What I Hope For. . .

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin

Today, February 5, 2014, would have been Trayvon Martin’s 19th birthday. To honor his life, which was so brutally and tragically cut short, I am reposting my blog from July 11, 2014, written after listening to testimony during the George Zimmerman trial.

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On Wednesday the defense rested in the State of Florida v. George Zimmerman. Zimmerman is charged with second-degree murder in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager who was walking home from a convenience store, in 2012. Some time in the near future, we will find out whether the jury was convinced by Zimmerman’s claim of self-defense.

As this trial comes to a close, I am still thinking about the testimony of Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon Martin’s mother, last week on July 5. I admired her courage on the stand, and I felt agony when I heard the 911-recording, in which there is a scream and then a gunshot. When she identified that scream as being her son’s voice, I’m sure she was “dying inside but outside [she was] looking fearless.”

When it was the defense attorney’s turn to question Fulton, he had an odd line of questioning about “hope.” The defense tried to shake her resolve by asking, “You certainly had to hope that was your son screaming even before you heard it. Correct?” She replied, “I didn’t hope anything. I just listened to the tape.” Then later in re-cross, the defense asked, “You certainly would hope that your son Trayvon Martin did nothing that led to his own death. Correct?” After some wrangling she said, “What I hope for is that this wouldn’t have never happened, and he would still be here. That’s my hope.”

She handled herself beautifully against the defense’s implication that her “hope” might have influenced her response to the 911-recording, that she was more interested in getting a conviction than hearing the “truth” about her son. The defense’s “truth” is that the unarmed teenager was the aggressor, and Zimmerman shot him in self-defense.

Unfortunately and tragically, there are many other cases in which young black men have been targeted because they fit the profile of a “suspect,” because they were in a places they didn’t “belong,” because they were playing loud music, or some other equally inane justification. I have been to the building where Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old West African immigrant, was killed by New York City police officers (wearing plain clothes) in 1999. Diallo fit the profile of a rape suspect. When reaching for his wallet, the officers assumed he was reaching for a gun and fired 19 bullets into his body.

Amadou Diallo Place, The Bronx, New York

Amadou Diallo Place, The Bronx, New York

I have stood under the street sign (Wheeler Avenue in the Bronx) named in honor of Amadou Diallo. Will there be a street sign with Trayvon Martin’s name on it one day?  “What I hope for” is that there won’t be any more street signs like “Amadou Diallo Place.” I don’t want to see memorials to young black men whose lives were cut down before they really began, signs in memoriam of short lives with tragic ends instead of long lives and great accomplishments.

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The Worst Moments of 2013

Da Hype 1

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin

There were a number of really rough moments for me in 2013, but the absolute worst moment has to be the announcement of the Trayvon Martin verdict. (See 2DS posts on “Keep Calm” and “From Don Imus to George Zimmerman”) It was really difficult for me to grapple with the reality that George Zimmerman had not been convicted of murdering this young boy, who was guilty of “walking while black.” It felt as if a heap of new injustices had fallen on black people. I felt suffocated and was depressed. It didn’t help that the verdict was followed by a number of deaths of young black women and men who were shot and killed while knocking on white people’s doors, seeking help (e.g. Renisha McBride and Jonathan Ferrell).

The Martin verdict was announced while I was celebrating 100 years of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. Angie Stone, India Irie, and Patti Labelle each took the stage, and all three felt compelled to recognize his life. As news of the verdict spread throughout the crowd, the crowd shuttered in utter surprise. We were hurt.

That night, I was delighted to see my favorite singers, ecstatic to celebrate with my sorority sisters, but in pain for the Martin family in particular, and for black people in general. So, I cried in the middle of a concert.

Da Realist 1

The Trayvon Martin case–the lead-up to the trial, the trial itself, and the reaction to it–was difficult for me as well. I wrote about it at least three times last year. No matter how many times I hear awful stories like his–and it happens far too often–I am always deeply affected by how much black life is devalued.

Da Realist1, Jesse, and me in front of W.E.B. DuBois statue on Fisk University's campus

Da Hype 1, Jesse, and Da Realist 1 in front of the W.E.B. DuBois statue at Fisk University

However, my worst moment was when I found out that Jesse, one of my best friends, had died. Both Da Hype 1 and I wrote about our friendship with Jesse last year. (See 2DS posts I Had Such a Friend, For Jesse, & Foto Friday: Someone You Love).

