Trayvon, Marissa, & Cece: A Radical Black Marxist-Feminist’s Perspective

From the September 2013 PNL #827

by Nikeeta Slade

Image: Ebony magazine

My roommate and I watched the final moments of the Zimmerman trial with bated breath. “Not guilty.” When I heard those words, I cupped my hand over my mouth in sheer horror and disbelief. I was mortified. Shocked. As a black woman, I am acutely aware of how racism is embedded into the very essence of American society, so the visceral reactions I had towards the verdict were not spawned by naiveté but confirmation. The verdict confirmed that in this allegedly post-racial era, Florida and the country as a whole have absolutely no regard for black humanity.

The verdict was just the final blow in an ordeal that was fraught with racism from the very beginning. Even before the actual trial began, rightwing pundits like Sean Hannity launched vilification campaigns against Trayvon Martin. Pundits were all too willing to imply that since Martin was suspended from school and traces of marijuana were found in his blood, that somehow he was a “thug” who deserved to be killed. Nevermind the fact that George Zimmerman knew absolutely nothing about Trayvon Martin’s background. More importantly, even if he had known these things about Trayvon, what kind of society do we live in when alleged marijuana use justifies the murder of a young boy armed only with snacks? While I could rehash the minutiae of the trial, the fundamental point remains that Zimmerman stalked and killed Martin as if he were nothing more than mere prey because in Zimmerman’s mind, Martin had no right to be in that gated community. This is evidenced by the fact that on the 911 tapes, he referred to Trayvon as “suspicious.” Had Zimmerman stayed in the car that night as the dispatcher instructed, Trayvon Martin would still be alive today.


The Response

The fact that thousands of people all over the country poured into the streets to protest the verdict illustrates the spark the case has ignited. Conversations about race and racism are always happening within the black community but the aftermath of the case opened up a space to have this conversation nationally. Unfortunately, however, much of the dialogue devolved into tangential conversations falsely claiming that black communities do not pay enough attention to “black on black” violence and the scapegoating and demonization of black families and black communities.

Considering that Barack Obama has largely failed to speak out against racism in his tenure as president, it is a testament to the power and effectiveness of mass protest that he was actually forced to address the black community’s anger. Last year, when the case first broke, Obama issued the politically safe and innocuous statement: “If I had a son he would look like Trayvon.” This time, raising issues of racial profiling and racial disparities in the application of the law, Obama was forced to admit that considering the current and historical context in which racism still shapes and influences much of our society, the black community’s response to the verdict was indeed legitimate.

While his post-Zimmerman speech was arguably one of the most race-conscious speeches Obama has given (which doesn’t say much), it certainly left a lot to be desired on other points, specifically in terms of solutions. One of Obama’s major points was how to get young black boys to feel more included and valued in society. However, he made it a point to say that the solution is probably not going to be some “grand, new federal program.” Federal programs are exactly what we need to address economic disinvestment, unemployment, the prison industrial complex and other issues that push black youth to the margins of society. Furthermore, while it is certainly imperative that we address the marginalization of youth of color, it was politically deceptive to shift the conversation away from racism and the criminal injustice system to implicitly talk about wayward or delinquent black boys. This case had nothing to do with Trayvon Martin not “feeling included” in society but it had everything to do with Zimmerman and a larger system of white supremacy that is all too quick to exclude black youth from our society, even if that means murder. Though Zimmerman was only a wannabe vigilante cop, this would have been a prime time to have a national conversation about the way police kill black people with regularity and impunity.


“Endangered Black Male”

The President’s remarks about black boys and even some of the more progressive or radical conversations about racist violence, whether individual or state-sanctioned, often render black queer people, black transgender people, and black women invisible. While the Trayvon Martin case and Stand Your Ground laws received national attention (as they rightfully should have), the cases of Marissa Alexander and Cece McDonald barely received the same amount of attention. Marissa Alexander, a black woman and mother of three who also lived in Florida, fired a warning shot when her abusive husband tried to threaten her. The warning shot did not result in death or injuries for anyone involved. Alexander tried to invoke the Stand Your Ground law but the request was rejected. After deliberating for a mere 12 minutes, the jury found Alexander guilty of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and she is now serving a mandatory 20-year sentence.

Cece McDonald, a black transgender woman, is serving a 41-month sentence in prison. In 2011 McDonald was passing a local bar in Minneapolis after a group of three older white bar patrons hurled a barrage of racist and transphobic epithets at her. One of the women in the group smashed a glass into Cece’s face and other members of the group started to attack her. In an act of self-defense, Cece stabbed one of the men with a pair of scissors from her purse and it resulted in her assailant’s death. Cece was the only person arrested that night. Additionally, Cece is experiencing state-sanctioned transphobia as the state refuses to recognize and honor her gender identity and she has been forced to serve her time in a men’s prison. This is only the tip of the iceberg that illustrates how racism and transphobia intersect and impact the lives of black transgender women. These cases indicate that any conversation about racism has to be done through an intersectional lens that addresses how other forms of oppression intersect with racism to shape the marginalization and oppression of other members of the black community.

Cece McDonald, Marissa Alexander, Trayvon Martin and countless others reveal that we can no longer continue to talk about individual miscarriages of justice when black people and black communities are systematically treated unjustly and inhumanely within the criminal injustice system. Racism is at the heart, the core, the very essence of American capitalism and we have to embark upon a long-term struggle to completely eradicate this society and build something completely anew. Another world is not only possible but it is a moral, political, social and economic imperative. As the Trayvon Martin case and the cases of so many others reveal, our lives literally depend on it.

Nikeeta is a Pan-African Studies graduate student and local activist in Syracuse.