Opine Season

Minnesota's co-op op-ed page

An Open Letter to White People About Trayvon Martin

Guante

Kyle “Guante” Tran Myhre

In the next few days, there are going to be a lot of essays and op-eds attempting to make sense of, or grapple with, or process the Zimmerman verdict, from writers who are better than me. So I want to talk about this from a very specific angle.

This is an open letter to white people, especially to those white people who understand that something terrible has happened, and has been happening, and will continue to happen, but don’t know what to do.

Clearly, something needs to change. But not every problem has a clear-cut, run-out-the-door-and-do-something solution. If you’re angry, or sad, take a second to process. Think about where you fit into this injustice, how you benefit from it, how you’re hurt by it. If that involves prayers, or posting links on Twitter, or having hard conversations, or writing poems, do that. Process.

But it can’t end with “processing.”

If you’re someone who has avoided thinking about white privilege—the unearned advantages that white people benefit from because of how institutions are set up and how history has unfolded—now is a great time to unstick your head from the sand. If Trayvon Martin had been white, he’d still be alive. What better real-world example of white privilege is there? Grappling with how privilege plays out in our own lives is a vital first step to being able to understand what racism is.

But it can’t end with “thinking about our privilege.”

We also need to act on those thoughts, to cultivate an awareness that can permeate our lives and relationships. When people of color share personal stories about racism, our immediate response has to stop being “but I’m not like that.” Just listen. Don’t make someone else’s oppression about you and your feelings. When people of color are angry, we need to stop worrying about the “tone” of their arguments, or trying to derail the conversation with phrases like “it’s not just about race,” or contribute meaningless abstractions like “let’s start a revolution.” When we see unjust or discriminatory practices or attitudes in our workplaces, schools, families or neighborhoods, we need to step up and challenge them. We need to take risks. We need to do better.

But it can’t end with “striving to be a better individual.”

Times like this can feel so hopeless, but it’s important to remember that people are fighting back, and have been fighting back. Racism doesn’t end when you decide to not be racist. It ends when people come together to organize, to work to reshape how our society is put together.

Check out organizations who are doing racial justice work, community organizing trainings, work with youth, and more: the Organizing Apprenticeship Project, MN Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, the Hope Community Center, TruArtSpeaks, Juxtaposition Arts, Justice for Terrance Franklin, Justice for Fong Lee, Communities United Against Police Brutality. There are certainly others (feel free to add more in the comments). Google stuff. Talk to people. Figure out where and how you can plug in.

As a white person, that can be hard. The leaders of any racial justice movement will be, and should be, the people who are most affected by the problem. But that doesn’t mean that white folks should just sit by and watch. Some of the organizations listed above may have ways for you to get involved; some might not. But there’s always something you can do. Organize a discussion group. Learn about good ally behavior. Challenge your Facebook friends. Challenge yourself. Join an organization. Infuse social justice principles into your workplace, or place of worship, or school, or neighborhood. Listen. Understand that Trayvon Martin’s murder was not an isolated incident; start seeing the racism all around you, and start doing something about it.

Above all, stay engaged. As white people, we have the option of not caring. Many don’t.

There will be a “Hoodies Up for Trayvon” rally on Monday, July 15, at 6pm at the Hennepin County Government Center. More details can be found here.

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About Guante

Guante (Twitter: @elguante) is a hip hop artist, two-time National Poetry Slam champion, activist and educator. Check out his music, poetry and other essays at Guante.Info

517 comments on “An Open Letter to White People About Trayvon Martin

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  7. Guante
    July 19, 2013

    Since we’ve reached 500 comments, we’ll be closing them for this post. If you didn’t get to say what you want, I’m pretty sure someone else already did by this point.

    There are lots of other viewpoints and commentary on this very site, and I’ll be continuing to write about racism, privilege and more over the next month. Keep checking back!

    Some really good further reading from other sites too:

    Questlove at NY Magazine

    Ta-Nehisi Coates at the Atlantic

    Aura Bogado at Colorlines

  8. dbthegmc
    July 19, 2013

    Wow..Thanks. Some people need to hear this. A lot of times my community feels as though there is a disconnect from some white folks and don’t think you guys are processing this situation in the same manner we are. I plan on sharing your piece with my audience. I hope you don’t mind.

    • Jay
      July 19, 2013

      Please, share it with your audience. I hope that they are able to get some clarity out of my words.

