Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Why I am Reviewing The Trayvon Generation in a “Bug Blog”

I have been accused of being “political” even in some of the entomology posts in this blog, but there is nothing political about human rights. It is my opinion that there will be no abatement of the “insect apocalypse,” no permanent success in the conservation of endangered species of any kind, until we save our own species from racism and other forms of bigotry afflicting people of color, women, agender persons, the LGBTQ population, the disabled, the neurodivergent…..

The list of persecuted Homo sapiens continues to grow thanks to colonialism, patriarchy, white supremacy, religious extremism, extreme capitalism, ableism, and the inertia of assumptions. Because of this, what is inappropriate is to exclude discussions on these urgent matters from any forum, no matter how “off topic” it might appear at first glance. It is relevant to every facet of our lives, every profession, and every pursuit.

Elizabeth Alexander is a critically-acclaimed author, poet, educator, and scholar. Her book, The Trayvon Generation (Grand Central Publishing, 2022), is a must read. It is short, at only 130 pages, so there is no excuse for even the slowest reader like me to not get through it in a timely manner. It is not a rehashing of the Black history that whites already think they know. It is deeply personal, and highly illuminating.

Alexander draws on the works of other Black scholars, writers, and artists to literally and figuratively illustrate her points throughout the three-part text. The images of these creators, and the images created by Alexander’s eloquent prose, are moving, haunting, and indelible.

One chapter is entitled “whether the negro sheds tears.” The question, asked of the Black scholar W.E.B. Du Bois in 1905 by a (presumably white) researcher, parallels another query I addressed here previously: “Do Insects Feel Pain?” The implication of the question is similar to what Alexander concludes about questions of Black emotional expression:

”Are Black people human? Do Black people do what people do. Are Black people people. If Black people are not people and do not cry, then they do not experience pain, or grief, or trauma, or shock, or sorrow. If Black people do not experience pain, or grief, or trauma, or shock , or sorrow, are they human? And if they are not human, can their continued violation be justified?”

The artifice of race cannot stand, but Alexander allows for you to come to that conclusion. She demonstrates how even she herself once experienced the “shock of delayed comprehension” at the normality of white supremacy and expectation of Black servitude in the form of a painting of Elihu Yale with this Servant, hung prominently in the Corporation Room at that Ivy League university where she worked. She had failed to previously notice the servant in the painting, or mentally censored the offensive nature of the portrait.

Many such examples abound in our daily lives but we have been conditioned to accept them as normal, as acceptable. Recognition of artworks depicting white supremacy, hostile government and business policies, mass incarceration, wage gaps, and other obscene transgressions against people of color is what is met with anger and outrage by people who stand to lose power.

I care not one whit if I lose “followers” as a result of urging you to pick up The Trayvon Generation and begin a journey toward true humanity that embraces all beings, and takes action to make it so. Imagine the heights to which our species could climb were we to extend white privilege to all ends of the human spectrum.


  1. Thank you for sharing this! Yet another important book to add to my growing To Be Read pile!

  2. Unfortunately, human rights is extremely political, particularly if talking about different attributes and conditions beyond basic human rights for all.
    Neither is it a simple dichotomy. Politics and religion are banned on many forums because of the extreme emotional reactions and arguments they cause.
    Not that there shouldn't be a place to discuss them, but in communities that are otherwise for dedicated genres (e.g. Entomology) it can easily bring negative disruption that is unnecessary within that environment.
    You're not worried about losing followers, but is being 'blunt' like this the best way to help people change and move forward positively? Is this good for Entomology?

    1. The short answer is "yes." Am I empathetic to other White people who have not yet entertained the notion of White privilege and their own (accidental?) role in the continuation of institutionalized racism? Yes. Once I recognized my own compliance in this, I felt the need to nudge others to examine themselves. I would hope we all have contempt with overt racism, but it goes much deeper than that, and we owe it to ourselves as well as our brothers and sisters to reconcile that, as soon as possible.

  3. Thank you, Mr. Eaton! As an African-American in Ann Arbor struggling to make white people understand that everything is connected to everything else. I began a BIPOC birding group because the local Audubon Society was resistant to reaching out to minority groups. Just as in birding, you can’t discuss bugs without addressing the people who deal with bugs and that is EVERYONE. People of color in the next few decades will be in positions of political power and making the decisions about what is worth saving and what isn’t. If they have no experience with bugs or birds, why should they put resources into saving them, particularly when they’ve been ignored by the predominantly white natural science organizations? Thank you again! Love your books. April

  4. I'm glad for this book recommendation and it's absolutely relevant to bring up this topic, especially in predominately white spaces.

  5. I agree with you wholeheartedly but you left out the largest and most dangerous divide in the world - that between rich and poor. until there is true economic justice, anything else offers only a band-aid on a bullet hole.

    1. I do not disagree, but racism transcends even economic issues.


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