Standing our ground…over half the planet

At around the same time that I read the news of George Zimmerman’s acquittal, 4 people were shot just up the road from the house here in Guatemala, as they were commuting in the same truck that Glendi’s siblings usually take to go pick coffee. A 7 year-old girl and her 16 year-old brother died in their mother’s arms. A man who was shot in the groin ended up losing both of his legs. If Zimmerman’s trial sent the message that black lives don’t matter—which it did—then what of these campesinos, whose deaths will not even lead to an arrest?

There is a connection here, between what is happening in Guatemala and what happened to Trayvon Martin in Florida—which itself is just a brutal extension of the profiling and violence that youth of color face across the United States. There are layers of lessons here, but to see them all we have to go beyond the easy conclusions about race and fear. We have to be willing to step beyond simple liberal outrage and even self-identification with Zimmerman’s fears of black masculinity. Of course, there is truth at that level, but if we want to just wallow there we might as well just loop Ludacris’ scenes from the movie Crash over and over on top of the cable news coverage and we’ll have all the in-depth analysis we need. People across our planet have been taught to fear black people. Yes, it’s absolutely true. I am absolutely included. But that is not all this is about.

What Zimmerman did wasn’t just the tragic overreaction of a scared and damaged man, and his acquittal wasn’t just a lone aberration of justice. Zimmerman’s trial was a personalized example of a deep yet unspoken U.S. doctrine: that disproportionate and deadly force is entirely justified in order to defend American comfort from even the slightest rumblings of The Other. Trayvon Martin was an outsider in a gated community, and he made Zimmerman uncomfortable. When Zimmerman acted on that racist discomfort and confronted Martin, Martin did what no Other is allowed to do, he responded naturally with appropriate defensiveness to a threatening and abusive person. That is, Martin stepped out of his place, and Florida law gave Zimmerman the legal right to defend himself—which is to say, defend his sense of entitlement and comfort—and he killed Martin right there.

Those of us North Americans who live comfortably in our privileges find it easy to shake our heads and pout our lips. We can cry for Trayvon and we can wear black solidarity hoodies. We can wring our hands and acknowledge the fearful Zimmerman that lives in all of us. I personally have no qualms with these responses. I must and will acknowledge my own racism and my place in propping up such a racist order. But let’s be real. What Zimmerman thought he was doing for his neighborhood is basically what happens each time our country sends out a drone strike, sponsors a coup, or authorizes an ICE raid. Self-defense. Standing our ground. The comfort levels of those that matter must be defended, at all costs to The Other.

What Zimmerman did was scarcely different from what the powerful have continued to do to Guatemala since well before 1954: strike out at even the slightest sign of justified self-defense with completely disproportionate brutality. The consequence of Zimmerman’s actions and acquittal is a U.S. environment where the lesser value–the Otherness–of black people’s lives has been re-affirmed, even by legal institutions. The simmering consequence of these same dynamics in Guatemala is that Glendi’s friends, neighbors, family members all have been touched by countless deaths that no one outside of these communities even cares about. They are just another permanent Other on the world stage. They pick our coffee and our bananas, but they are easily replaced.

If there is any truth to the connections that I’m making, then any calls for post-trial racial healing and introspection ring hollow without a far deeper soul-searching. If we are so interested in healing, are we willing to relinquish our comforts so that we can take our bloody boot off the necks of half the planet? Are we willing to stand down our drones and our bases and militarized police forces?

No? Am I being too extreme, too rhetorical? Then how convenient, and how useless so much chatter about one trial in Florida.

Currently Reading:

-Dispersing Power by Raul Zibechi

3 comments

honey, i really love a lot of the things you say here. and some of them rub a bit. i’m curious if it’s just tighter editing that will make your thoughts clearer.

partially i’m thinking that it would be great if this piece got out broader because i think the global perspective and the annihilation of the ‘other’ is so key and important in global liberation struggles.

also things are super hot here in oakland right now. three of my friends this week, all queer folks of color, have been accosted and physically harmed (dislocated shoulders and heads being ground into concrete, etc) and belittled and experienced hate speech by both the cops and white business owners. all of them are the kind of situation where it could have easily become an oscar grant or treyvon martin situation. all that to say that i’m super on edge and tired. and may not be reading/responding at the top of my game. my apologies if anything seems off. just ask me and i can clarify.

so, tell me what you think of these things that caught my eye.

*”If Zimmerman’s trial sent the message that black lives don’t matter—which it did—then what of these campesinos, whose deaths will not even lead to an arrest?” I’m not sure what your point is here, i think i’d like it if you spelled it out a little more but talk me through it. Zimmerman wasn’t arrested for many many months, and it’s only because there was a mass grassroots movement for accountability that he was finally brought in. Impunity is part all of this in Guatemala too yeah?

*”Those of us North Americans who live comfortably in our privileges find it easy to shake our heads and pout our lips. We can cry for Trayvon and we can wear black solidarity hoodies. We can wring our hands and acknowledge the fearful Zimmerman that lives in all of us.” Which North Americans are you referring to specifically? White folks? Is this whole piece geared towards them? Could that be clear? Would it also be helpful to talk about your own identification or more of your own questions about holding the war at home and war abroad perspectives?

