouse in 1961, Bond traveled around the Southern United States as the Communications Director of SNCC. He eventually went back to Morehouse to finish the Bachelor of Arts in English that he had put on hold while traveling. In 1971, he started a law firm called the Southern Poverty Law Center with two lawyers, Morris Dees and Joseph J. Levin Jr., who had experience owning and operating a business.

I describe the unfolding of these events in this way because I remember how I felt when I was in my twenties. I was unsure of myself, wondering whether I would make a difference in this world. I had my cynical days, my days when I felt I was extremely unqualified or unprepared. But I think Julian Bond probably felt this way, too, when he was the humble but driven leader of a student org.

Maybe he felt this way when he was a representative of Georgia, and when he was a senator, and when he was chairman of the NAACP.

In 2000, Bond wrote about what the SNCC did. It destroyed, he said, “the shackles which had kept black southerners in physical and mental peonage; SNCC helped break those chains forever. It demonstrated that ordinary women and men, young and old, could perform extraordinary tasks.” It focused not only on integration, but on Black empowerment.

Julian Bond was one of the extraordinary ordinary men of the 20th century. Read up on him, and remember that all it takes to be extraordinary is a decision to get involved and stay involved. Making a difference is not a privilege of the gifted few.

I am sad to see him pass, but he sure left a lot for us to work with. So let’s work with it.

What to do:

Find a group near you that is fighting for justice.

If there is no such group, start one.

If you won’t lead the group, write your representatives and ask for help.

You don’t need to be special to make a difference. But you do need to do something. So do something.

Why Martin O’Malley is missing the point

Why Martin O’Malley is missing the point

A few days ago, Democratic Presidential candidate Martin O’Malley tried to respond well to the questions of a crowd of Black Lives Matter demonstrators. The keyword here is tried, but perhaps I am still being too generous.

This is what O’Malley said:

“Black lives matter. White lives matter. All lives matter.”

Here are three reasons why this was a disastrous move.

  • He generalized the issue of injustice.


O’Malley was spot on until he said that White lives matter. While it is true that White lives matter and that all lives matter, it is also beside the point.

It is obvious that White lives matter; what is more difficult to believe in our country is that Black lives matter—hence the need for a campaign to remind ourselves and everyone else that we do matter and that our suffering cannot be thrown cavalierly into the catchall bucket of social wrongs.

The point of Black Lives Matter is that Black people specifically suffer disproportionate violence at the hands of the criminal justice system and receive disproportionately lower wages as compared to Whites in similar professions. By saying that “all lives matter,” O’Malley ignored the specific suffering of Blacks.

  • He promoted a color-blind lie.


By saying that “all lives matter,” O’Malley exposed his allegiance to the false doctrine of color-blindness. By saying that “all lives matter,” O’Malley implied that he would ignore the issue of race if he took office. Black lives, for O’Malley, fall under the great levelling umbrella of “all lives,” where they will rest hidden from view and, therefore, make no progress.

Color-blindness is the belief that race no longer matters in our country. It is the enemy of the Black Lives Matter campaign, whose very name calls out Blackness as its central concern. Color-blindness such as O’Malley’s is subtle and insidious; it tries to take the Black out of Black Lives Matter—sucking out its blood and soul—and hide racial injustice with false inclusivity.

  • He didn’t listen.


When O’Malley said, “all lives matter,” he showed that he was not listening to what the demonstrators were saying. Again, their point was that Black Lives Matter specifically; and O’Malley missed it.

O’Malley was busy trying to be a candidate for all races. But in doing so, he tacitly made himself a candidate not for Black people. Democracy is supposed to be rule of the demos, the common people, but the ideal is useless if representatives do not hear what the people are saying.

A title, a microphone, and a platform make our leaders feel entitled to speak. But they ought to act less entitled to speak and more privileged to listen.

Thoughts for the Day

Let’s suppose O’Malley stopped at “Yes, Black lives matter. Yes, I will support the cause of Black people,” and didn’t say anything else. What would have happened? Would he have lost the vote of color-blind White Americans? What if he said, “Yes, I’ll work to end systemic injustice because I am a candidate for Black people.”

