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A fight for Trayvon Martin is a war against stereotypes

By Roland Martin, CNN Contributor
March 25, 2012 -- Updated 0124 GMT (0924 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Martin: Stereotypes that we have of people can have deadly consequences
  • A black youth should not be a target just because he wears a hoodie, Martin says
  • Martin says it's time to renew the fight against racism, bigotry and stereotypes

Editor's note: Roland S. Martin is a syndicated columnist and author of "The First: President Barack Obama's Road to the White House." He is a commentator for the TV One cable network and host/managing editor of its Sunday morning news show, "Washington Watch with Roland Martin."

(CNN) -- As I walked the streets of New York the other day, I saw several white youths with hoodies, tattoos and nose rings. Not one time did it enter my mind that they could be skinheads.

While walking into the Howard University Hospital in Washington earlier that day, a few African-Americans rocked various types of hoodies. There wasn't a knot in my stomach; I didn't cross the street out of fear, and no, I didn't nervously look around for a cop or two.

As a native of Houston, I grew up in a black neighborhood. Went to a black church. Attended mostly black schools. I've seen every kind of black person possible. The drug dealer. The doctor. The bully. The postal worker. The crack addict. The city councilman. And never have I walked in fear of black folks who have given me no reason to be scared.

Oh, let's be clear, I've seen a group of menacing looking black folks who scared the hell out of me. But I can say the same for whites, Hispanics and Asians.

Roland Martin
Roland Martin

What the Trayvon Martin shooting should tell us is that the stereotypes that we have of people can have deadly consequences. Martin was nothing more than a young man wearing athletic shoes, jeans and a hoodie. For George Zimmerman, that's the uniform of a suspicious person. And it apparently was that simple observation that led Zimmerman to follow Martin in his car, get out, confront Martin and eventually shoot him fatally.

It has been amazing to listen to the reaction of some folks. But nothing got me more charged up than hearing Geraldo Rivera say on "Fox and Friends" that by wearing a hoodie, Martin contributed to his own death.

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"When you see a kid walking down the street, particularly a dark-skinned kid like my son Cruz — who I constantly yelled at when he was going out wearing a damn hoodie or those pants around his ankles. 'Take that hood off!' People look at you and what's the instant identification, what's the instant association? It's those crime scene surveillance tapes," Rivera said.

"Every time you see someone stickin' up a 7-11, the kid's wearing a hoodie. Every time you see a mugging on a surveillance camera or they get the old lady in the alcove, it's a kid wearing a hoodie. You have to recognize that this whole stylizing yourself as a 'gangsta.' ... You're gonna be a gangsta wanna? Well, people are going to perceive you as a menace. That's what happens. It is an instant reflexive action."

He later added, "When you see a black or Latino youngster, particularly on the street, you walk to the other side of the street. You try to avoid that confrontation. Trayvon Martin, you know, God bless him, he was an innocent kid, a wonderful kid, a box of Skittles in his hands. He didn't deserve to die. But I'll bet you money, if he didn't have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn't have responded in that violent and aggressive way."

He might have thought he was well-meaning, but Geraldo, that's just nonsense. It wasn't Trayvon's hoodie that led to his death; it was the skin color. It was what was going through Zimmerman's mind when he saw the kid. We do a disservice to ourselves when we try to explain away such nonsense.

In a show of solidarity, all the Miami Heat took a photo wearing the team's hoodies, with their hands stuffed in their pockets. The leader of this effort was my good friend, Dwyane Wade. Wade also posted a picture of himself in a hoodie on his Facebook page and linked to it from Twitter tagged with "#hoodies #stereotypes #trayvonmartin"

"I'm a father," Wade told the South Florida Sun Sentinel. "It's support of the tragic thing that has taken place. No matter what color, race, we're all fathers."

The problem today is that minorities, especially men -- black men -- have long had to make accommodations for the negative view others have of us.

See, it doesn't matter about our degrees. Our fine, tailored suits don't matter. We've made all the accommodations to fit into this society. We've cut our hair. We are careful about the clothes we wear. We change how we talk so as not to sound threatening. We're fine, upstanding citizens. Yet we still are seen as suspicious. And in the case of Trayvon Martin, end up dead.

We are sick and tired of being seen as suspicious. We are sick and tired of being seen as a stereotype and not as a full human being. We are sick and tired of having to give our black boys "the talk" and still having to bury them so young.

As civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer stated so well: "We are sick and tired of being sick and tired."

For those who continue to tout this so-called post-racial America, look at the image of Trayvon Martin. You tell his parents that the age of Obama is a post-racial America. You tell his parents, Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton, that their son was judged by the content of his character and not the color of his skin.

Even President Barack Obama said on Friday that the killing of Trayvon Martin requires a national "soul-searching."

"If I had a son, he'd look like Trayvon," President Obama said.

America, no more. We will no longer accommodate your easily bruised feelings by clenching our teeth and praying it will all get better. No more. What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now. If you think for a moment that we will be satisfied with a police chief stepping down or press releases expressing outrage, you have another think coming.

This, folks, is war. This is war on racism. This is war on bigotry. This is war on stereotypes. This is a call to arms. This is time for the soldiers in the battle for social justice to stand up and say, "I report for duty, sir."

This fight will not become just a moment. We will not let that happen. This incident is about a movement. A movement for respect. A movement for decency. A movement to be treated equally, and not be stalked and stereotyped because of the amount of melanin in our skin.

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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Roland S. Martin.

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