by Asam Ahmad
“Community must not mean a shedding of our differences, nor the pathetic pretense that these differences do not exist.” – Audre Lorde (1)
I have been trying to articulate the depth of my grief, rage and sadness at the verdict in the Trayvon Martin show-trial for days now. Every word seems insufficient, hollow.
But one thing I do know for sure: I am not Black. As a brown, Muslim, cis queer man of color there are a lot of oppressions that I face, that allow me to relate to the gravity of what has just occurred, but anti-Black racism is not one of them. I know that so many of us feel the weight of this grief right now. I know that we want to show our solidarity with Black folks in this historical moment. But appropriating and universalizing this tragedy will not do justice to Trayvon Martin.
We are NOT all Trayvon Martin. People of color keep getting hella mad for being called out on white passing privilege, for being asked to hold themselves accountable to the ways they are not like Trayvon and more like Zimmerman. So many folks seem to be having a hard time acknowledging that this murderer was a Latino who had light-skinned privilege and played into the rules of White supremacy to get away with murder. The fact that so many white folks are identifying with him should tell you something: it is a marker of how some people of color gain access to the toxic privilege of passing for White, of choosing not to identify themselves as poc but coopting into the system of White supremacy instead. Sometimes we do this for our own safety but sometimes, obviously, we do it for other reasons altogether. These are all realities of this case, and they are realities of a hierarchy that accords privilege and oppression on the basis of the amount of melanin in our bodies.
Why do these facts make you mad? Why is it so hard to acknowledge that you have access to forms of privilege that Black folks simply never have? As poc we are so often taught to think of ourselves as oppressed and as nothing else. But oppression is not a static entity and it does not remain constant for all POC. How can this not be obvious to anyone paying the slightest amount of attention right now?
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Those of us who are not Black need to be very explicitly clear about this: Trayvon was not murdered because he was a person of color. This verdict was not delivered because he was a person of color. Trayvon was murdered because he was Black. This verdict was delivered because he was Black. Given the amount of intense anti-Black racism that continues to circulate in non-Black poc communities, given the number of ways we continue to benefit from anti-Black racism, it is paramount that we do not forget this. To appropriate the specificity of this injustice, to attempt to universalize this travesty as one faced by all people of color is to perpetuate another form of violence. To not acknowledge the role and specificity of anti-Black racism in this whole charade is another form of violence. This murder and this verdict are very specifically about anti-black racism – about the power of White supremacy and about what it means to have a black body in a White supremacist society.
And our inability to acknowledge these facts are hurting Black folks and African descended folks right now. This is not solidarity. This is not what solidarity can ever look like. It shouldn’t be that fucking hard to sit back and listen to the grieving voices of black people in this moment. It shouldn’t be this hard to not get defensive and keep your mouth shut and just listen.
There is a long history of anti-Black racism in South Asian communities, in Arab communities, in East Asian communities. Anti-Black racism is a global phenomenon. We need to be talking about this and the ways we benefit from anti-Black racism in our lives. This is not to say that anti-Black racism manifests in the same way in all of these communities, or to elide the ways in which colonialism, imperialism and White supremacy structure differential hierarchies of race. But it is to note the pervasiveness of anti-Black racism all over the world, the ways in which it structures, globally, a calculus of privilege and oppression.
As Sara Ahmed reminds us, “Solidarity does not assume that our struggles are the same struggles, or that our pain is the same pain, or that our hope is for the same future. Solidarity involves commitment, and work, as well as the recognition that even if we do not have the same feelings, or the same lives, or the same bodies, we do live on common ground.” (2)
What does a solidarity premissed on respecting our differences look like? How can we, non-Black people of color, show our solidarity with Black folks and Black bodies that are continually under threats of violence in ways that we will never know or experience? A good place to start would be by acknowledging our own internalized anti-Black racism, by talking about the legacies of prejudice and hate that have been passed from generation to generation, by speaking honestly about the ways in which we benefit from colorism and anti-Black racism. Perhaps the best way we can mourn right now is by having these conversations in our own non-Black people of color communities, by calling out anti-Black racism when we see it, by naming it and refusing to perpetuate it. This needs to happen in spaces where Black people are not present, or at least are not the only ones leading the discussion. It is our responsibility, as non-Black poc, to create spaces that address the ways we benefit from not being Black.
And for those of us posting about our grief in our social networks, what else are you doing? What are you doing when no one is looking? Its easy to feel grief for a dead Black boy, but what about the Black men & male-identifying folks in your lives? Are there any Black men in your lives? If not, ask yourself why. If you are an organizer, what are you doing to make your spaces less alienating to Black men? If you are a feminist, are you thinking about the ways in which White feminism has constantly gained its status and privilege through the oppression of Black men? Are you thinking about how feminism has often thrown Black men under the bus in order to “make progress” and how Black male bodies have been constructed as the ne plus ultra Other of feminism? And what are you doing to challenge this fact and acknowledge the layered complexities of Black men’s experience? If you are not doing at least some of these things your grief is meaningless and only signals the paralyzing nature of your guilt. (3)
(1) Lorde, Audre. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. Trumansburg, NY: Crossing Press, 1984. Print. Pg. 113.
(2) Sara Ahmed, 2004, The Cultural Politics of Emotion, p. 189.
(3) A lot of my thoughts in this piece have been informed by the thoughts and words of Black people around me. I want to acknowledge Janaya Khan and Muna Mire.
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Asam is a writer, poet and community organizer. He is a tumblr, dim sum and reading addict, and is passionate about making the world a fatter place. He is also one of the cofounders of the It Gets Fatter Project.
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