What would have happened?

Why White People is Making Picket Fences Peel Nationwide

You may have heard that MTV is launching a new show called White People. You also may have heard that, because of this, the entire country is inflamed about the issue of race and racism.

The trailer for White People (available on YouTube) has been slammed as “racist” and “white guilt-tripping” on major news networks, has received an overwhelming majority of thumbs-down votes on YouTube, and has garnered over 9,700 impassioned comments in just two days.

So what is this show? It is a documentary in which journalist Jose Antonio Vargas explores what it means to be White in America “with the goal of starting some real and honest conversations in a thoughtful, judgment-free environment.”

Why does this offend so many people? Two big reasons.

First reason: mainstream Americans like to believe we’re all color-blind.

“What is this ‘race’ thing? Why do we need to talk about it? Aren’t we like, so done with this obsolete 19th-Century concept? What does the color of my skin have to do with anything?

The most glaring problem with White People is that it contradicts one of mainstream America’s most cherished dogmas: the dogma of color-blindness. This is the belief that race no longer affects American lives, that people who act on racial prejudices are a sad and pitiable few, and, in an optimistic mindset, that any “racial” disadvantage can be overcome with self-confidence and doggedness of spirit.

White People sends the opposite message: race matters. This infuriates White America in the same way that a staunchly agnostic TV show might incite the indignation of fanatical theists. It asks the forbidden questions, it utters the forbidden words, and it destroys the one condition that is most fundamental to racial power: silence.

Second reason: it threatens privilege.

This right to be silent on racial issues is one aspect of White privilege that White people clutch with—excuse the pun—white knuckles. This is because silence protects privilege from the difficult conversations that force it to be vulnerable. MTV’s new show White People is intimidating precisely because it subjects those privileged people to the same terrifying vulnerability that the racially underprivileged face every day. The conversation is a great equalizer in that way.

Why am I excited for this show?

What makes this show so sickening for White America is the same thing that makes it a boon for social progress. White People promises to make White people feel “uncomfortable.” For any kind of progress, some degree of unrest is an obvious prerequisite. But what I really love about this show, at least the sense I get from the trailer, is that it promises to help White people process these feelings—not just leave them to wallow in White guilt, which would be counterproductive.

In an ideal world, people would still have privilege. But they would see it, and they would use it for the common good.

What does it really mean to be young and White in America? I’m going to tune in to MTV later this month to find out.

What is an Earnest Discussion of Racism?

The recent racist shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church has sparked discussion. This is good, right? This is progress, right? We can rest assured that in a few months we will have finally arrived: we will be a nation of unprecedented racial equality complete with counter-racist institutions and leaders who openly acknowledge the enduring, pernicious effect of race in America. Right? Surely we have taken a significant step forward…

Not exactly. It takes more than a few “race talks” to make lasting changes in our infrastructure. We need more than a discussion; we need an earnest discussion. Here is what I mean.

An earnest discussion of racism acknowledges privilege.

People who talk about race must first acknowledge where they stand. They have to understand the difference in altitude between their lookout points and those of everyone else. Let’s use a silly example to illustrate. Suppose a giraffe and a rabbit are looking for food in the savannah. Suppose all the grass in this region was recently burned in a wildfire. As a result, the rabbit is starving. However, the giraffe happily eats leaves from a tree that the fire did not touch. The rabbit asks the giraffe for some leaves, but the giraffe coldly replies, “Just stretch out your neck and get them yourself.”

When people who talk about race fail to acknowledge their own unearned advantages, they make the same mistake as the giraffe. They suggest, for instance, that minorities in America are responsible for their own disadvantage. But they ignore the real effects of racist institutions, which create an environment that either deliberately or incidentally favors the prosperity of one group to a disproportionate degree. Therefore, anyone who talks about race earnestly must acknowledge privilege.

