am Trayvon Martin
became the rallying cry among thousands of protesters
throughout America who called for the arrest and prosecution
of George Zimmerman, the man who shot and killed 17-year-old
simple, declarative statement carries a profoundly
provocative message, particularly for young African-American
men. Essentially, it symbolizes the deep-rooted frustration
of millions of black men who so often feel there is
no escape from the collective gaze of those with racist
psyches within American society.
Is it any wonder that too
many young black men live lives that appear to teeter
on the edge of self-destruction?
phrase, “I am Trayvon Martin”, says that whether you
are a black teenager with a pocket filled with Skittles
or bubble gum, or you’re a 30-year-old black man who
works two minimum-wage jobs for 60 hours a week to
help support two children, that you too could be lying
cold in a coffin for merely being perceived as a burglar,
rapist, robber, thief or car-jacking thug.
statement, “I am Trayvon Martin”, sends a resounding
message that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a black
ex-convict recently released from a maximum-security
prison or, like me, a black man with a doctorate degree.,
that you also can meet an untimely death, just for
walking in a predominantly white neighborhood where
the perception might exist that you are a criminal.
words, “I am Trayvon Martin”, speak volumes about
how some police officers will treat black men, whether
they are accused of a crime or whether they claim
to be victims of violence or crime themselves.
they are accused of committing a crime, of course,
they are considered guilty until proven innocent.
And in these cases, they must be detained until their
innocence is proven. If they are the victims of violence,
on the other hand, some are likely to assume that
they must have been doing something wrong or committing
a crime. Therefore, they deserved whatever repercussions
resulted from their own actions.
is the poisonous venom of racism, and far too often,
very few people are able to make the connection between
this psychotic mindset and the negative attitudes
and self-defeating behavior of too many young black
men who begin to accept and live out many of the same
stereotypes that exist about them.
behavior can be exhibited in various ways by young
men in their late teens and 20s to older men in their
30s and 40s. Many live out the stereotypes by referring
to women in derogatory and demeaning terms. Others
fail to take ownership of their lives, and instead,
live to party, get drunk or numb their collective
pain through the use of drugs. Sadly, this kind of
behavior often can escalate to violence and even death.
The words, “I
am Trayvon Martin”, speak volumes about how some police
officers will treat black men, whether they are accused
of a crime or whether they claim to be victims of
violence or crime themselves.
behavior, by the way, is not limited to black men.
It crosses racial, ethnic, societal and cultural boundaries.
As it relates to black men, however, a significant
part of the problem is how such behavior is perpetually
normalized, glamorized and continuously depicted by
our nation’s largest media conglomerates in juxtaposition
to who and what black men really are. Many of us have
heard the saying that “art is a reflection of life.”
In essence, what has happened over the past half century,
life has become a reflection of what poses as art
via popular culture, music, television, film and various
it any wonder that too many young black men live lives
that appear to teeter on the edge of self-destruction?
It reminds me of the song, “Inner City Blues” by the
late Marvin Gaye: “It makes me wanna holler and throw
up both my hands.” In fact, the behavior of far too
many is reminiscent of the old-school rap classic,
“The Message”, by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious
Five. “It’s like a jungle sometimes, it makes me
wonder how I keep from going under.”
irony is that a young black man in America is more
likely to be murdered by another black man than he
is a racist white one. The harsh reality is that had
Trayvon Martin been killed by a black man under similar
circumstances in most places in America, the story
would not be considered national news. If that were
the case, most Americans would not even be slightly
familiar with the story of Trayvon Martin. In cities
like Detroit, Cleveland and Chicago, for example,
this kind of story would be limited to the inside
pages of these cities’ major newspapers. Why? The
answer to that question can indeed be found in the
resonant phrase, “I am Trayvon Martin.” The collective
meaning of the statement for most black men in America
is that our lives have been deemed less valuable than
the lives of anyone else. It carries the poignant
message that we, too, can find ourselves in Trayvon
Martin’s shoes at any moment - dead at the hands of
either racist whites or self-hating blacks in America.
BlackCommentator.com Guest Commentator Dr. Richard Sheldon Koonce, PhD
is an adjunct professor of Communication Studies at
Bowling Green State University's Firelands campus.
to contact Dr. Koonce.