The Trayvon Martin in US

An American Tragedy

by Emmanuel Harris II (Volume editor) Antonio D. Tillis (Volume editor)
©2015 Textbook VI, 195 Pages


The events surrounding the Trayvon Martin murder, trial and acquittal bring to public and private discourse the violent, brutal murders of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. King, while bringing back to memory the racially provoked murders of Black American and Black immigrant men such as Amadou Diallo, Oscar Grant and more recently, Michael Brown in Ferguson and Eric Garner in New York. The name of Trayvon Martin has become trope in the 21st century, which crystallizes US racial politics regarding Blackness, specifically the Black male: a metaphoric symbol of this history of America’s regard for Black bodies, as well as a metonym, a name that has become a contemporary substitute for terrorist attacks targeting Black bodies. The works included here imply that Trayvon Martin, as trope, reverberates in the most conscientious of ‘US’; and, this epic tragedy is one that has plagued ‘US’ since Africans and people of African descent first arrived to the Americas. The essays range from the profoundly personal to the thoroughly investigated, and conclude with the statement from President Barack H. Obama in the epilogue. The Trayvon Martin in US is essential reading for anyone who is involved in race relations or teaches the topic.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction: The Trayvon Martin in US: An American Tragedy
  • Part I: Personal Reflections and Narratives on the Trayvon Martin in US
  • Chapter One:   A Message for Our Sons and Daughters: Remembering Trayvon
  • Chapter Two:   I Cried: My Personal Sentiments About Trayvon Martin’s Death and the George Zimmerman Trial
  • Chapter Three:   Why Did Zimmerman Get Out of His Car?
  • Chapter Four:   If We Must Die: Trayvon Martin and the Black Piñata
  • Chapter Five:   The Pain Felt by Every Afro-Descendant
  • Chapter Six:   Personal Reflections on Race and Blackness From an Academic Afro-Latin Woman
  • Chapter Seven:   Mater Dolorosa: The Bléssed Virgin Wore a Hoodie
  • Chapter Eight:   A Letter to My Son
  • Chapter Nine:   A Message to My Daughter: Of Trayvon Martin and Young Black Men
  • Part II: Critical Historical and Analytical Perspectives on the Trayvon Martin in US
  • Chapter Ten: Questions Arise: The Political, Legal, and Social Implications of the Trayvon Martin Tragedy
  • Chapter Eleven: Trayvon, Medicine, and Education in the US: Moving Away From Individualized Analyses of Race
  • Chapter Twelve: Historical PTSD—In the Midst of a Tragedy
  • Chapter Thirteen: Killing for Inclusion: Racial Violence and Assimilation Into the Whiteness Gang
  • Chapter Fourteen: Reflections on the Diversity of Thought in Black America on the Trayvon Martin Case
  • Chapter Fifteen: ‘How shall we sing the Lord's song in a strange land?’ Reflections Upon Responses of Trayvon Martin’s Parents to the George Zimmerman Trial
  • Chapter Sixteen: Disposable Images of Our HipHoprisy: Trayvon Martin Stares at Emmett Till
  • Chapter Seventeen: How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Reflections on the Trayvon Martin Case and the American Idea
  • Chapter Eighteen: The Black Male Defiled: Whose Fault Is It? Critical Historical Analysis on Black Male Subjecthood
  • Epilogue
  • Contributors’ Biographical Information
  • Index
  • Series index



The Trayvon Martin in US: An American Tragedy

It is plausible to suggest that the exploration of the “New World” was indeed an exercise in the creation of various peoples, cultures, ideologies, and a new world order. From the fifteenth century onward, global history records the creation of new beings that would come to produce cultures that would define a hemisphere. In so doing, the interbreeding of the Indigenous populations with the European and the African populations did create, as many suggest, a new world subject that became an anomaly for the emerging global power structures that were set in motion by annihilation, colonialism, and slavery in the Americas. Thus, a global consequence of that experience, with purposed outcomes or not, resulted in the furthering of a European agenda regarding human and cultural hierarchies, expansion of territorial wealth, and hegemonic dominance. A twenty-first-century retrospective glance at it all yields discourses laced with echoes, if not screams, of terrorism, xenophobia, annihilation of peoples/cultures, and Eurocentric ideologies as the dominant regional understandings and utterances of racism, sexism, homophobia, and the like. And, once the Indigenous populations were almost exterminated or deemed to have “souls” by the colonizers sanctioned by royal decree, the African subject was left marginalized, demonized, and vilified forever in this global web of human trafficking and gross exploitation.

