Oscar Grant and Sean Bell are just two of the slain black men that the African American community has rallied around before Trayvon Martin became synonymous with the struggle of racism.
In each instance, Rev. Jesse Jackson and Rev. Al Sharpton used their presence to bring attention to the aforementioned plights. Some call these two race hustlers who only exist to have cameras in their faces. That seems to be the go to attack line when these two get ready to put someone on blast.
There is power when I say, “Don’t make me call the NAACP, Al and/or Jesse!” because some people just don’t want those kind of problems. Al and Jesse aren’t just bringing themselves; there are bringing the spotlight for people of color have gone missing or die before their time. They even motivate this current generation to join the fight. When these two start hustling to bring awareness, the media takes stock of what they’re saying—even if it is only momentary. And sometimes, momentary is all they need to fuel long-term momentum.
It took a month and President Obama publicly speaking about Trayvon’s death before he was afforded coverage in PEOPLE magazine and mainstream sites. Think about it. Some have already begun critiquing why there even needs to be such a national focus on Trayvon and why gun laws need to strengthened. Others have gone as far as claiming George Zimmerman has become a martyr to public opinion. In contrast, the death of Caylee Anthony prompted Caylee’s Law, and ironically, very few people complained about the rush judgment against the mother who was accused of killing her young daughter.
It should not be appropriate to question Trayvon’s character. Black boys and men are not the enemy of the state who should bear the brunt of stereotypes. I know wasn’t the only one who stood up to clap as Sharpton chastised the media for belaboring Trayvon’s indiscretions as though he was the culprit in his own death.
In the interest of full disclosure, I met Sharpton in 2008 at a church in Philadelphia. I’m quite sure he doesn’t remember being interviewed by a nervous young reporter. I stood before him in a bit of awe. I was jaded about him because he is not frozen in time like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. He has lived to make mistakes, much like Jesse. However, in that moment, it really hit me that if it had not been for his sacrifices and those of so many unsung heroes, my life would be so much different.
Trayvon’s death has exposed the underbelly of racism that was not hidden from view, but neither blatantly in our faces either. For some, the fourth wall has been broken down for a new generation to lay claim to a civil rights struggle which did not end in the 1960’s. We are not in a post racial society.
And, therein lies the rub. On the surface, the cultural landscape of 2012 seems different from a racially explosive 1964 if we were to measure the contrasts through a superficial spectrum. Blacks have amassed more wealth, degrees and prominence, but we’re still on unequal ground. We have borne great fruit from our labors, but the root of inequality is still as poisonous.
Trayvon’s death can’t be in vain or the cause du jour. He is arguably the Emmett Till of our generation. The dog whistles and criticisms that there’s been too much of a fuss validate why we need more of us on the front lines to push back. We need more ‘hustlers’.
Stephanie Guerilus is a writer and author. Follow her on Twitter at @qsteph.
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