Why I Will Never Be Trayvon Martin

I will never know.

I will never know what it is like to be discriminated against based on the color of my skin. I will never know what it is like to be targeted, policed, and followed because my skin color is perceived as inherently threatening. I will never know what it is like to fear the police, no matter how innocent I am.

I will never understand.

I will never understand the myriad ways in which racism underwrites the daily interactions and experiences of people of color. I will never understand the toll of daily racist micro-aggressions on my body and spirit. I will never understand the extensive checklist through which men of color must run themselves every time they are stopped by police.

I will never feel.

Photo: Elizabeth Plank

I will never feel the perpetual panic that black parents feel every time their child leaves the house. I will never feel the stinging echo of car doors clicking whenever a black man walks down the street. I will never feel the anxiety of being the only person of color in the room.

I will never know these things, understand these things, feel these things, because I cannot. I am white. I am privileged. I am lucky to have a random skin color which is perceived as non-threatening, successful, and trustworthy. I happen to belong to the culturally constructed race that our social system created in order to benefit white people, to denigrate people of color, to perpetuate white supremacy.

I will never know, understand, or feel what Ron Davis and Lucia McBath knew, what Louis and Mamie Till understood, what Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton feel. 

I will never know.

And yet, I do know that justice was not served for Trayvon Martin. I do understand that white supremacy remains so entrenched in American society, culture, and government, that black lives as perceived as valueless. I feel shock, outrage, and deep sadness that a man can stalk, shoot, and kill an innocent, unarmed black teenager, and walk free with his life. 

I also know that social justice happens in waves. I understand that though racism is still so prevalent, so bitterly entrenched in the American way of life, there does exist a movement to upend that, to change that, to eradicate that. I feel a swell of pride and comfort when I see the faces of my compatriots, in the streets, online, demanding “Justice for Trayvon” and an end to white supremacy.

And yet, I will never know, understand, or feel what it was like to be Trayvon Martin because I cannot. I will never truly know, understand, or feel what the millions of black Americans know, understand, and feel. So instead, I stand with them. I listen to them. I fight with them. I will remember to continually check my white privilege, understand the way that white privilege works, and work to create social and governmental systems in which whiteness no longer means privileged.

And through it all, I will always remember Trayvon Martin.