I became sick to my stomach upon hearing that Sybrina Fulton, mother to murdered Trayvon, had stated this week that she felt that her son’s shooting death was “an accident.” I understand that Trayvon is her baby, not mine, and that a grieving mother should not only be given the space to mourn and emote as she sees fit. I understand that her emotions during this time can lead her to say things that many of us can’t understand or connect with. I get that. I also appreciate that Fulton had the opportunity to clarify her statement later on HLN’s Nancy Grace, stating that she believes George Zimmerman had an “intent” in mind when he approached her son and “carried out that intent.”
It’s still worth noting how Martin’s initial suggestion that Zimmerman had shot her son in what was simply a bad encounter that got ‘out of hand,’ speaks to a classic response to racist crimes. We—Black folks—are so quick to forgive, so afraid of being perceived as unreasonable or uncivilized, that we tend to deny ourselves the very human right to be enraged. We’ve been told so often that angry Negroes are bad that we have come to police our own emotions just as quickly as others have policed them for us.
Evidence suggests that a 26-year-old man with a well-documented history of bias against young Black men took it upon himself to patrol his gated community with a gun and hunted down a significantly smaller teen boy even after he was instructed by a 911-dispatcher to retreat. That was no accident. Also not an accident: his defenders and family complaining publicly about his lack of ability to go to 7-11 for a Diet Coke these days.
Scribe-thinker-warrior dream hampton suggested on Twitter that Fulton’s words were intended to provide balance to the “crazy” that has come via the New Black Panther Party and their foolish public declaration that they had a 50K bounty on Zimmerman’s head. While Fox News and other outlets have yet again provided faux credence to the “organization,’ few actual Black people (and fewer Black Panther Party alums) take the words of the New BPP seriously. But even if this organization was more significant in scope or even around this one threat, that does not require Trayvon’s family to play the “good victim” role.
If there is a Black woman on the planet with a right to rage, it is Sybrina Fulton.
However, it is worth considering how differently this developing story might be playing out if Trayvon and his clan were not such “respectable Negroes;” no one has been able to document any real evidence of Martin being anything other than a typical kid. One who wore Hollister clothes, went to space camp and played football. One who seemed more poised for the next season of Degrassi before you’d ever picture him hanging around the kids from The Wire.
But what if that weren’t the case? What if Trayvon was bigger or darker or meaner? What if he was smoking a blunt when Zimmerman cornered him? What if he had a cute blonde chick from the local high school carrying his weed? Then what? Would we be marching? Would we know about his murder in the first place? What if his mother had a mouthful of gold teeth? What if she said “f*ck your marches, I just want the man who killed my son to get popped?” Then what?
Forgiveness is a funny thing. With so many of us having ties to a religion that demands it, we have a particularly interesting relationship to the concept. I can’t help but to feel that our people are far more likely than others to turn the other cheek in situations that will result in little else but a blow from a new angle. We forgive some serious stuff—racism, disrespect, violence, negligence—often even before our assailant has bothered to apologize. And even when they refuse to.
I’m not so troubled by our desire to be forgiving but by our inability to do it in away that benefits both parties. We are so quick to make play nice with our transgressors that we don’t demand that they understand what they’ve done, we don’t require that they make things whole with us. And we are so constantly under pressure to be “good enough” to be respectable, we tend to sacrifice our own right and need to be angry.
It’s devastating to know that in 2012, we still have to worry over our people being discriminated against, assaulted or murdered because of their race. It’s maddening to know that justice isn’t guaranteed when it comes to those who do us harm. And it’s beyond any sense of reason or right in the world that Black folks also have to worry over being good enough or benevolent enough or forgiving enough to be treated as worthy victims.
Sybrina Fulton and her family should feel no pressure to forgive, to tolerate, to accept or to behave in any particular manner. I just hope that they can make it through the months to come putting their own humanity, their own pain and their own anger first—without trying to prove to the world that they have a right to justice for Trayvon.
Jamilah Lemieux is the News and Lifestyle Editor for EBONY.com. Views expressed here are her own. Follow her on Twitter: @jamilahlemieux