My own wrestling with the meaning of the Zimmerman verdict has reminded me of this passage from James Baldwin’s A Talk for Teachers: “When you go downtown you discover that you are literally in the white world. It is rich- or at least it looks rich. It is clean- because they collect the garbage downtown. There are doormen. People walk about as though they owned where they are- and indeed they do. You know- you know instinctively-that none of this is for you. You know this before you are told.”
NONE OF THIS IS FOR YOU: Those of us who are white don’t really know what it feels like to have large swaths of public space marked off-limits to us simply because of our skin color. We don’t know what it feels like to have entire streets, neighborhoods and towns look upon us with suspicion just for walking. The signs saying “Whites Only” may be gone, but there are invisible “Whites Only” signs everywhere. White people usually don’t notice these invisible signs. We don’t have to. Part of white privilege is the luxury of living our lives oblivious to these signs. But people of color see these invisible signs everyday. On streets, in restaurants, in the workplace, and in between the lines of job applications.
Trayvon Martin’s only crime was that he nonchalantly walked past one of these invisible Whites Only signs. Unlucky for him, George Zimmerman was there to enforce the unwritten law. This is America in 2013.