An earnest discussion of racism acknowledges ignorance.

Even with full knowledge of one’s privilege, it is impossible to know the experiences of people in a group to which one does not belong. White people, for instance, cannot suddenly become black and understand what it is like to face the daily discrimination and institutional barriers that come along with being black. (This of course does not stop some from trying.) It is an unalienable feature of our human experience not to understand what it is like to be anyone but ourselves. Therefore, anyone who talks about race earnestly must understand that people in other groups have had different experiences.

An earnest discussion of racism leads to political action.

Discussions have many purposes. They can create understanding between estranged groups, enrich our understanding by bringing together a variety of perspectives, and even provide a peaceful means to conflict resolution. But words are empty without action. Millions of people are talking, but most of the discussion groups fail to make lasting change because they end without a practical plan of action.

By all means, talk. And talk earnestly. Acknowledge the unearned advantages that you have over others. Acknowledge the fact that there are limits to your understanding of the struggles of other groups. Do talk! But end every discussion of race by committing to lead a peaceful protest with the rest of your life. Speak up for the oppressed. Pull out the “race card” when our politicians lack the courage to do so. Vow never to grow complacent and coast along with a status quo that (often violently) destroys freedom. Write your representatives in the name of racial equality and racial justice and lobby for legislation that truly counters the effects of racism.

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step—not with a discussion group.

Responding to the Tragedy in SC

Today when I checked the news, I was deeply saddened to hear of the tragedy in Charleston, South Carolina. If you are unaware of what happened, here is the gist: last night at 9:00PM, a 21-year-old white man walked into a Bible study at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church and opened fire. He killed nine people, spared two others and then fled. He has since been arrested.

The Charleston police spokesman Charles Francis claims, along with the leading investigators, that it was indeed a hate crime; the victims, he says, were killed “because they were black.” Photos on the shooter’s Facebook page also suggest that the act was rooted in hate.

Hate crimes take many forms. Some hate with words, some with silence. Some hate by taking, some by refusing to give. Some hate with non-lethal force, and some elevate themselves to the status of a god and judge their “enemies” by taking their lives.

People who hate often do so because they are afraid. Acts of hate such as this shooting are based on a refusal to entertain the idea that you could in fact share something with people who look different from you or belong to different group. They are closed-minded acts and, ultimately, acts of cowardice.

Although hate burns us, I do try to remember that a fire cannot burn if it has no fuel. What do I mean by this? Nothing can burn in an atmosphere of carbon dioxide; fire needs oxygen. In America, the fuel for the fire of hate crimes and racism is made up of many things: bigotry is one of them, but so is the existence of racist institutions. While we might not be able to remove bigotry completely from the human condition, we can change our cultural atmosphere to stifle the spark of bigotry before it grows into a full-fledged flame.

Much of my research has dealt with the ways in which black optimism in America (with regard to their socioeconomic prospects, etc.) is far greater than their actual attainment. This is partly due to the false belief that, in this country, race no longer matters. Incidents like this massacre in SC, however, remind us painfully that it does matter. It kills. Mother Emmanuel church was founded in 1816 by blacks seeking liberty. This shooting is an attack on black liberty.

Until everyone in this country—whatever the color of their skin—realizes how terrible the effects of race really are, racism and violent bigotry will continue to hold back our march to freedom.

In the meantime, let us join the nation in mourning this tragic loss of life. Mayor Joseph Riley of Charleston has created the Mother Emmanuel Hope Fund to support the grieving families. To donate, send a check to the following address:

Mother Emanuel Hope Fund
C/O City of Charleston
P.O. Box 304
Charleston, SC 29402

Color-Blindness Hurts

Color-Blindness Hurts

What exactly happened to Tahera Ahmad on that United Airlines flight?

According to news reports, a flight atteimagesK8O95V7Jndant denied Ahmad an unopened can of diet soda.  “Big deal,” you might think. “It’s probably just some obscure airline regulation about canned drinks, right?”

Unfortunately, no.  This is about race.

