Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Stand-in-your-house Rule: A “Different” Take on Trayvon Martin and Violence in the Public Sphere

 The recent murder of Trayvon Martin in this so-called “post”-race era shows what some in the Black community have been arguing for some time—race matters. This case has also brought to the forefront the intersection of public governance and private influence—who has access to make decisions in this so-called democracy (but that is a completely different post). Let me get back to the conversation at hand. For me, this recent violent removal of a Black body from public space makes me think critically about our understanding of community in this “post” state. And by post, I don’t mean post-racism or post-gender, but post human interactions (where race still matters). In a state where our interactions take place in virtual reality, if at all, how do we (re)define our understanding of community? Beyond this, how do we begin to think of our responsibilities to each other—that is the common good? 
I lived in a community in Prince George’s County, MD for five years. It wasn’t gated, but seems rather similar to the one where Trayvon Martin was murdered. During that time, I hardly saw children playing in the neighborhood. I knew that they existed because I would see them getting off the school bus and trekking home with loaded backpacks. Folk came home and went immediately into their homes never to be seen again, until maybe the next morning. We stayed behind our curtains, just like the folk who stayed safely in their homes as Trayvon Martin was murdered. Yes, some called 911, but might we have had a different outcome if someone had ventured outside and yelled? Might it have been different if we didn’t consciously or unconsciously follow the “stand-in-your-house rule?  It’s easy for me to sit here and wonder what if. But I have to.

I argue that this stand-in-your house rule is common and reflects the evolution of our modern day communities. This rule results from fear and an unwillingness to talk to each other, but is further reinforced by our virtual realities. We talk about racial profiling which I believe was at the center of the killer’s actions in the case of Trayvon Martin. However, what we haven’t really talked about, in a systematic way, is how a different type of fear played a factor in the murder of Trayvon. At the end of the day, the stand-in-your-home rule causes some of us to turn the other-eye at worst or engage in the “smallest” effort so that we can at least say, “I tried”. But have we tried? While we sit in our homes and lament about the decline of our neighborhoods have we sincerely and honestly tried to create a different type of community?

As we attempt to comprehend what occurred in this gated community, we have not reflected on how, regardless of race, we have become prisoners to fear. White fear and Black fear share a similar well spring—racism. However, they have different repercussions.  

Black folk, and no I don’t mean all Black folk, are living with a type of stand-in-your-home rule. We’ve become prisoners in our homes out of fear. Fear that we won’t be accepted in our larger communities, fear that we won’t achieve the American Dream. This is the type of fear that have caused us to lose sight of community and instead replace it with a form of individualism. I’m talking about the type of fear that causes us to work constantly, putting aside opportunities to build community, to come outside with our children and sit on our front steps as they ride their bikes. This fear is fostered by institutional and structural racism. This is how the fears of Whites and Blacks overlap—racism is at the core. White folk, regardless of socio-economic status, are also victims of this type of fear that has been cultivated via racism. Without knowing Black folk, in a substantive manner, White folk can operate under the assumption that we all pose a danger to their way of life—again, I’m not speaking of all White folk.  

 Racism plays a monumental role in the breakdown of our communities. We don’t trust each other and we don’t look out for each other. It seems that our actions are guided primarily by our individualistic desires to get a piece of the American Pie. In exchange we’ve forfeited getting to know each other.

As I reflect on Trayvon Martin, I’m reminded of a time when my neighbor was being physically and verbally abused. In the middle of the night I jumped up from bed in response to her cries. Without thought, I ran down the stairs and out the door. I rang the bell and asked, “Is everything ok?” I looked over my shoulder only to find my husband (who is a strong sleeper) standing behind me. No, I’m not a “hero” (a word often causally thrown around), neither am I “crazy” as some suggested when I told them this story. My intent was to use whatever means necessary to intervene on behalf of my sister who was crying out for help. Trayvon Martin cried out for help. But out of fear many in his gated “community” followed the rule, “stand-in-your-house” and left this boy out there on his own to die. How does this reflect on our understanding of community?

The question that I’m now left with is how do we mount a campaign, not only against ALEC, but against the fear that keeps us prisoners in our homes?


  1. great post and blog. i hope to read more in the future.

    i am curious as to why you chose the term "lost" for your blog title. to me, "lost" implies a lack of agency, a lack of intent or purpose to the displacement or diminution of the "humanity" of female bodies. were the bodies "lost" as a result of carelessness or negligence or, were they stolen deliberately or with malice?

    i'm not a feminist scholar so i don't know the answer. but it seems that the use of "lost" can lead to two rather unsettling conclusions, neither of which you may intend. first, that no person, people, institution or cartel of institutions can be held responsible. alternatively, there is blame to be assigned, but the blame is minimal because the "losing" of the bodies was just an unfortunate mistake, the way a child loses a toy.

    this may seem a minor point, but i believe the blog title frames your overall project by introducing the issue of racial and gendered political power asymmetries. more importantly, it introduces the following series of questions: (1) who/what is responsible for the power asymmetries, (2) how much or in what way are they responsible, (3) are they solely responsible or do several actors operate as an ensemble, (4) what has to be done to correct the asymmetries, and (5) who has to/can do the correcting?

    these issues may be of particular importance as they relate to your activist program. just a few thoughts. by the way, i believe you served on my thesis committee with jane flax at howard university some years ago. glad to see you are doing well.


    a. rahman ford

    1. a. rahman ford. Of course I remember you from my days at Howard U. I trust that you are doing well.
      Thanks for your very thoughtful response to my work. I'll attempt to respond
      Lost Bodies suggest that something still exist and as such can be (re)covered. You ask "were the bodies "lost" as a result of carelessness or negligence or, were they stolen deliberately or with malice?" I think that in the case of policy making that its often a bit of both. Which to mean suggest responsibility and the possibility of accountability. For example, if I loose my receipts and the IRS comes knocking--I'm still held responsible for what I claim (Ok it's tax season, can you tell). Who is responsible? We all are.
      Having said all of that, I'm truly not wedded to the title and am exploring others.
      Continue to keep me on my toes!!!