*”What Zimmerman did was scarcely different from what the powerful have continued to do to Guatemala since well before 1954: strike out at even the slightest sign of justified self-defense with completely disproportionate brutality. The consequence of Zimmerman’s actions and acquittal is a U.S. environment where the lesser value–the Otherness–of black people’s lives has been re-affirmed, even by legal institutions. The simmering consequence of these same dynamics in Guatemala is that Glendi’s friends, neighbors, family members all have been touched by countless deaths that no one outside of these communities even cares about. They are just another permanent Other on the world stage. They pick our coffee and our bananas, but they are easily replaced.”

I think what you are talking about in regards to the deaths in Guatemala not being put outside of the communities where they happened because no one cares also happens tons in the U.S. We are on homicide 54 this year in Oakland, and I bet you can guess how many are black and brown folks. And most of those homicides have gotten little to no attention and press. Facebook has changed that slightly but not tons. Obviously different dynamics and histories and potential access to a broader stage but no guarantee yeah?

I really like everything you’re saying and think it’s crucial to this conversation. Maybe I just want more? More clarity, more you, more questions that don’t have easy answers. You of course can tell me to shove it but I was thinking about it and thought you might be interested. 🙂

sending love.
(email me!!)

Bruin, yes!

First of all, greetings from Guatemala, where things are honestly even more precarious then when I wrote this a week ago. Apologies in advance if I don’t hone in on the level of clarity that you are asking for so thoughtfully. Internet time is short, and surrounding emotional demands right now are steep–I’ll explain in an email.

That was a hard piece for me to post. Every time I write anything at all, I inevitably later regret it and it’s hard for me to go back to it. For something related to such a raw and heated topic as this Zimmerman situation, I wanted to erase this piece as soon as I posted it. But, I’m really trying to work on my anxiety and fear of sharing my writing, so I not only kept it posted, but I actually have been sharing all my writing on Facebook–which is extra hard. It’s been challenging to come visit this page knowing this post is here, because it does feel so undercooked, yet it still has too much of a judgmental edge for how little clarity it offers.

So, your in-depth response is super welcome (and the language of “rubs me” is particularly awesome and helpful, I will borrow that)! Thank you. Let me try to air my thinking out a bit more.

Really, this post came from an emotional, pretty kneejerk place–with death all over the place within just miles of here (two more separate shootings in the last 4 days, and some other intensity that I can’t talk about here), and realizing that especially the mainstream media discussion of the Zimmerman case still doesn’t cover the issue in a way that has room for what is happening here–and how the Zimmerman situation is so much bigger than they are making it. I’m tired of people here being lost, and it being so normalized.

And really that’s what it comes down to for me, I think: how can this Zimmerman conversation, and the movement around it, make enough room so that we can see all the lives that are being discounted–without at the same time losing the specific injustices facing black people in the U.S.

I think you have noticed well what makes my piece muddy and less helpful: I’m not clearly identifying my own position and I’m not being explicit in who I’m naming. When I wrote this, I was mostly reacting to the mainstream media and their generally white, middle class targeting of the discussion–I had not yet seen the huge outpouring of ideas, poetry, reactions from movement sources which I get glimpses of on Facebook.

From this perspective, I was trying to basically say, “If you’re just now talking about this one instance at such a superficial level, and if you’re actually going to act sympathetic, then you should really widen your lens and see just how big the problem is.”

From there, I think my arguments about the Other and disproportionate violence are true, and those bigger connections need to be made.

But in the specifics of the case, and my overall tone, I think I can be mistaken for almost playing oppression olympics–“look over here, look over here, violence is worse over here.” That was not my intention at all. I totally hear what you are saying about the violence against queer folks of color in Oakland, and the 54 homicides. I don’t want these U.S. realities to be overshadowed by me saying “North America this and that.” But I don’t want these people here in Guatemala, or in Honduras, or in South Africa, or in Vietnam to be lost in the conversation either.

Especially coming off reading a couple of books about the 60’s and 70’s (like David Gilbert’s memoir about the Weather Underground), I think I was also trying to suggest that the discussion should have an anti-imperialist angle to it–to not be limited to liberal guilt arguments, or black-white binaries, or only analyses of the North American justice system and nothing else–especially not just taking an isolated look at stand-your-ground laws when that same logic is killing people across the planet.

And now my internet time is running out, and I think I was just as muddy as before. Sorry for that. So, quickly, thanks so much for being real and helpful and engaging, and thanks for pushing me to be more clear–and more me! Hopefully more soon enough!

Sorry Muse,so sorry, MJ knows when I get this way.NJ, you cannot carry. only in house, Yes, It is teibrrle. You have to drag the attacker in your home. I am on the first floor again for the first time in 20 years. I am like the neighborhood watch. I see and report everything.I have a can of wasp spray, direct hit 15 -20ft, straight. Can is in my car. You have to be ready to get away, shoot it in their eyes, blind them.Two decades ago, when I was on a first floor apt. I caught a peeping white Tom looking in my son’s room. I took a baseball bat and was seeking behind, went to swing ( I made too much noise) and the perv ran away. then I called the cops. moved a month later.