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Monifa Bandele's picture

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Last month, an armed Sanford, FL neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman followed, confronted and shot Trayon Martin AFTER being told by a 911 dispatcher to stay in his car until police arrive.  Trayvon Martin was on his way home from buying candy at a store during halftime of the NBA All-Star game. Zimmerman, who admits to shooting the unarmed boy in the chest, called the police claiming Trayvon Martin looked "suspicious." Since that tragic night, the media, investigators, and the public have dissected many details surrounding the killing, while Martin’s mother and family wait for answers and justice.

One narrative emerging from the national discourse surrounding this tragedy is that Trayvon Martin's hooded sweatshirt made him suspicious -- that somehow his attire made him a criminal. And worse, that criminals deserve what they get, including being murdered.

This dangerous narrative, which deflects attention away from perpetrators, puts us all at risk of becoming victims. It is a toxic mix of stereotypes, assumptions, xenophobia, and summary judgments that fuel ignorance by blaming victims for the atrocities committed upon them. I call it the "miniskirt syndrome."

Victim blaming is not only an attempt to protect and defend individual suspects, it is also used by society in general to deflect blame away from the wholesale systems of racism and sexism, which we all are responsible for dismantling. Victim blaming allows systems that oppress members of marginalized communities to continue because it focuses on the innocuous actions of individuals in a particular incident, primarily the victim. This formula for inaction says -- "that person would not have been killed if only they had..." Never mind racism. Never mind sexism. "That victim was reckless. They made poor decisions."

Sound familiar?

Women victims of sexual assault are frequently  scrutinized about what their behavior and attire were prior to being assaulted. "Had she been drinking?" "Was she flirting?" And worse, "Was she wearing one of those provocative, deadly miniskirts?!"

Last Friday, FOX TV news anchor, Geraldo Rivera stated, “I think the hoodie is as much responsible for Trayvon Martin’s death as George Zimmerman was." [1] That same day gender justice activist, Byron Hurt convened hundreds of teen-aged boys to watch the anti-sexist documentary Hip Hop: Beyond Beats and Rhymes, discuss media literacy, and raise awareness about Trayvon Martin. An NBC news reporter covering the film screening and workshop mischaracterized the event when he reported that organizers were attempting to "train the young men on how NOT to become another Trayvon Martin." [2]  Again, the idea being that Martin caused his own profiling and murder. What the reporter failed to realize is that the group in need of training are 28 year-old neighborhood watchmen on how not to become George Zimmerman. Ironically, in his talk with the boys, Hurt teaches that male abusers and bystanders deflect blame onto female victims of violence in order to protect themselves and to sleep at night.

Truth may very well equal insomnia, but it is a more noble disorder than the miniskirt syndrome. Perhaps if we are all sleepless at night like the mother of Trayvon Martin, it will move us away from victim blaming and into action.


[1] – Huffington Post

[2] – NBC News


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