Recent events surrounding the Trayvon Martin murder, trial, and acquittal have spurred conversations that take us back to the fifteenth century, and consequently brought back to mind the countless Black bodies that have been hung by the noose of this colonial world order. Brought to mind are the countless Africans and enslaved Blacks who died at the hands of European colonizers; the ← 1 | 2 → mutilation of enslaved Black bodies; the lynching of Black men and women who, like the terrorists that harmed them, were only in search of “place” in a forced adoptive space that had come to be their “home.” Brought to the frontal lobe through memory were the violent, brutal murders of Emmett Till, Medgar Evers, Malcolm X, and Dr. King. Forced back into the day-to-day of American thought were the senseless murders of Black American men such as Aaron Campbell, Alonzo Ashley, Amadou Diallo, Timothy Stansbury, Steven Eugene Washington, Oscar Grant, and Sean Bell at the hands of belligerent and angry White racist men. An even more painful reality to bear was de-scabbing the wounds of hurt inflicted by the disregard and insidious hatred of Black male bodies in the US. Thus, the centuries-old treatment of Black males was manifested contemporarily in and through the Trayvon Martin murder as it brought back the 2012 assassination of unarmed young Black men who joined the list of others innocently gunned down: Kimani Gray, Kendrec McDade, Timothy Russell, and Ervin Jefferson. Thus, for Black Americans and others, Trayvon Martin became trope: a metaphoric symbol of this history of America’s disregard for Black bodies. Trayvon Martin became metonym: this name has become a contemporary substitute for terrorism when referencing Black male bodies at the disposal of White lynch mobs. It acknowledges for all conscious Black males that in “US” Trayvon Martin resides. And, this epic tragedy is one that has plagued “US” since our inception on to the soil of America: as we grow, the harvest seems unstoppable.

The chapters that follow in this volume are far from a comprehensive display of reactions and interpretations of the Trayvon Martin tragedy. On the contrary, what we have assembled here represents a mere sampling of the tremendous variety of attempts by scholars, writers, and activists to make sense of a senseless act: the killing of an unarmed Black man as he walked home from a convenience store and the subsequent not-guilty verdict at the trial’s conclusion.

The contributors were free to position their responses as they saw fit. Chosen from numerous disciplines, professions, as well as ethnic or cultural origins, they represent not only differing approaches, but also differing and sometimes contradictory views and interpretations of the same subject matter. Yet when this volume is read in its entirety, we believe we achieve a more complete understanding of the tragedy in addition to a sampling of the depth and breadth of its social, political, psychological, cultural, and historical relevance.

We divided the contributions into two large groupings—personal reflections and scholarly interpretations of the tragedy—and President Obama’s comments in the epilogue. However, the chapters also approach different aspects of what occurred and the reactions that followed, for example, the racial environment in the nation, the encounter between Trayvon Martin and his killer, George Zimmerman, the trial, and the verdict. Some chapters focus on the culture of race in the US, where acts of violence such as the Martin tragedy occur. Brian Lozenski ← 2 | 3 → and Jonel Daphnis present a profound and insightful chapter, demonstrating unequal access to education and medicine and its effect on Black people as well as the poor. For them, “being Trayvoned” could be a term applied to many others in the country. The historian, Louis L. Woods, provides a provocative chapter delineating aspects of the cultural precedents regarding the affirmation of Whiteness by new immigrants visible in their treatment of Black folk. Likewise, Michelle Stevens skillfully shows how the tragedy forms yet another chain in the events that have caused post-traumatic stress-like symptoms in the Black community. The Uruguayan scholar and writer, Cristina Cabral, makes an impassioned argument illustrating the racial consciousness prevalent in the US as seen through the eyes of a Black, Spanish-speaking immigrant.

