A Good Name - pt 11
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woohooligan May 28, 2016
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"If suffering is art, then perhaps I'm almost an artist now..." At least, that's what I'm telling myself, not that it helps the fact that I'm about to throw-up from the anxiety of publishing this page.

I worry that readers will think I'm simply feeding negative stereotypes about black people... Honestly, my goal with this portion of the story featuring Trayvon Martin's ghost is to avoid stereotypes. In particular I think that when a person is killed, we have mostly two stereotypes: the angelic, innocent victim, or the horrible villain who got what he deserved. What I feel is problematic here is that both of these stereotypes really exist solely for the purpose of comforting us, the still living. Both of these sterotypes boil the situation down to a simple explanation, a clear picture that draws a line between white-hatted heroes on one side and black-hatted villains on the other. That's comfortable to us. That comfort comes at a cost however. Both of these stereotypes also absolve us from the need to admit to ourselves that life is complicated and often messy.

Both stereotypes eliminate the possibility that those of us not directly involved in the tragedy at hand might stop for some self-reflection and ask what we personally might do (if anything) to help make the world a better place, with fewer of these tragedies. I can't say with any certainty that what I write will have a positive impact on the culture at large, I can only educate myself, say my piece and hope that my little ripple helps. If people want to call me a "social justice warrior", then so be it. If that's the label given to people who care, I'll wear it gladly. (The irony of being called a "warrior" because I hope for a more peaceful world is not lost on me.)

Unfortunately for myself, the real Trayvon Martin identified personally, culturally, with "street culture"... God, I feel so damn white right now... I don't even know if I'm describing "street culture" right... Please forgive my horrible awkwardness... In any event, Travyon took selfies with gold "grillz" and "talked street" and etc... all things that are far removed from my own experience and that are unfortunately (for me) part of the stereotypes of young black people. Some people might think because I write him "talking street" that I'm somehow mocking him or trying to demonize him, and that couldn't be further from the truth. For my part, I don't see any reason why writing Trayvon as "talking street" is any different than my writing Ayn Rand's thick Russian accent on previous pages. An accent is an accent -- either I write accents for all the characters, or for none of them. I'm doing my best to make my presentation of Trayvon authentic, even though I can't possibly know how badly I might be failing at that.

(A friend of mine suggested the possibility of using a font instead of changing the spelling of words, and I suppose that was an option, but I had already written Ayn Rand's Russian accent, and the only font I could think to use for Trayvon Martin would be a graffiti font and I worried if people wouldn't be offended by that too.)

But talking street is superficial.

The real story on this page is how Trayvon reacts to being shot and killed and sent to hell. I could have written him as brooding over how awful it was, or angrily plotting his revenge, but where would that have gotten us? Plus, I've already established that the Hell in this story isn't all that bad, it's just the place you go if you've done things like eat pork. So given that I'm pretty sure he ate bacon, and it seems like he was a pretty reasonable kid, it seems like he would probably make the best of his situation. (Yeah, I called him a kid. He was 17, but I'm 40 and my oldest daughter was born four months after Trayvon, so to me he was a kid). And like most kids his age, the boys at least, I suspect the thing he was thinking about most those days was girls. To a boy of seventeen, who's only known sex for a few years, I imagine eternity without it would be a fate worse than death.

You know, he was a kid, doing kid stuff.

There's an old, likely Persian (Sufi) proverb that says, "I cried because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet." I like to think this is the kind of experience Trayvon might have when he meets this racist kid who died on his factory job during the great depression. Sure, he's a racist prick, but he's also ten years old and Trayvon's not getting into it with a kid nearly half his age. But if Trayvon had been born before the depression, no one would have called him a "kid" at seventeen. If he died in the thirties, it would have been between "two men" and it probably wouldn't have made the news at all, given the extreme racism of the era. The real problem I have personally with this situation though, isn't in what's changed, but how much Trayvon's death and trial resembles what would have happened in 1936, despite how wildly different our perceptions are of racism and of childhood.

For one thing, Trayvon's thinking about prison and drugs would have been the same (though obviously he would have said "the big house for spliff"... you gotta get the lingo right... if it's not dated right everybody thinks you're a narc). It would be far better for all of us to treat all drug addiction the same way we treat alcoholism, by treating it as a medical and social challenge and offering services to help people who struggle with it. In the US after the civil war, we decided instead to lock people away. That's because it was never about addiction, it was about suppressing those that wealthy white people didn't like. By the 1930s we had outlawed alcohol, pot, cocaine and opium, but of course white people were mostly allowed to consume as much of those things as they could afford. Since then, we've only nationally become smart and reintroduced alcohol (with sensible regulations for things like driving). A century later, we're just now starting to do that with pot... we really should do the same for cocaine and opium (which was outlawed to lock up asians), but politically we're nowhere near ready to deal with that yet.

When something like this happens, you hope that the evidence isn't tamperred with... because evidence is murky enough when it's pure, but what about when obvious bullies have plunged their hands into it? Apparently a white supremacist claimed to have hacked into all of Trayvon's email and social media accounts. If you believe him, the obvious next question then is, "why should anyone believe that anything on those social media accounts are legitimately from Trayvon and not things YOU planted?"