On May 20, 2013, Da Hype 1 called me crying and screaming  unintelligibly. I had to get her to calm down so that I could understand her. She was so upset because she had just received a message that Jesse had passed away. For some reason I thought she had misunderstood the message. Jesse was in the hospital awaiting a liver transplant. He’d had a surgery (for some other issue), but he was not dead. He was getting better, stronger, right? I don’t remember whether she read me her message or if I looked on my phone and saw the same message, but I felt like someone had knocked the air out of me. After that, we continued to talk. I attempted to console Hype the best I could. She was in her car, and she still had to drive home.

Somehow we managed to pull ourselves together. Hype drove home safely, and I just sat on the couch staring into space for a long time thinking about my friend. I will never forget Hype’s heart-piercing scream that day. It broke my heart.

Black Children: The Faces of the Civil Rights Movement

The Little Rock Nine

The Little Rock Nine

Emmett Till; 16th Street Baptist Church Victims: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson; Little Rock Nine: Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas,Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Kalmark, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo Beals; Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis . . .

2013 marks the 50th year since the historic March on Washington, and as I reflect on the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, I cannot help but be disillusioned by current events in this nation surrounding the rights of black people.

In August, I was dismayed by the Supreme Court’s decisions surrounding Affirmative Action and Voting Rights. Their response to both cases reflect a nation postured to reverse the slow gains that the Civil Rights Movement had already achieved. As disillusioned as I was about those cases, nothing seemed more demonstrative of the reversal of this country’s progress toward treating black people as human, than the violence that black children have experienced in recent years.

Black children are no strangers to being victims of racial violence. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs (Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl), for example, were but children when they were brutally beaten by slave masters, raped by them, and/or witnessed some heinous act of violence committed toward someone they loved. They represent the many children enslaved who were victims of violence and/or painfully watched someone they loved become victims of violence.

Once emancipated, black children continued to be witnesses to and victims of violence throughout much of the twentieth century. Malcolm X, for example, often recounted the death of his father. Earl Little was brutally beaten and placed on railroad tracks to be run over by a trolley car when Malcolm X was only six years old. Earl Little, an ardent supporter of Marcus Garvey, was vocal about racial oppression and was targeted by white supremacists and attacked by them for audaciously speaking out against racial violence. Prior to his assassination, he and his family barely escaped their burning home set afire by white supremacists. Earl Little’s murder, coupled with the fact that the insurance company refused to pay his family the life insurance that he purchased for himself, created a situation in which Malcolm X’s family spiraled into poverty. These are the circumstances–a violent racist America–that gave birth to a child who became El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Also known as Malcolm Little, Detroit Red, and Malcolm X).

Emmett Till was brutally beaten and tortured for allegedly flirting with a white woman

Emmett Till was brutally beaten and tortured for allegedly flirting with a white woman

Malcolm X, though not around to see what happened to his father, was affected by the violence nonetheless. This violence made a significant impact on a young boy’s life, especially after his father’s death created such a degree of anxiety for his mother that she was eventually committed to a mental hospital. Whether they were victimized directly or whether they witnessed racial violence, this is the violent America that was a reality for black children.

My mother often tells a story in which she was a young girl in the 1940s, riding in the car with her parents and her mother’s cousin. They were travelling on Rt. 301 in Upper Marlboro, MD and they noticed two black sailors being brutally beaten on the side of the road by a couple of white men. My grandfather got out of the car and began to fight the white men off of the black sailors. My grandmother and her cousin helped by pelting the white men with rocks. All the while, my mother sat in the back seat of the car in fear of what would happen should other white people–particularly police officers–arrive on the scene. Had other whites arrived, what followed could have been catastrophic, and my mother was well aware of the consequences.

From L-R: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley

From L-R: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley

Black children were not only victims of white violence against black people as witnesses, but they also directly received the wrath of white supremacy by being the target of their violence. From Emmett Till, who was killed for allegedly flirting with a white woman to the four little girls who died as a result of the 16th Street Baptist Church, black children were the casualties of a war against black people. They were brave and they were s/heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, who deserve to stand equally as prominent for their valor as other players of black liberation movements.

