The killing of a young African-American boy, Trayvon Martin, by an overzealous white Hispanic security guard, who appears to have capitulated to the dominant post-racial presumption that equates the culture of criminality with the culture of blackness, has devolved into a spectacle. While there is plenty of moral outrage to go around, a recognition that racism is alive and well in America, and that justice has been hijacked by those who can afford it, the broader and more fundamental questions and analyses are not being raised. Complex issues get lost when spectacular events are taken over by a media frenzy that feeds on sound bites and simplified answers. Yet, under the intense spotlight on the personal defects of the two men involved, important issues, such as the social and human costs of a corporate-driven gun culture; the privatization of security forces; the price paid by poor minority youth, whose every act is criminalized; and the crimes committed through an all-embracing racism are shrouded in darkness, offstage and invisible. To bolster the incredulous claim that we live in a post-racial society, crimes such as these are often isolated from a larger set of socioeconomic forces that might provide a broader understanding of both the needless death of a 17-year-old black youth, but also its relationship to a much more all-encompassing war on youth that is causing massive suffering and needless deaths among many young people in America.
While it is the tendency of liberals to rush to universalize the deeply felt personal loss that resulted from Trayvon Martin's death, the rosy raceless sentiment was ruptured when President Obama uncharacteristically drew attention to his own racial difference and suggested that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon. But the fact of the matter is that since the dawn of the post-civil rights era, young black and brown youth have been routinely and radically othered as a generation of suspects, if not a dangerous scourge. While poor minority youth may garner some sympathy when their needless deaths get public attention, too many of them experience an existential and real death every day that often goes unnoticed. The popular slogan "We are all Trayvon" may be paved with good intentions, but it bears the burden of hiding more than it reveals. Young poor minorities are not "us." They are the excluded, the other, the excess, and the disposable. What needs to be remembered is that they have been made voiceless, powerless, and invisible in America. Marginalized by race or class and forcibly excluded from the American dream, they register more as a threat to be either contained or eliminated than as an object of compassion and social investment. They are not merely excluded, but punished for living outside of the power relations that give rise to the corrupt privileges of the Second Gilded Age. One notable example is made clear in the question raised by Rich Benjamin in a New York Times op-ed, where he writes: "After all, why did the police treat Mr. Martin like a criminal, instead of Mr. Zimmerman, his assailant? Why was the black corpse tested for drugs and alcohol, but the living perpetrator wasn't?"
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