In Ahmad’s words, “This isn’t about me and a soda can.  It’s about systemic injustice that is perpetuated throughout our community.”

Specifically, it’s about the way that our system can overlook or even justify the most horrific prejudices.  It’s about how nobody stood up for Ahmad when another passenger told her to “f… off” because she “knew that [she] would use [the unopened can] as a weapon.”  And most importantly, it’s about the myth of color-blindness, a doctrine that is still actively being spread today.  This doctrine states that color doesn’t matter anymore, that minorities have won the battle for equal treatment, and that they no longer have any reason to think they are oppressed.

But what happened on this airline reminds us that color does matter.

And more than that, Ahmad reminds us that it’s not just non-white color that sends the system into defensive-oppressive mode.  It’s the colors of minority religions and cultures, too.  It’s about islamophobia propagated by irresponsible and unreflective media run by the privileged.  Not only do people’s visible differences still affect them.  They affect them every day—and it hurts.

Tahera Ahmad was in tears.

She wrote on her Facebook that she was “in tears of humiliation.”  She had hope that some fellow passenger would stand up and defend her, but all she received were profanities and the shaking of heads.

United Airlines is an institution like any other corporation.  Its top priority is self-preservation.  After this blunder by one of its flight attendants, the airline swiftly “redeemed” itself by terminating her employment.  While this is surely a gesture of its disapproval of religious prejudice, it still serves to sweep the issue under the rug.

The more the Civil Rights movement sinks into the background of our minds as an event in “history,” the more the doctrine of color-blindness sinks into our minds like a poison.  The ideology of color-blindness doesn’t make us immune to racism.

Ironically, color-blindness makes us blind to the real importance of color in our everyday lives.

In 1965, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave the commencement address at Oberlin College.  He said to them, “Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability, it comes through the tireless efforts and the persistent work…without this hard work time itself becomes an ally of the primitive forces of social stagnation” (King, 1968).

I agree with Dr. King.  Every day that we spend waiting for justice is another day that injustice has triumphed.  What should you do?

Follow the example of Dr. King.  Lead peaceful collective protest of United.

And tell everyone you know.





What do they think of me?

slaves picking cotton

According to political conservatives, racial discrimination is said to no longer be institutional and there is no longer any need for policies that provide socioeconomic protections for blacks. Further, according to political conservatives, if any racial discrimination is happening, it is being committed by a few bigoted individuals, socialized to hold bigoted notions, believe that blacks are lazy, and inferior and that it is okay to commit racism against them.

With the press concerning the reported negative racial attitudes that some whites exhibit concerning blacks, I wonder what do they think of me.  I am a black woman.

The Donald Sterling’s and Robert Copeland’s of the United States have been undoubtedly shaped by a culture that supported racism sanctioned by U.S. government, that gave them the privilege and permission to openly denigrate blacks. Whites in the age range of 70 or older are 57% of the black population. Put another way, whites 70 years or older in the United States, total 25,417,300 as compared to ALL blacks in the United States who total 44,456,009, based on U.S. Census data as of July 1, 2012.

Whites age 70 and above engaged in race relations through the phenomenon of Jim Crow.  Jim Crow continued legally and unrestricted in this country until the 1954 Brown v. Board of Ed decision. Aimed at integrating schools in the south, Brown v. Board of Ed had broader implications in overturning Jim Crow laws in the U.S. Jim Crow officially became illegal with the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965. Given this statistic, more than 25 million people in the United States were taught it is okay to engage in racial discrimination during the 1920s through the mid 1960’s. I am not suggesting that whites born during America’s support and sanction of racial discrimination or even those who migrated here during that time are automatic racists. If they are, however, of the same ilk as Donald Sterling and Robert Copeland, socialized during the 1920s through the mid 1960’s, when it was legally permissible in the United States to commit racial discrimination, 25+ million is certainly not a few bigoted individuals! It is certainly not legally permissible now to discriminate against blacks absent a bona fide occupational qualification as it was then, and it is not socially acceptable now as it was then to disparage blacks.

