I am not Trayvon Martin.
I am white. A woman. A recent college grad. I am 23.
But it might surprise you that I, too, live afraid.
Just over a year ago my white ex-boyfriend was sent to prison. After three years of abuse I tried to leave him. He retaliated by trashing our apartment, destroying anything of sentimental value, overdrafting my bank account by 600$, buying a gun, showing up at my work to show me it so I would leave with him, and finally setting fire to my childhood home and my car. He followed me across the state and called me countless times, saying he’d kill himself if I didn’t take him back. When he was finally arrested, I was told they may not be able to hold him, that they may have to give his gun back.
My family feared for my life before I did. But time and distance have shown me how lucky I was. I did not realize how abusive he had been until I took a women’s studies class. Now I realize the damage he could have done to me, my family.
But because he was white, all charges except one count of arson were dropped. He received the minimum possible sentence, despite all the other offenses and a history of violent behavior going back long before we had met. Through the whole court process I sat ashamed thinking of how lucky I was that I was a white girl, that my parents had been able to afford a house in a nice neighborhood with good schools. That when I spoke, the magistrate believed me. And I felt anger and disappointment. Had he been black he would have received a 20% longer imprisonment. Why? Why couldn’t the law be fair and give everyone a sentence they actually deserved? And though I never would have wished for it, I knew had he been a black boy with a gun, he would have been shot down by police, not arrested. Shit, it happens to black boys armed with nothing but cellphones in my hometown.
But my ex was sentenced, and in a year he will be released. There are things I can do to help keep me safe. I have a restraining order which may not be worth much since the court psychiatrist said he is probably a sociopath and has little control of his own behavior. But I can make it hard for him to find me. I can move away. I can change my hair and how I dress. I could change my name.
I could give up my identity. Blacks have to do it all the time, and in much more profound and alienating ways, when they have to “act white." I work with a woman at a telesurvey company who goes by Tina when talking to customers because her real name, Keisha, is “too black." I go back and forth about changing my name before my ex is released. But how much can I change and still be me? And how much must I change to make me safe? Whatever I do won’t change the fact of my identity. I will always be me and therefore I will always be unsafe. I will always be his target just for being me.
Every day I feel more afraid. When I give out my new number I’m worried it will find it’s way back to him. When I tweet about my work, I’m worried he’ll go there when he gets outs. When I move somewhere new (I’ve moved 5 times in the past year) I’m terrified to tell anyone the address. Whatever I do, I’ll never think I’m safe enough. I am scared to let people close for fear that he will hurt them to get to me. I am scared to visit my hometown or anywhere I knew he liked to go after he gets out. What if i do all this work to hide and he just bumps into me? I am scared that he blames this all on me, as he always did when we were together, and that he will seek to punish me again. I am afraid that I will always be afraid, that I will always replay what happened in my head. I am afraid I’ll never know what he did to my cat that went missing but then again I’m also afraid to know.
And yet I am lucky.
Boys like Trayvon cannot hide, like I can, and the law will not protect them as it does me. They will always be exactly who they are, no matter where they go, and so they must always be exposed, defenseless. I will for the rest of my life fear one white man. The Trayvons of the world must fear them all.
See, the bruises on her face and the broken bones weren't enough for her to realize she was being abused. Only a women's studies class could open her eyes to that.