Ever since Trayvon Martin’s murder, and especially after George Zimmerman’s acquittal, I have been haunted by the feeling that something fundamentally shifted, even if everything seemed to remain the same. The world feels different now, despite the fact that Martin was just one young man among countless black boys, girls, men and women incarcerated or dead in these United States. This struck me as a signal event, one that made me think of that infamous moment when Emmett Till’s battered face graced the covers of newspapers in 1955. What does Trayvon Martin have to do with American religious history? Another way of asking this is, what does his death mean for my research and my responsibility as an American religious historian?
Shepard Fairey's Trayvon Martin cover for Ebony
Over at Religion and Politics, Marie Griffith writes powerfully about the consolations of faith in the wake of Martin’s murder, but she insists they must not serve as substitutes for concrete action. She joined Trayvon’s parents and countless religious and nonreligious allies in yearning for an end to racial profiling, gun violence, and self-defense laws. “But it won’t come about magically, or easily,” Griffith concludes. “It will take determined action, both personal and political, to bring that day to pass.” Well, what could be more personal and political than our research, than teaching American religious history?
Trayvon Martin’s death calls each of us to act in different ways, in various venues. This is not something that can be cordoned off – as political, as racial, but not pertinent to American religious history writ large. It should impact all of us, especially as scholars and teachers. This means we must remain attentive to the inseparability of religion, race, and violence against African Americans – not to mention against countless other marginalized peoples.