Michelle Alexander’s Comment on Trayvon Martin
Let it be said hereafter that we were quiet no more.
Back in 1903, in his groundbreaking book The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. DuBois argued that the defining element of African-American life was being viewed as a perpetual problem–one’s very existence as a problem to be dealt with, managed and controlled but never solved. More than 100 years later, DuBois’ rhetorical question seems as relevant as ever: How does it feel to be a problem?
There is a profound difference, of course, between having problems–which all people are allowed–and being a problem. One of the reasons that Trayvon Martin’s tragic death resonated so powerfully with millions of people of color, black and brown men in particular, is that it was one of those rare situations in this so-called era of colorblindness when suddenly the curtain was pulled back. All the usual rationalizations for routinely treating young black men as problems and up to no good, were stripped away. There was just a young teenager on the phone with a girl, carrying a bag of Skittles and an iced tea, and he was viewed for no logical reason as scary, out of place, on drugs–someone who needs to be confronted, interrogated and put in place.