  9. Jay
    July 19, 2013

    Im going to use some language here that some people might get offended by, however, this is not meant as an offensive rant against anyone, I will only use the language to soley get my point out to everyone involved in this blog. The last time I checked, calling someone a “CRACKER” is the same exact thing as calling someone a spic, chink, jap, wetback, kyke, polock, or nigger. Damn it man…..I hate all those words with a passion. So I hope everyone will one day open there eyes to the true racial profiler in the Trayvon / Zimmerman case, Let me remind everyone involved in this blog that I watched the enitre trial from start to finish and have seen the same exact eveidence as everyone else who watched the entire trial from start to finish.

    • aspergum
      July 19, 2013

      You’re wrong. In a white supremacist society, which the U.S. continues to be, “cracker” or any other term for whites (or for a type of white person) just doesn’t have the weight behind it that slurs for people of color have.

      And the “true racial profiler” was Zimmerman. If Martin had been white, and especially not wearing a racially coded hoodie, there’s just no way Zimmerman would have gotten out of his vehicle and stalked him.

  10. Jazzerina Doll
    July 18, 2013

    Very well put Sir. I commend you on your heart to share and the time you put into being a peaceful contributor to our society.

  11. D'Artangnon
    July 18, 2013

    ty, somebody needed to say it and it couldn’t have been said better. My family is your family, my friends are your friends…..

  12. Sandra Ragland
    July 18, 2013

    Beautiful. Makes me cry because of the hurt I still feel for the death of Trayvon and the grief I share with his parents, brother, and family.

  13. Zimmerman went overboard, but for the record he isn’t white. This isn’t a race thing.

    • Bryant Bigb Scott
      July 18, 2013

      Well if Zimmerman isn’t white , Obama not black, Right?

      • Voice
        July 19, 2013

        Not only is Zimmerman not white, he’s thoroughly muli-racial, white (at least) from his father, as well as Peruvian and *black* from his mother.

      • Jay
        July 19, 2013

        For me to sit here and say that I agree with most people on here would be the farthest thing from the truth……here is a fucking news flash for everyone since most people suggestively forgot………There was a “CREEPY-ASS CRACKER” following Trayvon Martin as stated from his own mouth moments before he took his last breath, only to be repeated on a witness stand in a court of law as “STAR TESTIMONY” from the prosecution teams “STAR WITNESS”, Trayvon’s own girlfriend (Ms. Jenteal). So ask yourselves this ultimate question again….WHO WAS DOING THE RACIAL PROFILING ?………Hmmmmmmmmm ? Here is the next biggest question for everyone on here to answer………….If someone was on top of you smashing your head into the concrete and you had a legal loaded gun on your side, would you pull your gun out and pull the trigger to protect yourself ? i KNOW i WOULD AND i HIGHLY DOUBT THAT THERE IS ANYONE ON THIS PAGE THAT WOULD SAY OTHERWISE.

      • Jay
        July 19, 2013

        The only 2 people that race should matter to are your buddies Jessie Jackson and Al sharpton. Oh and that brings me to a very good question…..Where were Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton when a guy and his girlfriend were killed by 5 or 6 african american people simply for “being on the wrong side of the tracks” in Detroit last year ? If you are wondering why I chose to not note the guy and his girlfriends race, it is because I choose not to interject race into everything that happens in this world when 2 different races are involved. I hate people that try to throw the race card into every single thing that happens in life

      • Clara DeLay
        July 19, 2013

        Jay, as Guante so eloquently stated: you either don’t get it, or you are willfully warping the concept to fit your own agenda. Clearly, you don’t get it because your responses have nothing to do with Guante’s post and point – you seem to miss it completely, AND you are warping the concepts of his posts and responses to it to fit your own twisted agenda! So tiresome, you are… BYE!

      • Jay
        July 19, 2013

        Im not missing any point……It should not and did not matter what race Trayvon Martin was, as the FBI investigated and found no racial profiling from George Zimmerman against Trayvon Martin. It does not, should not, and did not matter what race george Zimmerman was. He acted in self defense as was clearly shown by physical evidence…..PHYSICAL EVIDENCE DOES NOT LIE.