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin

What became quite evident very recently, as we watched the court case on the tragic death of Trayvon Martin unfold in the media, is that despite a history that makes clear that blacks have been victims of white violence, the American judicial system refuses to see us as such. (See post on Trayvon Martin, “From Don Imus to Zimmerman: Tracing Conversations on Race and Victimization”). What disturbs me most is that we cannot even identify children as being victims of violence, and they are generally the group that is afforded the protection of any civilized society. America wept, and rightfully so, for Newtown, but could not weep for Trayvon Martin because the state of Florida successfully vilified him. Many accepted the notion of Martin as a perpetrator of a crime and not a victim.

Jordan Davis

Jordan Davis was murdered in FL for playing his music too loud. The shooter claimed he saw a gun (which did not exist) and he stood his ground by shooting.

As we commemorate milestones in black history and struggle through our present day injustices, we must consider the children who have died and continue to die for Civil and Human Rights. In fact, we must honor their memory.

May we continue to honor the memory of Trayvon Martin. May we continue to honor the memory of Jordan Davis. May we continue to honor the memory of countless others who die each day because America refuses to imagine them as victims of crime. They are the most recent children who are victims of white supremacist ideologies that refuse to acknowledge us as human.

Black Children: The Faces of the Civil Rights Movement

The Little Rock Nine

The Little Rock Nine

Emmett Till; 16th Street Baptist Church Victims: Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Denise McNair, Carole Robertson; Little Rock Nine: Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas,Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Kalmark, Thelma Mothershed, Melba Pattillo Beals; Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis . . .

2013 marks the 50th year since the historic March on Washington, and as I reflect on the Civil Rights Movement in the United States, I cannot help but be disillusioned by current events in this nation surrounding the rights of black people.

In August, I was dismayed by the Supreme Court’s decisions surrounding Affirmative Action and Voting Rights. Their response to both cases reflect a nation postured to reverse the slow gains that the Civil Rights Movement had already achieved. As disillusioned as I was about those cases, nothing seemed more demonstrative of the reversal of this country’s progress toward treating black people as human, than the violence that black children have experienced in recent years.

Black children are no strangers to being victims of racial violence. Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs (Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl), for example, were but children when they were brutally beaten by slave masters, raped by them, and/or witnessed some heinous act of violence committed toward someone they loved. They represent the many children enslaved who were victims of violence and/or painfully watched someone they loved become victims of violence.

Once emancipated, black children continued to be witnesses to and victims of violence throughout much of the twentieth century. Malcolm X, for example, often recounted the death of his father. Earl Little was brutally beaten and placed on railroad tracks to be run over by a trolley car when Malcolm X was only six years old. Earl Little, an ardent supporter of Marcus Garvey, was vocal about racial oppression and was targeted by white supremacists and attacked by them for audaciously speaking out against racial violence. Prior to his assassination, he and his family barely escaped their burning home set afire by white supremacists. Earl Little’s murder, coupled with the fact that the insurance company refused to pay his family the life insurance that he purchased for himself, created a situation in which Malcolm X’s family spiraled into poverty. These are the circumstances–a violent racist America–that gave birth to a child who became El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz (Also known as Malcolm Little, Detroit Red, and Malcolm X).

Emmett Till was brutally beaten and tortured for allegedly flirting with a white woman

Emmett Till was brutally beaten and tortured for allegedly flirting with a white woman

Malcolm X, though not around to see what happened to his father, was affected by the violence nonetheless. This violence made a significant impact on a young boy’s life, especially after his father’s death created such a degree of anxiety for his mother that she was eventually committed to a mental hospital. Whether they were victimized directly or whether they witnessed racial violence, this is the violent America that was a reality for black children.

My mother often tells a story in which she was a young girl in the 1940s, riding in the car with her parents and her mother’s cousin. They were travelling on Rt. 301 in Upper Marlboro, MD and they noticed two black sailors being brutally beaten on the side of the road by a couple of white men. My grandfather got out of the car and began to fight the white men off of the black sailors. My grandmother and her cousin helped by pelting the white men with rocks. All the while, my mother sat in the back seat of the car in fear of what would happen should other white people–particularly police officers–arrive on the scene. Had other whites arrived, what followed could have been catastrophic, and my mother was well aware of the consequences.

