“Race is the enigma of stigma. Trayvon Martin died as a victim of virtual identity” Lehigh University’s Alice Eckardt Scholar-in-Residence Program welcomed
Professor William D. Hart of North Carolina Greensboro, Monday night before elections, to speak on the Trayvon Martin.
How do you become aware of your own stigma? How do you get rid of a habit that is hard to acquire and hard to get rid of? Hart had to explain to his audience that stigma is not the same as a stereotype, because a stereotype is simply a bad form of generalization. According to Hart, “We can’t function without generalizing.” Stigma is more powerful and more dangerous to our society.
Hart bluntly states, “To be a black man was to be marked for dead.” According to Hart, in a world where people are certain there is no slavery, he assures them that there is civic death. He says, “All black people, especially a black male has a virtual identity where they are guilty until proven innocent.” Hart makes his argument with the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin who died at gunpoint by 28-year-old George Zimmerman on the night of February 26, 2012. Hart claims that Martin died as a victim of virtual identity, “What’s wrong is not the emotions or feelings but information. When identity is stigmatized. Martin’s body made the unremarkable behavior of just walking remarkable. Real Martin was victimized by virtual Martin.” He speaks on society’s desire to confine black people, and the mass incarceration in the age of colorblindness, “Long before they encounter the police, black people are seen as suspects. Overtime this becomes an acception and that enables those who do not wish to see to remain blind.”
Although society does not want to admit that racism still occurs in every day life, Hart argues, “Slavery is long gone, yet there is neo slavery”. This neo slavery is in existence because of the stigma and stereotypes that we freely confine our selves to. Hart does not place the blame solely on the predominant population but says that we, people of color, “We entertain the same kind of perceptions that white eyes see.” We are so quick to blame the majority for our problems but refuse to see that we do the same to our own people. Hart describes this as America’s rationalized common sense. We are subjects of virtual probation, we all have a virtual identity.
Hart comments on the public’s blindness, “They say social death is history, those who subscribe to this view might argue that we are past a racial society and to clench their argument they might point out to Barack Obama’s presidency.” Hart then reminds us on Obama’s statement, “Obama once said that if he had a son he would look like Trayvon Martin.” Hart continues on, “This is the closest moment of which Obama connects to the suffering of black people. This moment is a rare iconic example of spinning political capital on racial issues.” Hart boldly speaks on his views of the president, “Obama is a cautious liberal, let me tell you this is not a compliment.” According to Hart, “Obama signals to the white public, he is not the black person they fear.” Professor Hart questions this fear, “Could it be paranoia? A fear that Obama would do to the white population what white presidents have historically done in the past to the minority community? ”
When asked what is the most vital message that should be heard by the community, Professor Hart answers, “Trayvon Martin’s tragedy happened because there is history in this colorblind country of the perception of black people, especially males, as dangerous. Zimmerman thought he knew who Trayvon Martin was.” Having open discussions allow us to reflect and acknowledge this problem, but how do we change it? Is it even possible to live in a world with out stigma? Hart believes that the first step is to acknowledge its existence, after we acknowledge the problem how do we solve it?