But ignoring that, what actually was in there? If things were planted, what did they plant? Weed? Evidence that he smoked pot? Evidence that he sold pot? These things shouldn't have been illegal in the first place, because they were only illegal originally for the purpose of oppressing black people. It's just more of the same bs double-standard stereotype that it's fine for a white dude to do drugs, but a black dude who gets high must be a thug. So far, all I've seen of Trayvon's social media are swearing, sex jokes, pictures of him holding cash, smoking (allegedly) pot and giving the finger to the camera. Oooh! Scary stuff! Great job, racist, you've "proven" that Trayvon was as horrible as Willie Nelson!

Oh, but he had tattoos! We all know how dangerous that is!

Somebody needs to watch that girl, she's gonna kill somebody!... like, some rich old monopoly guy... he'll have a heart attack and she'll get all his money.

What about that picture of the gun? We don't know. Maybe it was his hand, maybe it was a photo he got from someone else, or that was planted in his social media. And so what if he talked with his father about getting a .22? Why is that any different than Zimmerman carrying his gun? What about the video of Trayvon holding a "fight club"? Same thing, we don't really know what that was. But even if Trayvon recorded it, what does it prove that he was around some guys consentually boxing in a parking lot? Why would that be any different than Zimmerman's (albeit poor) MMA Training? Wait... I said double-standard before, right? Right. And beyond those, even pointing out that Trayvon was suspended from school (for being tardy, minor vandalism and having an empty, alleged pot baggie), makes you look like the dude who insists we've never met his girlfriend because she's Canadian. You're trying too hard. Tell me again how being suspended for three totally non-violent reasons is worse than Zimmerman's resisting arrest and fighting with cops, that had happened seven years earlier? Right around the time his ex-girlfriend got a restraining order? Not to mention his ex-wife's 911 call saying that Zimmerman punched her father and threatened her with a gun. And that's not even considering how doxing an ex girlfriend shows that Zimmerman is a revenge-oriented person.

What I would like to be a takeaway from this is that, while there seems to be no justice for Trayvon yet, and we all know that mention of drugs in this case is all bullshit, we can take some small comfort in knowing that our expanded idea of childhood has helped him and his family (even if it wasn't enough).

When did you consider yourself an adult? At eighteen when you could vote? At twenty-one when you probably could drink? Among Jews, a mitzvah (bar or bath) is the right of adulthood, and it's held at age thirteen. And it's not just Jewish culture, throughout the world, adulthood was thirteen for a really long time. This idea of childhood extending beyond thirteen or fifteen, the idea of a teenager still being a child is a remarkably new idea, starting sometime in the late nineteenth century and gradually gaining acceptance. In the US before 1971 you had to be 21 to vote, then that age was reduced to 18. Personally, I think this is largely a good thing. Others disagree.

But wait... were Trayvon's teenage years really easier thanks to our expanded idea of childhood? What about the fact that the US is now the only country in which thirteen year old children are now tried as adults and sentenced to life in prison without parole? What about the fact that we now have private prisons run for the benefit of rich white dudes? What about the fact that those private prisons are often fed by trumped up charges (drugs for example), by police who are now permanently stationed in inner-city schools in neighborhoods that are mostly black? What about the fact that we've gradually increased the number of people we arrest and the length of time we keep them in prison, which we now call "mass incarceration". What about the fact that our private prisons (remember again, they're run to make rich people richer), instead of rehabilitating people do the opposite, making it more likely that someone will return to prison after serving their debt? Is it really much wonder that a teenager who had rolled a fatty or two would compare his place in this hell with the prisons where so many of his classmates might have gone?

One of the reasons I think the extension of childhood benefits us as a society is because recent science shows that the brain really isn't fully developed until around age twenty-five. More specifically, our impulse control isn't fully developed until around 25, which means that just ast a child is reaching "adulthood", and we're asking them to make super-important decisions about the rest of their lives, like if and where to go to college, what career to persue, etc. they're not yet really prepared to think ahead and make these major life decisions for themselves.

I know for me that was true. I met my first wife at seventeen. A couple years later we moved out and my oldest daughter, Alex was born about four months after Trayvon, when I was only twenty. I went on to get student loans that I later defaulted on for a variety of ridiculous reasons, and totally destroyed my opportunities for higher education and a good career. We'd been married when I was only nineteen and that ended horribly in 2000. The end of the marriage was financially the worst thing that ever happened to me and resulted in the only period in my life in which I was genuinely homeless. And that was all due to decisions I made in my late teens and early twenties, before my brain had developed the ability to really manage big decisions as an adult.

If only Trayvon had survived, he'd have the opportunity to ruin his own life with rash decisions, just like I did at that age.

But I've recovered and I'm happy to say I'm doing a lot better these days. While I can't bring Trayvon back, I hope that I can offer a bit of the wisdom of my years to understanding what happened to him, so that future generations can learn from our mistakes. And although we no longer have Trayvon, the world is still better for the lives he touched. His long-time friend Rachel, who was mocked during the trial for her grammar (despite being the multilingual child of Haitian immigrants), says she graduated high-school to keep a promise she made to Trayvon. It's true that she wasn't entirely alone. Others contributed to help her get tutoring to ensure she graduated... But I think that should be the real lesson here: life is often messy and none of us make it through alone, so we all need to do our own part to be a better part of our village.

Although I lived in Sanford Florida in 2000 (the year my wife and I divorced), I never met Trayvon Martin. Still, his life has touched me, and for that I am grateful.

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