    • Tracy Richey
      July 18, 2013

      Whites are not the only ones that are racist against blacks. To say Zimmerman wasn’t white so this wasn’t a race issue is insane. Mexicans are racist/prejudice against Puerto Ricans. Anybody can be prejudice. I went to a predominantly black church for a few weeks where the members kept pointing out the white church down the street. Anybody can be this way towards anybody else.

    • Jennifer Honer
      July 18, 2013

      Um…actually he is. He’s bi-racial…Latino and white. There is such a thing. I would know..I am bi-racial and it is really irritating to hear people classifying us by the skin color that is most prominent.

    • marcus garvey
      July 18, 2013

      But he is a non-black….from a societal perspective black people are at the bottom of the totem pole…

      • Voice
        July 19, 2013

        Take a look at his mother’s side of the family. Zimmerman is every bit as black as he is Hispanic.

      • Arlene eddie
        July 19, 2013

        Did you know that the one at the bottom of the totem pole is the most important one on the pole.

      • furrycatherder
        July 19, 2013

        If anyone on this blog who’s down with social justice honestly believes that blacks are on the bottom of the societal totem pole, you are very wrong and not at all down with social justice.

  14. HANIF BILAL
    July 18, 2013

    WE WILL NEVER BE INTERGRATED ONLY INCINERATED UNTIL WE FORM A BOND AND BECOME AS ONE. “REVOLUTION” MALCOLM X

    • malcolmhoover
      July 18, 2013

      Hanif, when did Malcolm say that?

  15. Steven Ceci
    July 18, 2013

    I agree with 99% of what the author says except where he puts down those that believe it will take a revolution to ultimately end institutional racism and white supremacy. Serious revolutionaries dont run
    around calling for revolution. We revolutionaries fight for reforms and on the issues that affect people every day. It is by being the best fighters and organizers against racism and reform that through struggle people begin to understand that capitalism which needs racism to thrive can’t be reformed and it will take a revolution to end injustice, racism, and exploitation. The probably thinks revolution is an idealistic abstract but throughout history revolutions are as real as the air we breath and the sun that shines. By the you said listen to what Black people have to say and if the author is to follow his own advice then what about the numerous Black people that believe what is needed is a revolution? Lastly, if you are interested in a multinational organization that is fighting against racism, sexism, bigotry and all the ills of capitalism checkout peoplespowerassemblies.org.

    • Jennifer Honer
      July 18, 2013

      I think by calling yourself a revolutionary, you are proving his point.

      • furrycatherder
        July 19, 2013

        George Washington was a revolutionary. You got a problem with revolutionaries and revolutions?

  16. Sandra Canning
    July 18, 2013

    So poignant given the times. You are 100% right. We all have an opportunity to step in and use this to make our country better, streets safer, & lives richer by opening our hearts to one another!! Bravo!!

  17. Pingback: Four Voices for Racial Justice: Honoring Trayvon Martin with Action | Voices for Racial Justice

  18. Phyllis
    July 18, 2013

    Powerful all I can say

  19. LadyKane
    July 18, 2013

    I just want to say thank you for writing this because I think there are so many of our fair skinned brothers and sisters that would like to do something besides sit on their hands. Thank you to all the supports.

  20. Kirk Wilson
    July 18, 2013

    Father why
    Did I have to die

    It’s for the whole world to see

    I was there when it happened
    And it still doesn’t resonate to me

    Father why
    Did I have to die

    You see it just don’t make any sense

    Only because I cut through someones neighborhood that was surrounded by a fence.

    Father why
    Did I have to die

    Why was I suspicious for walking home in the rain through a neighborhood that wasn’t mine.

    You see I’m so confuse because
    White people do it all the time

    Father why
    Did I have to die

    Can you please tell the world
    That here in the land of the free

    It’s hard as hell trying to grow up
    Especially when you look like me

    Father why
    Did I have to die

    Was it okay for him to stalk me
    Like some creepy A$$ cracker
    Watching this young black kid walking in the rain through a dark neighborhood on my way home.

    Father why
    Did I have to die

    He didn’t think I wasn’t afraid of him following me in a dark unfamiliar neighborhood and stalking me for something I hadn’t done.

    I was afraid for my life as I should have been. Not knowing he had a gun

    Father why
    Did I have to die

    Why no one came to my cries for help
    To assist in saving my life.

