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I watched in shock as a young Black woman at Florida Atlantic University (FAU) became violent in class after being interviewed about the death of the late Trayvon Martin.  The student cursed at her classmates and eventually attacked people in the room.  Jonatha Carr, a 24-year-old student who may have trouble getting back into school, was eventually hauled out of the classroom and put in the back of a squad car.  Jonatha had been interviewed about the case of Trayvon Martin the day before, appearing calm throughout.  But the next day, the outburst took place.

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As I sit here in Florida writing this article, I am noticing that racial tensions are as hot as the sun outside as the Black community in Florida has been long sick of the double standards of justice that exist within the boundaries of their state and so many others.   The student’s outburst concerns me, for it is both a symptom and accelerator of the rage being felt by millions of Americans right now.

If Jonatha were my daughter, I’d probably be upset with her right now.  Her actions will likely jeopardize her future and serve as a stain on her record.  But I’d be lying like a dog if I didn’t admit that nearly every Black person in America could not relate to at least a piece of the anger being expressed by this young woman.

America is a country where Black folks have long been subjected to the polite oppression by those who feel they have the right to keep a systematic foot on the back of all of our necks.   This goes for the Black man who goes to work knowing that he’ll never get the same opportunities as the White guy down the hall, the professor who was denied tenure because her White colleagues felt that she was not “scholarly enough,” or the little Black boy being punished in class by a White teacher who interprets nearly every action in the most negative way imaginable.  While none of these examples are as traumatic as Trayvon’s murder, the painful death of our hopes and dreams as a result of racial oppression is enough to make some of us lose it.

The fact is that Trayvon’s death strikes a chord in all of us, for we each understand the penalties that can come with being Black and having the audacity to think that you can have the same rights and liberties as every other American around you.   We are taught from birth that the rules are different for us, and the stress from dealing with this double standard can be overwhelming. Coping with racism is a skill that takes years to develop, and when it’s all said and done, you’ve simply morphed yourself into half of what you were before.

When I had my one conversation with Tyler Perry, I remember discussing how racism can cause mental illness.  The mental illness created by racial oppression plays role in multi-generational cycles of abuse, addiction, and depression, as people find a way to manage the fact that they are forced to live by a different set of rules, solely because of the color of their skin.

I don’t excuse what Jonatha did, and she should be punished.  But punishing Jonatha without incarcerating the man who executed Trayvon Martin is yet another reminder of the polite oppression we’ve been forced to endure for the last 400 years.  It’s time for something to change, and it’s time for that change to come by any means necessary.

Dr. Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of the Your Black World Coalition. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.

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