The larger implication here then is that it is very possible that racial discrimination is not committed by just a few bigoted individuals, racial discrimination is still very much institutional, and as such, blacks need to lobby for policies that protect their socioeconomic interests against racial discrimination.

So to those of you who may be reading this and are also black, does this make you wonder what they think of you?


reparations_2First, for the sake of argument, let it be said that it is possible to find a way to decrease the disparity that exists between different races and economic strata. What is the “best” way to reach this goal? “Best” here is defined as 1) finding a way that will not lead to greater animosity between individuals for the sake of making them more equal; 2) finding a way that will encourage further decreases in disparity in the future, and not just a bandage to put on a wound that keeps on festering and 3) finding a way that makes those who gain by a decision not feel demeaned or patronized, but rather better about themselves and their culture.

One possible way of decreasing disparity, as discussed in Robert Allen’s Past Due: The African American Quest for Reparations and The Economics of Reparations by William Darity Jr. and Dania Frank, where Blacks feel that “justice must be served” (Allen 325) and there is a social movement for Blacks to gain “compensation for the enslavement of their ancestors” (Darity and Frank 334).  However, would such a mandated reparation payment resolve the actual disparity that exists? Would it reduce the animosity between individuals? Would it encourage further decreases in disparity in the future and not just cover up a deep societal cut? And, lastly, would reparation make people feel proud rather than demeaned or patronized?

In Robert Allen’s classic Black Awakening in Capitalist America, Allen, himself, answers these questions by stating that one of the pitfalls of such a reparation movement could actually be the ongoing empowerment and economic advancement of the new black elite at the expense of the masses of working class and poor peoples. This can be called “embourgeoisment” or the “bourgeoisification” of reparations.

Darity and Frank note that there are different ways that this money could be distributed, and it is necessary to determine the ramifications prior to distribution.  It is true that a significant reduction in economic inequality may be a necessity for equal opportunity. However, are just these reparations enough to further Black economic independence, especially with such poor populations still existing in this country—as well as worldwide? Further, going back to the same three questions above, do such reparations actually end racism or just heal it for a the short term?

In the chapter “Interracial Goals,” Arthur Lewis looks at the three approaches of a homogeneous state, the raceless state and the plural society in terms of helping the different races live together in peace. He analyzes how each of these three approaches has worked in society to date and notes that the first two the homogeneous state and the raceless state are not feasible. The first will not work, because partition cannot be effected equitably and without leaving too many people on the wrong side of the border; the second similarly will not be feasible unless both majority and minority parties wish to live together on such terms. Thus, one is left with the third approach of the plural society. Lewis notes that as a long-run goal it is inferior to the other two alternatives, because it keeps group differences alive and away from rather than toward economic equality. It also does not answer the three questions above in a positive fashion. The only thing that can be said is that for the short-run “it is a refuge from cleavage and strife” or the “best that we can do for the time being” (25). That is not saying very much, surely.

It appears, then, that of the different ways to meet these three questions noted above, that it may be best to find ways to reduce disparity by changing public policy in areas such as housing and home ownership. The changing determinants of Inter-racial home ownership disparities: New York City in the 1990s and “A dream deferred or realized: the impact of public policy on fostering black homeowners in New York City throughout the 1990s by Lance Freeman and Darrick Hamilton, both show how the “prescription for change” is taking not one action, but several: 1) Combating racial discrimination in housing through vigorous enforcement of anti-bias laws; 2) Continuing and strengthening policy reforms such as the Community Reinvestment Act and  Home Mortgage Disclosure Act; and 3) Improving financial literacy and education and information on access to credit.