    Why didn’t he have any other option other than pulling that trigger that ultimately took my life

    Father why
    Did I have to die

    I fought for my life
    And for that I’m not ashamed

    And when they left it up to the jury
    I was still the one they blame

    What happened to a jury of my peers
    I didn’t see not even one

    You see in the land of the free’s justice system

    That’s how it often done.

    Father why
    Did I have to die

    So many before me
    Died for my civil rights

    But how did he have
    The right to carry a gun
    The right to prejudge me
    The right to stalk me
    The right to confront me
    And the right to take away my rights

    My rights to walk amongst the land of the free
    My rights to grow up
    My rights to graduate college
    My rights to become a productive member of society
    My rights marry the woman of my dreams
    My rights to become a father
    My rights to become the next black president or whatever my heart desire

    Father why
    Did I have to die

    When it comes a day
    When black boys and girls
    Young black men and women
    Old black men and women
    And for a matter of fact
    All of your children of the world

    Can not enjoy the small things in life
    Such as to go to school
    Go to the movies
    Go to watch a marathon
    Go to work
    Or as simply walk to the store in the rain to get a pack of skittle and an Arizona watermelon drink
    And make it home safely

    We all might be safer being home with You my God

    Father why
    Did I have to die

    You said in Genesis 6: 5-7
    That you were so disappointed in man and all his wickedness that you ordered Noah to build an Arc.

    I have my boards my nails and my hammer

    Who’s with me

    By Kirk C. Wilson Sr.

    • Gerrika C. West
      July 18, 2013

      BEAUTIFUL

    • Milinda Jenkins
      July 18, 2013

      Wise words from both men. Take heed America, everyone is not as blind as u would like us to believe.
      There are some compassionate, intelligent people among us.

    • Kimberley Broom
      July 18, 2013

      Beautiful simply Beautiful.

    • Voice
      July 19, 2013

      Son, you didn’t have to die.
      Unfortunately, when you assaulted and beat that man you made it legal for him to kill you in self defense.

      • aspergum
        July 19, 2013

        The lack of solid evidence supporting your claim is appalling.

        Zimmerman had scratches on the back of his head that were mild enough to be covered with a couple of bandages. And how do you know Martin wasn’t defending himself (you know, “standing his ground”) after Zimmerman physically assaulted him first? Answer: you don’t.

        If Zimmerman hadn’t pursued Martin in the first place, Martin would still be alive. Sounds like at least manslaughter to me.

      • JaMarq25@aol.com
        July 19, 2013

        here’s some solid evidence for ya……The defense had an eye witness that saw poor lil Trayvon on top of Zimmerman, hhmmm……Here’s some more solid evidence for ya……..The defense also had a ballistics EXPERT testify that when he studied the shirt that Trayvon was wearing, the way the gun powder sprayed onto his shirt clearly showed that he was on top of Zimmerman when he got shot. he had no right to be on top of Zimmerman as was also factually stated that he was the aggressor. The Florida state self defense law clearly states that people are not legally binded to retreat from physical harm or danger when defending ones self. It also clearly states we can meet force with force and the force that we chooce can be any force that we deem necessary, up to, and including deadly force. Bottom line is….If you dont like the law, and are a resident of the state of FL lobby to change the law.

    • Bryant
      July 19, 2013

      WOW!!!!!!

  21. Gerrika C. West
    July 18, 2013

    I love this!!! #POWERTOTHEPEOPLE

  22. Matt Peiken
    July 18, 2013

    I usually don’t comment on colleagues’ posts, but for anyone who doesn’t believe white privilege or racial profiling brews in everyday America, please watch this video. In five minutes, you’ll change your mind:
    http://bit.ly/194YMtn

    • C
      July 18, 2013

      Matt….Thanks for sharing this clip. This video may come as surprise or shock to some, but for many African Americans this is our EVERYDAY reality in this country. White privileged does exist this country and racial profiling is a part of everyday life for people of color. I know some people are still going to find a way to dispute or deny it, even after seeing this video.

    • Cathy Monico
      July 18, 2013

      All I can say is Wow!!!!!! How disgusting is that? It certainly proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that racism is alive and well. Very sad.

    • Clara DeLay
      July 18, 2013

      I actually saw that episode and cried throughout because I realized this was but a small number of people doing what a majority of ppl do frequently! And it is such a depressing reality!