From L-R: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley

From L-R: Denise McNair, Carole Robertson, Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley

Black children were not only victims of white violence against black people as witnesses, but they also directly received the wrath of white supremacy by being the target of their violence. From Emmett Till, who was killed for allegedly flirting with a white woman to the four little girls who died as a result of the 16th Street Baptist Church, black children were the casualties of a war against black people. They were brave and they were s/heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, who deserve to stand equally as prominent for their valor as other players of black liberation movements.

Trayvon Martin

Trayvon Martin

What became quite evident very recently, as we watched the court case on the tragic death of Trayvon Martin unfold in the media, is that despite a history that makes clear that blacks have been victims of white violence, the American judicial system refuses to see us as such. (See post on Trayvon Martin, “From Don Imus to Zimmerman: Tracing Conversations on Race and Victimization”). What disturbs me most is that we cannot even identify children as being victims of violence, and they are generally the group that is afforded the protection of any civilized society. America wept, and rightfully so, for Newtown, but could not weep for Trayvon Martin because the state of Florida successfully vilified him. Many accepted the notion of Martin as a perpetrator of a crime and not a victim.

Jordan Davis

Jordan Davis was murdered in FL for playing his music too loud. The shooter claimed he saw a gun (which did not exist) and he stood his ground by shooting.

As we commemorate milestones in black history and struggle through our present day injustices, we must consider the children who have died and continue to die for Civil and Human Rights. In fact, we must honor their memory.

May we continue to honor the memory of Trayvon Martin. May we continue to honor the memory of Jordan Davis. May we continue to honor the memory of countless others who die each day because America refuses to imagine them as victims of crime. They are the most recent children who are victims of white supremacist ideologies that refuse to acknowledge us as human.

Open Season on Black Children: 8 year old Donald Maiden is Shot in the Face

8 year old Donald Maiden, Jr. was shot in the face

8 year old Donald Maiden, Jr. was shot in the face

I want to bring attention to a case that I have been following for the last few days. Several days ago, September 3 to be exact, an 8 year old black boy named Donald Maiden, Jr. was outside playing with friends.

When Maiden came running in the house, his jaw was hanging from his face and blood was everywhere. Maiden had been shot in the face by 46-year old Brian Cloninger in his La Bella Palms apartment complex. “Yes, I shot that boy.” Cloninger allegedly said.

If Brian Cloninger were black and from Chicago, we would immediately claim this as an instance of  “black-on-black crime” and pose questions like: When will we stop attacking our own children and killing our own kids? Those are important questions that deserve not only answers, but resolutions to the circumstances that make it difficult for black children to walk to school or even play outside in their own neighborhoods.

But, Brian Cloninger was white and La Bella Palms was not in Chicago, it was in Dallas, Texas. This was not a case of a violent act being committed by a black man, although that conversation seems to be the only one we can have when black people are the victims of violence. Will we allow the conversation of this case to shift, as we have with Trayvon Martin (See posts: From Don Imus to Zimmerman: Tracing Conversations of Race & Victimization and The Last Word: President Obama’s Statement on Trayvon Martin), or will we engage the issue of acts of violence against black children by white offenders?

At this point, police officers are unable to determine the motive behind why Cloninger shot Maiden, but I cannot help but to wonder if he was playing his music too loud like Jordan Davis? Or, was he WWB (walking while black), like Trayvon Martin?

If only Donald Maiden had his Freedom papers, maybe then he would be considered free to play in his own neighborhood (See: Stephanie Jones-Rogers’ If Only Trayvon Had Freedom Papers).

From Don Imus to Zimmerman: Tracing Conversations on Race & Victimization

*This post contains language that may be problematic for some audiences.

King Memorial True Peace is JusticeIn the last month or so, I have been listening closely to conversations on race and racism, especially as they pertained to the Trayvon Martin case, Paula Deen’s racist remarks, and the United States Supreme Court’s decisions on Affirmative Action and Voting Rights. I’ve been troubled by the ways in which the conversations on race have oftentimes been hijacked by racists themselves.