The authors admit in The changing determinants of Inter-racial home ownership disparities: New York City in the 1990s that “For both blacks and Hispanics, their characteristics account for the majority of their home ownership deficits” (320) Thus, “even if” all of the disparate treatment were eradicated, there would still remain huge gaps in home ownership. Yet, they conclude “it may be possible” as seen with the positive results in the 1990s, “to take steps to avoid compounding racial and ethnic inequality through housing policy, which in turn could lead to a positive cycle of wealth accumulation for these groups” (320)

Once again, such conclusions by Freeman and Hamilton are not anything to cheer about. Policy changes in housing may bring some changes, but the disparity still remains. Unfortunately, that is the conclusion of all these approaches. Regardless of what approach is taken, the racial and economic disparities remain. As with anything else, one has to look at the best case scenario. It appears that policy change is this best case. First, it does not appear to increase animosity between the races; second, it seems to be more than just putting a bandage on a festering sore—people actually have a home to call their own for the first time; and third, it does not demean or patronize people. These homeowners are proud of their new housing and the improvements in their lives. They do not believe they are being handed something for nothing. In the United States, racial inequality continues to exist, even 50 years after the Brown decision. Incidents of police brutality and racial profiling show that civil rights enforcement remains a necessity.

Although there is a sizeable black middle class, the number of poor blacks is just as prominent. Controversies among both whites and blacks on the way to resolve this situation continue. Unfortunately, it is clear that the goal of racial equality remains an ongoing struggle within the United States and around the world. As Richard America notes, Americans are accountable for their own sins.


Allen, Robert. Black Awakening In Capitalist America: An Analytic History. Trenton, NJ: African World Press, 1993

Allen, Robert. “Past Due: The African American Quest for Reparations.” Black Scholar, 28.2 (1998): 2-17

America, Richard. “The Theory of Restitution.” A Different Vision: Race and Public Policy. Ed. T.D. Boston. London: Routledge, 1997. 154-162

Darity, Jr. William and Dania Frank. “Economics of Reparations.” American Economic Review, 93.2. (2003)  334-337

Freeman, Lance and Darrick Hamilton. “The changing determinants of inter-racial home ownership disparities: New York City in the 1990s.” Housing Studies 19.2: (2004).  301-323.

Freeman, Lance and Darrick Hamilton. A dream deferred or realized: the impact of public policy on fostering black homeownership in New York City throughout the 1990s. American Economic Review. (2002) 92.2: 320-321.

Lewis, W. Arthur. Racial Conflict and Economic Development. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1985.

Black News and the Black Community

Newspaper-Black-BoyThe very essence of the Black community is enshrined through Black news mediums.  They give expression to Black pluralistic cultural identity, allowing Blacks to pool and to share their resources.  The famous African proverb extols the notion that it takes a village to raise a child.  Black news mediums allow that village to operate on a national and global scale.  Black news mediums unify Black culture and provide Blacks with a valuable voice.

Historically, Black media has passed through many forms, but has always retained its central importance to Black cultural identity.  People are defined by the sum total of knowledge acquired and passed on by generations, which helps them deal with challenges unique to the group.  At first, Black cultural norms were transmitted orally, from one generation to the next.  When verbal communication was forbidden, Black messages were relayed through the rhythmic reverberations of the drums.  Black news mediums continue that sense of rhythmic reverberation even today, as Blacks continue to pass down Black cultural traditions through word of mouth.

Black news mediums constitute the life force that mobilizes the Black community to action.  Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. himself showed the power of Black radio when addressing the Association of Television and Radio Broadcasters.  By underscoring the intricate role Black radio played in helping keep the Civil Rights Movement alive, Dr. King emphasized how Black media served as a primary source of information.  He noted that while televisions and newspapers were popular and often times more effective mediums, they rarely articulated information that Black folks could relate to.

Even today, Black news mediums of all kinds help to unify the Black community.  A vital role that Black radio now fulfills is to provide current events and news to the portion of the Black community that may be visually impaired and cannot take advantage of news media in print.  Print news media in the form of Black newspapers, Black magazines, and Black websites are vital because they serve as visual stimuli that reinforce and indelibly imbue images of Black uniqueness while preserving the group’s indisputable contributions to history.

