The culture and politics collide. Music is a megaphone for what is unfolding politically in America and beyond, and sports a sphere where politics and protest are familiar players. This is especially true today, where the lanes separating culture from politics often converge, and the lines between music, art and protest routinely blur. In his column, Khaled Bey explores the intimate intersection between politics, music, sports and culture, pushing these timely stories from the media's margins into the mainstream. The stakes are high and speaking up never meant more than today.
Today is Trayvon Martin's birthday. It would've been, and should've been, his 24th, a special day to celebrate with friends and alongside family. A young man, done with college perhaps, and on the cusp of accomplishing many of the goals young men chart out during that pivotal age at the crossroads of diminishing youth and full-fledged adulthood.
That portrait of an older Trayvon surrounded by loved ones and seated in front of a birthday cake and candles is one we can easily imagine. It is one that monopolizes the mind of his mother, Sybrina Fulton, on days like this and occupies the thoughts of his father, Tracy Martin, every time he looks at the calendar. However, it is a cruel fiction that only exists in our heads because of what unfolded on February 26, 2012 – exactly three weeks after young Trayvon blew out the candles on his 17th birthday.
Today is Trayvon's birthday. But, his taken life marks millions of other births within the United States and beyond. His murder, and its aftermath, birthed a renewed racial justice consciousness within the minds of millennials – the very generation Trayvon belonged to himself. It also sparked a revitalized consciousness and commitment among those older than Trayvon, and calls that "Black Lives Matter" resounded across racial and religious lines, and resonated beyond linguistic and national boundaries.
Trayvon's young face was showcased on protest signs and memorialized on murals, countering the media's portrayal of an older, menacing Martin. Portrayals that capitalized on racist, anti-Black stereotypes that sought to vilify Trayvon after death, convert his hoodie from a routine piece of clothing into an attire creaming criminality, and strip him of the innocence owed to any 17-year-old. The battles that erupted after Trayvon's murder erupted online and on the ground, and a new civil rights movement emerged that rattled the very soul of America, and called its shameful history and checkered present into question.
Calling Martin "a martyr" severely underestimates his transformative importance to the collective and individual consciousness that arose after his murder. He did not die for a cause, but rather, reawakened new causes among millions and recharged commitments among millions more. His face an immortal reminder that Black life can be taken at any moment, no matter one's age. And his name a living call-to-action in the face of individual and institutional racism, and seven years later, an emboldened white supremacy being trumpeted most loudly from inside of the White House.
The racism that drove George Zimmerman to murder Trayvon on February 26, 2012 – nearly seven years ago from today – has been lifted from the streets of Sanford, Florida to the halls of power in Washington, DC. Almost everybody remembers the events of that Monday, when Martin – with a bag of skittles in hand and an iced tea in the other – was confronted and killed by the man eleven years his elder and more than eighty pounds heavier with a 9 millimeter handgun in hand, and an established pattern of being trigger-happy with calling the police on young Black men. Young Trayvon wore his hood to stave off the suspicion that came his way, directed at him for no other reason than his race, gender, and how both were interpreted by Zimmerman who believed that "he was up to no good, on drugs or something."
Racism, real and raw as ever, is what drove Zimmerman to pounce on the young teen walking home from the store. Believing that it was just another day, another routine trip to pick up some candy, another usual farewell to his parents before he walked out of the door that he, nor they, thought would be his last. Exactly 21 days after he celebrated his 17th birthday with them, his life would be taken far too soon for no other reason than his Blackness.
The seven years between today and that day have been transformative. As illustrated by the weaponized racism sweeping the nation, and claiming power in the highest seat of the land. However, that span has also witnessed the birth of an indelible racial consciousness among people and communities who shunned it, and a renewed commitment to upending it among those who were resigned to inaction. His face and story reminded everyone – particularly Africans Americans and communities of color – that their sons or brothers, nephews or loved ones could also be victim to the same strain of racism that pulled Zimmerman toward Trayvon, and pushed him to the pull the trigger and take his life.
Days after Trayvon was murdered, I reflected that Trayvon Martin was his own person and an archetype of our brothers, our sons, our nephews, grandsons. Trayon is Mohammed walking down Atlantic Avenue [in Brooklyn], vulnerable to patrolman wary of his beard. Trayvon is Carlos, donning Dodger blue in Pico Rivera, mistaken by LAPD Gang Squad as a gangbanger because of the color of his skin.
We remember Trayvon in the wide-eyed smiles of our youth, the innocence in their eyes and the pursuit of their daily hopes and dreams. Dreams that were permanently deferred for Trayvon, and desecrated by the Florida court that found Zimmerman not guilty 19 months after he was buried.
His life is honored by the scores of activists young Trayvon inspired in the aftermath of his murder, and approaching a decade later, new generations fighting for justice and unapologetically confronting racism in all of its forms. Trayvon gave birth to a new civil rights movement, during a crossroads in American history when the underbelly of racism was rapidly rising to the fore, finally exploding with the rise of Trump and the emboldened white supremacy he ushered into the mainstream. The millions Trayvon summoned to a life of action is great reason for celebration – and there is no better day to celebrate this than today, and all of his birthdays moving forward.
Today, we celebrate Trayvon's birthday. A day, during Black History Month no less, that should provoke action instead of reflection. Action that seeks to dismantle the racism that cost a young man his life, and a proactive and living pledge to remain committed to the racial justice work Trayvon's murder sparked in you, me, and all of us.
Khaled A. Beydoun is a law professor, and author of the critically acclaimed book, American Islamophobia: Understanding the Roots and Rise of Fear. He can be found @khaledbeydoun on Twitter and Instagram.