The face staring into the camera is pale white. Her hair is blonde, her eyes are blue. She looks young enough to be in high school. A nose ring punctuates her right nostril.
I am not Trayvon Martin, she says in a tone that could be mistaken for teenage impudence. I am not Troy Davis. And to the middle class, white, socially-concerned activist who wears a shirt emblazoned with those slogans -- You are wrong.
She knows exactly what she is saying here, acutely aware of the controversy these words could incite. Standing alone, they might sound callous, but her intention is to grab the viewer's attention. Now she has it.
I know you wear that shirt to stand in solidarity with Trayvon, Troy, and other victims of injustice, she says. The purpose of those shirts is to humanize these victims of our society, by likening them to the middle class, white activist wearing it. And once we've humanized the victims, this proves to us the arbitrariness of their deaths and thereby the injustice at play.
This discourse becomes more sophisticated. She speaks of injustice, of victimhood, of humanization. She is attempting to understand the violent death of a black man in America from the perspective of a privileged little white girl as she later describes herself, though not without a touch of sardonicism.
But the fact of the matter is that these men's deaths are anything but arbitrary, she continues.
The fact that the real Troy Davis and Trayvon Martin, and countless other victims of oppression, are buried under six feet of cold dirt, while we middle class, white activists are alive, marching and wearing their names, is an indication that our societal system is working exactly as it's intended.
She views the deaths of Martin and Davis as indications of an oppressive social system that privileges middle class whites like herself. She is not so dissimilar from the middle class, white activists she chides for what she views as misguided attempts at showing solidarity, nor does she pretend to be, but she believes in a different approach.
A more accurate t-shirt to display on my white body would be: 'I am George Zimmerman,' she says. Zimmerman and I were indoctrinated in the same American discourse where we learned that the 'other,' particularly black men like Trayvon and Troy, were less human and were to be feared.
Society taught me that as a little white girl, I must preserve my purity and goodness, and that the presence of young single males threatened it, she continues. Society taught me that being in the presence of a black man compounds that threat exponentially. I have been taught that male, black, bodies are an immediate threat to my safety and the well-being of society as a whole, and Zimmerman was taught the same damn thing. We're all taught it.
She is claiming that her experience in life is closer to that of Zimmerman, the man of mixed white and Hispanic heritage with the gun who is alive and free, rather than Martin, the black teenager in the hooded sweatshirt who is now dead and buried.
I look at George Zimmerman and think, 'There, but for the grace of God, go I,' she says. Had it not been for a decent education, intense critical thinking, and some truly excellent parenting, I would never have questioned the societal norms that Zimmerman and I were both taught, and I would have ended up feeling his attack on Trayvon was justified, just as he did, and the state of Florida does.
She believes that those middle class, white activists who claim to identify with Martin and Davis are missing the point.
If we are to effect real change in the wake of Trayvon's murder, we have to realize this, she continues. Realizing that you more closely resemble a homicidal oppressive force than a helpless victim is a really uncomfortable thing to do. I know. But wanting to identify with the victim is weak and immature when it is not an accurate representation of reality. Real change is affected when we own up to our actions, our privilege, and our complicity with the system that murdered Trayvon and countless others.
Us privileged activists have to realize just how easy it is to be Zimmerman, and work to change this, she continues. Subvert stereotypes. Make it harder for others to buy into the bulls--t that we're fed our whole lives about race, class, gender, and other people by identifying and critiquing these messed up norms. Force adults to confront these norms, and raise children without indoctrinating them with the same old bulls--t. Use your privilege to actively dismantle this messed up system. Listen to marginalized people like Trayvon's family and Troy's family and insure them access to the discourse. Listen to them, stand in solidarity with them. But do not, I repeat, do not claim to be them.