Not only do Black news mediums unify the Black community, they provide an alternative to the majority, mainstream media.  Majority news media in general can be a form of mind control.  The infamous former Minister of Information in Iraq, Mohammed Saeed al-Sahaf, epitomizes this quite nicely:  he could tell the people of Iraq anything, they believed him without question.  As such, the people of Iraq were surprised to see the U.S. military in Baghdad, when their trusted news service transmitted over their television and radio sets stated that Iraq’s Republican Guard slaughtered them.  The power of a majority voice that is unchecked is dangerous; Black news mediums provide an important alternative voice which is crucial for American democracy.

Ultimately, Black news mediums are the keepers of the gate.  Not only do they shape Black perception of themselves by unifying Black history and cultures, but they play a crucial role in the fabric of American speech and democracy.  Black news mediums are the encapsulation of Black culture.

Homo Sacer: The State of Exception in Violation of Trayvon Martin’s Civil Rights

State of exceptionIn the wake of the Zimmerman verdict everyone is being reminded that America is a nation of laws, the jury has spoken and that we should respect the verdict. Is it lawful to take the life of another when they were not doing anything unlawful? I think we all know the answer to that, no!  George Zimmerman, the jury, a Florida law called stand your ground and countless Americans think that it is lawful.  Here’s how.

Under Carl Schmitt’s state of exception concept, the “sovereign” has the ability to rise above or step outside of the rule of law all in the interest of the public good. In this instance, the “sovereign” is the state of Florida’s through its stand your ground law, courtesy of George Zimmerman. How is this possible? In short, by creating laws that allow exceptions. Normally, it is against the law to kill someone. The exception in the instant case is if you feel that your life is in imminent danger.  According to Juror B37, it was concluded that George Zimmerman felt his life was in imminent danger of death or great bodily harm, despite being told essentially to not put himself in harm’s way.  At that moment, the law against taking another life was suspended and George Zimmerman was allowed to kill Trayvon Martin with impunity.

Based on stand your ground, Trayvon Martin, too, should have had the right to defend himself against the imminent danger of death or great bodily harm he experienced. But, Martin did not have the right to stand his ground because in this new realm created by state of exception, Trayvon Martin became Homo Sacer.

Homo Sacer, Latin for “the sacred man” or “the accursed man” is a concept in ancient Roman law.  The individual imbued as Homo Sacer is devoid of the rights of citizenship and may be killed by anyone. The status of Homo Sacer is that of a criminal or fugitive. As such, Homo Sacer does not have the protection of the law and can be killed by anyone with no fear of legal retribution.  It is clear that Trayvon, from the moment he was observed by Zimmerman was considered stripped of his citizenship in the gated community to which he was legally and rightfully returning.  He was labeled by George Zimmerman as “a real suspicious guy”, “up to no good” and “on drugs or something.”

Citizenship is a status reserved for those who are deemed full members of a community or group.  All who are endowed with the status of citizenship are equal as it relates to the rights and privileges connected with that status.  Citizenship has at its core equality and enjoyment of civil rights.  Civil rights confer legal capacity to participate and to be full members in civic society.  The notion of a people of law is a prevailing requirement for civic membership.  Citizens are worthy of the protections of the law.  Sadly, Trayvon was not deemed worthy of the law’s protections.

How are individuals worthy of citizenship; how is worth determined and why was Trayvon stereotyped by George Zimmerman as Homo Sacer?  Worthiness of citizenship is determined by the consistency of ones values with those of the group.  Without even knowing anything about Trayvon Martin, Zimmerman determined that Trayvon’s values were questionable, lacking and infringed upon Trayvon’s Civil rights.  Civil rights include the right to be free from unprovoked intrusion, judgment and subjugation by the sovereign and private organizations, (i.e. Florida’s stand your ground law, George Zimmerman and the Neighborhood Watch Association).

Certainly, Trayvon should have been free to eat Skittles, drink Arizona Iced Tea and talk on his cell phone on his way home from the store.  He never made it home; he was not free to do so.  George Zimmerman and the State of Florida, through its stand your ground law violated Trayvon Martin’s Civil Rights.