I was especially disturbed when the Trayvon Martin case quickly shifted from addressing the acts of a racist vigilante, who racially profiled an innocent black boy, to address the well-versed discussion on the so-called “black-on-black” crime phenomenon. (See Da Realist 1’s post last week, “The Last Word: President Obama’s Statement on Trayvon Martin”).

What I find most fascinating is how racists are capable of turning the conversation on its head so that they become victims. In this case, “black-on-black crime” allows them to validate their fear of black people and to promote the idea that the vigilantism of George Zimmerman is necessary for white people to survive when interacting with young black boys, who are so violent that they kill each other.

This fear tactic was used to lynch black bodies in the late 19th century and throughout most of the 20th century and was the premise behind the fear mongering in the white supremacist movie, The Birth of a Nation (1915). In so many ways, black people participate in this dialogue, much to our detriment.

This way of co-opting victimhood can be traced back to the Don Imus case, though it goes back much further than that. In April 2007, morning radio and talk show host, Don Imus, eagerly commented on the Women’s College Basketball playoffs between Rutgers University and the University of Tennessee. He made the remark that the women on the University of Tennessee’s team were more attractive than the women on the Rutgers’ team. He cringed while addressing the Rutgers’ women and said that they “looked like some nappy headed hos.”

He proceeded to liken the well-played championship game to Spike Lee’s movie, School Daze, by saying it was like watching the “Jigaboos vs. the Wannabes.”

Black people were outraged . . . for a while. It didn’t take long for Imus and others in the media and political arena to say that he was only doing what the rap artists do by using derogatory language to refer to black women. In other words, it was fine for these young black women to be degraded by this man who had the power of the press to publicly attack and humiliate them directly because rap artists offend black women in their lyrics all of the time.

What followed was a new discussion, one that erased Imus’s behavior as problematic and replaced it with conversations about black people’s usage of the word “nigger” and other derogatory lyrics about women in rap music. A local Historically Black College/University held a forum on the subject matter that ended up solely addressing black people’s usage of the word “nigger.” In July of the same year, the NAACP, at their 9th Annual Convention, thought it prudent to funeralize the word with a procession and burial.

The women on the Rutgers’ Basketball team were no longer considered victims of the vicious words that attacked their identity and the identity of black women as a whole, but they became transgressors of the wrong-doing initially aimed at them. In fact, we all became transgressors–black women and black men alike–of an offense aimed at all black women. I’m sure Imus breathed a sigh of relief that he was no longer the focus of the conversation.

Fast forward to this year when Paula Deen (who I promised myself I would not talk about on this blog) was exposed for using racist and offensive language. For some reason, folks were surprised that this 66-year-old white woman from Savannah, Georgia, who pours on her “Southern” as thickly as she pours four sticks of melted butter into every meal, dreamed of hosting a wedding party where black people returned to the Antebellum South as “servants” to white people. She also admits using the “n-word” at some point in her life.

Black people were horrified by her racist fantasies and by her usage of derogatory language . . . but, not for long.

Again, the discourse quickly changed! We were no longer addressing the language used by Paula Deen, but we began discussing black people’s usage of the word “nigger.” As in the Don Imus case before, the conversation moved from addressing black people as victims of racism to a discussion of us as perpetrators of racist behavior toward each other.

There is a formula for how we engage conversations on race and racism in this country and it goes a little something like this:

1. White person offends a black person/all black people by making racist comment(s). The language is so offensive that people are initially shocked, saddened, and/or sickened by it, at least for a short while. Sometimes, the offender feigns ignorance and claims, for example, that they had no idea that it was racist to pass around an email with a picture of random black folks having a picnic and eating watermelon and fried chicken out of a KFC bucket on the White House lawn, with a caption that reads “the new White House cuisine since Barack Obama became President.”

2. Other racists quickly come to the defense of their fellow racist by making the argument that it is okay for comments that espouse white supremacist ideology to be used toward black people because black people, themselves, use derogatory language when engaging each other all of the time. Somehow, the word “nigger” is invoked in the conversation, even when it was not in the original insult. