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A Light in Our Backyards

Jordan Peterkin

October 7, 2016

For me, it started with Trayvon Martin. It didn’t start with the murders and oppression of Black and Brown bodies in the United States that had occurred for centuries. It started with Trayvon Martin for me, because that was when I realized how sheltered I had been growing up. It was a cold, hard slap in the face that jolted me awake to the realities of racial inequity. I became aware of the fact that there was something wrong with America. Everything lost its usual luster. I learned quickly that being Black in America was a burden.

I do not think that white people understand what it is like to feel as though the United States does not recognize your humanity, as if three-fifths was more than just compromise. Dehuminization of Black and Brown people has become so ingrained in our society that we would rather argue over a man’s misdemeanor past than focus on the fact that he no longer has a future. The death of a person of color is never about the fact that a fellow being had his or her life taken, but whether his or her life is worth consideration. American society has economized Black value. A Black or Brown life must face the test of immeasurable scrutiny on a national level before it is deemed worthy enough for civil outrage. Even children are held to this same standard of dehumanization, with Trayvon’s life only being worth an Arizona and a bag of Skittles.

In the end Trayvon, Tanisha, Michael, Yvette, Miriam, Sean, Sandra, Alton, Philando, and the many other victims of government-sanctioned murder were seen as ‘thugs’ or problems waiting to happen. Instead of being seen as women and men with hopes and dreams, filled with the same heart, nerves, and sinew that all humans share, Black people only thought to deserve one second before a finger twitch ends their lives. Instead of seeing a fellow human being, police react out of fear and hate to darker skin.

When a Black light anywhere in America is snuffed too soon and unjustly, it is a moment of mourning for many in Black communities. It is something that the white majority could never understand. However, the closeness of recent events has shined a light into the backyards of white North Carolinians. Just as Trayvon was my slap into reality, Keith Scott became that of the many North Carolinians who previously could not imagine that their home state or city would become a battlefield.

Yet, amongst the sadness, hurt, angst and hopelessness that ensues after every cycle of acquittal and paid leave, I have found so much solace in the community of Black bodies at UNC. The vigils, words of encouragement and power, and the protest created spaces to heal. I have seen many tears shed in the past few weeks, with people again having to readjust their burdens and recognize that we are still fighting, marching and pressing on.

On Sept. 23, 2016,  hundreds of UNC students gathered in the Pit and the Frank Porter Graham Student Union to protest Keith Scott's death in Charlotte on Sept. 20. Harmonyx, a UNC a cappella group,  performed several songs in the Pit to protest Scott's death.

On Sept. 23, 2016, hundreds of UNC students gathered in the Pit and the Frank Porter Graham Student Union to protest Keith Scott’s death in Charlotte on Sept. 20. Harmonyx, a UNC a cappella group, performed several songs in the Pit to protest Scott’s death. Jordan Peterkin, the writer of this column, is on the right with the yellow emblem. Photo by Camila Molina

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