Some chapters address the events of the tragedy directly. Theodore Burgh presents a moving chapter in which he vehemently questions George Zimmerman’s motives and parallels them with his own personal experiences as a Black man at a predominantly White university. In the political scientist and activist Angela Douglas’s powerful contribution, we see a concrete examination of the event in addition to an important assessment of the trial in which she aggressively addresses the shortcomings of the legal system.

Reactions to Trayvon’s death coupled with the results of the trial are painfully yet articulately explored by writers such as Rodney Smith. Not only does he unabashedly expose his emotions, but he also convincingly argues that Trayvon Martin was a person of prominence who was assassinated. Similarly, Deborah Brunson takes a skillful and humane communication studies approach to crafting and questioning the divergent responses of the respective participants in the court proceedings, including some of the jurors and family members. Dennis Rogers expands and explores the diversity of thoughts surrounding the tragedy. He adeptly brings to light many of the uncelebrated players in the trial, such as Zimmerman’s father, and the wide array of reactions to the tragedy by Black people. And like Cristina Cabral, Yvette Modestin expressively correlates the events to her extended family with the need across the Black Diaspora “to cry out loud and speak our truth.” Indeed, the chapters contained in this collection represent a communal outcry of many powerful voices.

Some of the chapters delineate historical or social connections to other events more explicitly. Antonio Tillis’s formidable contribution argues that throughout modern history the Black male body not only has been victimized but also subjectively utilized by the dominant culture. He stresses that we must redefine Blackness; thus, “we as a collective can simultaneously break down the barriers propelled by White mythology, while erecting new images that attest to our strength, intellect…and commitment to survival.” Similarly, Glen Anthony Harris seamlessly and skillfully moves from W.E.B. Du Bois to Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin, illustrating a nation of violence in which Black people disproportionately ← 3 | 4 → serve as victims. In Todd Steven Burroughs’s strong and beautiful contribution, he draws parallels between Till and Trayvon—describing them as identical twins separated by sixty years—while incorporating Hip Hop and criticizing what he terms disposable history. Quito Swan unapologetically terms the episode a lynching and the phenomenon as the Black piñata. His poignant commentary explains how the tragedy directly evolves from a national event to having personal consequences.

As Stevens argues, the essays in the collection speak our truths. Some truths seem more intimate, such as Emmanuel Harris II’s message to his daughter or Timothy J. Lensmire’s letter to his son. Or María Zalduondo, whose revealing and unsettling testament of the events from the perspective of her own Catholic beliefs add yet another dimension to the discussion about the Trayvon Martin tragedy. Her words complement well those espoused by AME Zion pastor, William Johnson, when he proclaims to sons and daughters “you do belong” when someone treats you like an “other” and “you can believe,” regardless of those that attempt to rob us of our strength.

Each contributor’s voice seeks to communicate to a greater reality and we invite our readers to draw from their own experiences and see the commonalities present in the chapters from the contributors in addition to the statement from President Barack H. Obama contained in the epilogue. We hope that in addition to the knowledge, wisdom, and understanding in the pages that follow, you will feel the humanity, critical tone, compassion, and love in our words.

Emmanuel Harris II
Antonio D. Tillis
← 4 | 5 →

Part I
Personal Reflections and Narratives on the Trayvon Martin in US

← 5 | 6 →

← 6 | 7 →


VI, 195
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (May)
Racism Black body Murder Black American
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2015. 195 pp.

Biographical notes

Emmanuel Harris II (Volume editor) Antonio D. Tillis (Volume editor)

Emmanuel Harris II, PhD, is Professor of Spanish and Africana Studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He has published in Spanish and English in various books, academic journals, and edited volumes both nationally and internationally. He is the award-winning English translator of the Afro-Peruvian novel Malambo by Lucía Charún-Illescas. Antonio D. Tillis, PhD, is Professor of Hispanic Studies and Dean of the School of Languages, Cultures, and World Affairs at the College of Charleston. He has authored Manuel Zapata Olivella and the «Darkening<187> of Latin American Literature, Caribbean-African Upon Awakening: Poetry by Blas Jiménez, Critical Perspectives on Afro-Latin American Literature, and (Re) Considering Blackness in Contemporary Afro-Brazilian Contexts. He is editor of PALARA and series editor of Black Diasporic Worlds.


Title: The Trayvon Martin in US
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204 pages