  23. Tired of Racists (white and black)
    July 18, 2013

    Being white/fair-skinned is not a privilege. Privileged people are people with lots of money. Being white has nothing to do with it. If there was a such thing as white privilege, then all the white people living in extreme poverty in the Appalachian Mountains or the slums of New Orleans would be much better off. The average white person – meaning the majority of white people – has the same advantages and opportunities as anyone else – work hard, seize opportunities when they arise and you MAY end up successful. There is no such thing as white privilege – only the privilege that money can bring. So, to all the rich minorities, this letter should be addressed to you as well.

    • Guante
      July 18, 2013

      This comment has come up many times, and I’ll be dedicating a future post to it, because there are really just a lot of misconceptions out there about what privilege is. White privilege does NOT mean that all white people have it easier than all people of color. That would be ridiculous.

      White privilege is the simple reality that there are a set of specific advantages that all white people share. A few examples:

      Whether you’re rich or poor, you are less likely to be hassled by police than if you were black. Doesn’t mean white people NEVER get hassled, just that it’s statistically less likely.

      Whether you’re rich or poor, all white people can turn on the TV and see positive representations– white heroes saving the world, white soccer moms making hot pockets for their kids, white news anchors in positions of authority. Are there also white villains? Sure. Are there also POC heroes? Sure. But again, look at the numbers, look at the larger trends.

      Whether you’re rich or poor, you are MUCH more likely to be able to walk through a white neighborhood without a self-proclaimed neighborhood watchman thinking that you look suspicious. You’re just a kid walking around, not a potential threat or criminal. Again, are there specific times when specific individuals think white kids look suspicious, or black kids don’t look suspicious? Sure. But to argue with the general trend would be hopelessly naive.

      And there are a million other examples. White privilege doesn’t mean that all white people are evil, or that anyone is blaming you for everything that’s wrong with the world, or that all white people have a guaranteed easy life. If you think it DOES mean that, you either just don’t get it, or you’re willfully warping the concept to fit your agenda. The idea really shouldn’t be that controversial; it’s common sense stuff.

      • Evie
        July 18, 2013

        You are so right about everything you have said! I have never had to struggle to get a job and know for a fact that managers have said, “I will not hire a minority.” Never realizing that most of my friends included people of color, race and ethncity. It’s heart-breaking and when I went to the store yesterday, I felt embarrased and sad because people look at me, and probably wonder if I am happy Zimmerman got off. No, I am very sad, because he obviously followed Trayvon and scared him, and Trayvon was fighting for his life!

    • Exhausted
      July 18, 2013

      Privilege and white, isn’t about how much money one has, or where you happen to live. White privilege is, never being thrown across the hood of a scquad car in your neighbor hood in front of your entire family. It is waking up knowing that you will never be followed. It is knowing that you aren’t feared simply for being. It is knowing that you have a better chance of acquiring a job because you are, who you are. It is knowing that the world see’s you, if anything happens to you that it is priority 101. It is knowing that entire laws are subject to change and get created to protect you. It is knowing that the world views your children as children and not menace’s to society even though they aren’t. It is knowing that you are not stereotyped in the most horrific ways. It is knowing that you are not judged by your skin but the content of your character. With great privilege comes great responsibilty. Stop trying to write my story until you have truly walked in a blacks shoes in America you will never, ever know what is like on a day to day basis. Stop comparing your history in America with ours.

      • Clara DeLay
        July 18, 2013

        White privilege is not standing before a judge to announce that you are ready for trial on behalf of your white client, and having the judge as you if you are represented by counsel! White privilege is not being followed all around a department store by someone I can write a check to, on the spot, that would cover his annual salary!

        So much for convincing an educated, fairly successful, financially comfortable minority who has worked her ass off to get here, that, “there is no such thing as white privilege – only the privilege that money can bring! REALLY!? Somebody should have told that to Michael Vick! Perhaps he would not have gone to prison for dogfighting, while others have been able to buy their way out of murder, according to a previous post and your rationale!

      • furrycatherder
        July 18, 2013

        First off, props for being a successful WOMAN, because too many people forget that male privilege also exists.

        Michael Vick went to jail for 21 months, which isn’t half of what he deserved to get, considering that he operated an interstate dog fighting organization for 5 years and oversaw the death and injury of countless animals. It was Vick’s money that made the organization possible.

        The maximum sentence for his crimes was 5 years. Like many wealthy people, he got out in less than half that.

    • well said

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