A Little Devil in America: In Praise of Black Performance by Hanif Abdurraqib:
Michael Anderson died a hero. No one insisted that he deserved what he got. No pictures circulated on the Internet of Black men who were not him. It dawns on me every time I see it that the Trayvon Martin Experience Aviation photo is so cherished because it offers him an adjacency to that dignity. It shows him in the replica of a suit heroes wore when risking their lives for the sake of curiosity. On Martin’s birthday, people circulate the photo year after year. There is an idea that if Martin were still alive, he could have been a person who watched the skies and sought to climb into them. A person who looked down on the earth from somewhere above it and pointed to the state where he grew up. Or he might have done none of that. He might have gone to college and dropped out, or he might never have gone to college at all. He might have smoked and played videogames well into his twenties, working some job he hated. But he would have been alive to do it all, or not do it all. The whole thing with the Trayvon Martin Experience Aviation photo is that to see him like this, in contrast with seeing him as only a dead problem child, was to see that he was once perhaps someone who saw some promise and possibility in a world that would kill him and insist that he deserved to die.
The fundamental flaw, of course, is in this: proving to the public that someone did not deserve to die, or did not deserve the violence that chased them down. It is the worst instinct, and one that I fight against often, when I want to clear the name of someone dead who lived a life that was undoubtedly sometimes good and sometimes bad but always a life nonetheless.