What’s with these “I am” statements?

I’m thinking about the day of the verdict on the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman trial (at times, it was hard to know who was on trial, from what I could tell of the little snippets I heard whilst my brother-in-law was watching it on television. What really struck me is something I heard that made me think “Damm, here’s a father who has lost his son and HE – the father – is on trial!”). Many people were posting many perspectives on FB. Someone I know posted a link to this piece: I am not Trayvon Martin. I commented: “I agree with much of what this young woman is saying – especially people stepping up to individual responsibility in collectively changing how we live together. However, I also believe there is merit in embodying the understanding that we are all Trayvon Martin. And we are all George Zimmerman. Yes, me a little brown woman is George Zimmerman…” A few days later, I received a thoughtful FB message from the person who had done the post, which included this link: We are NOT all Trayvon. In the message, this friend made it clear that she agreed with me on one level, a deep spiritual level she said, that we are all one – but totally disagrees that this translates in the real world into “I am Trayvon Martin.’  This post is me reflecting on what I meant/mean with my comment.

Firstly, I realized after giving it further thought that I don’t mean “We are all one” when I say these “I am…” statements. Secondly, it never occurred to me that in saying what I said, it could also be construed that I was/am somehow ignorant of the huge differences between the life experience of a young African-American man and myself (this is what I understood my friend to be communicating to me and I was a little bit perplexed). I’m totally aware that my family, for example,  does not spend their days worried about what might happen if I get pulled over for a speeding ticket. Thirdly, if given the chance to wear an “I am Trayvon” t-shirt or hold a placard saying it, I don’t think I’d do it. But perhaps that is by the by.

So why did I respond to my friend’s posting as I did?

These days, I’m grappling with connection and what it means. I’m grappling with what “I am” means for me or put another way “Who/How am being?”  Is this a spiritual grapple? Maybe. I tend to think of it is an opening-my-heart and mind grapple on most days. Some days I think of it as bourgeoisie navel-gazing grapple. Other days, well, I don’t even think about it or if I do think about it, it isn’t consciously and I don’t give it a label.

I’m also thinking – everyday – about life as a collective creative process, with social change merely being about changing how we live.  Thus, social change is also a collective creative process. It is in this context that I decided to post the comment: “I also believe there is merit in embodying the understanding that we are all Trayvon Martin. And we are all George Zimmerman.” Here’s my thinking…

on embodying “I am Trayvon Martin”: Trayvon Martin was a unarmed African-American young man shot by someone claiming to have been acting out of self-defense. I didn’t follow the trial and, obviously, I wasn’t there at the incident. In this thinking-process, I am putting the truth of why/how exactly George Zimmerman shot and killed Travyon Martin aside. I can’t know that. What I think I do know – and that studies/research back up – is that people of all sorts of racial/ethnic backgrounds are more likely to react with higher levels of fear and distrust to seeing a African-American young man than if they were to see a White young man under similar circumstances.  African-American young men are regularly racially profiled, stereotyped and associated with being threatening. Whether we are conscious of it or not, many of us succumb to this way of seeing – we look and assume. I’d be lying if there weren’t times where I’ve become conscious that I’m succumbing to it. In this way, I say “I am Trayvon Martin.” I am part of the collective creative process that perpetuates the profiling, the stereotyping that contributed to how he experienced life and death. I say this even though I’ve spent a fair portion of my professional career challenging racial profiling and stereotyping.  Trayvon’s life (and death) experience are the results of collective creations. I imagine some people being angry at me right now for saying this, including the young White woman in the post who is clear that she is NOT Trayvon Martin, but IS George Zimmerman. I imagine one reaction to what I’m saying is that I’m including victims/the oppressed in the my blaming – when the people to blame are those White people who perpetuate their own privilege that is for them both a sense/a belief and a material fact in many ways. I’m not trying to play a blame game. And I’m clear that more White people need to wake up to the dynamics in which we live, in which people have privilege based on the color of their skin. We all need to be awake to this and challenge it. In that sense, we are all and I am Trayvon Martin. We are also all – potentially – his undoing. That is, it is up to us – ALL of us – to undo the messed up dynamics of how we live together, how we see each other, treat each other day-in and day-out.

on “I am George Zimmerman”: Basically, I apply the same thinking process, as above. George Zimmerman is, like many USAmericans, a person who lives in fear – probably excessive fear. That is, he is in constant fight or flight mode. I’ve literally seen how our brain waves, when we are experiencing anxiety (for whatever the reason) can become set in this mode. When in this mode, we are constantly afraid and hyper-sensitive – inclined to perceive most, if not everything/everyone as a threat. I’m inclined to think that a guy who wants to spend his free time as armed volunteer watchman (a.k.a. vigilante) moves through the world AFRAID in not-so-healthy levels. Fear is human. However, to go around in wired in your brain for fight or flight  – not healthy. For the adrenaline to rocket up in the presence of an African-American young man – well that’s not healthy also and is culturally conditioned in people who – on top of that – are already wired to be REACTIVE. Thus, I’m thinking “I am George Zimmerman” – I am part of the collective creative process that breeds fear and compulsive reactivity rather than conscious response. A culture that also breeds a lot of racism. Mass Media, film etc…it all feeds into who and how we are all being.

Sure, I’m a person that tries to challenge these things. Nevertheless, embodying (rather than merely saying it) “I am George Zimmerman” and “I am Trayvon” is my way of reminding myself to stay aware of what I’m doing with my creative power and how I’m connecting (or not) with others to create a different – healthier and safer – reality.

I don’t know what all the different people wearing t-shirts and carrying placards/banners saying “I am Trayvon” are thinking or feeling. For those who think that it is a nonsense. I get why you think that. For those who insist on attaching themselves to the slogan, I’m assuming it is your way of showing solidarity – you mean well. I don’t mind. I don’t mind, but I agree with the point that what must go with the slogans and marches of solidarity is an owning up to the facts and the harsh reality of how the dynamics of privilege and oppression not only work in the US generally or in some neighborhoods, but also in our own backyards, in our own lives – no matter who we are and where live. Day-in, day-out.

This owning up, however, is kind of pointless if it isn’t combined with action. But what are those actions? Who does what? I have ideas….and I believe the possibilities are infinite. There isn’t a single answer/solution and the path will emerge, we build it as we go along. The key is, we have to be consciously building it, with clear intentions. All of us. Or as many of us as possible. We are being asked to step into our creative powers to construct a new reality.

Reflection questions: What do these statements “I am George Zimmerman” and/or “I am Trayvon Martin” mean to you? What concrete actions can follow on from such statements to shift what we are creating together – steering our collective creative powers in a more steadfastly and deeply restorative, nurturing and regenerative direction? In other words, where do we go from here? Where do you go from here? What can you do in the next day, week, month to play a role (however small) in dismantling and creating alternatives to systems/dynamics that perpetuate cultures of fear and violence and privilege based on the color of one’s skin?

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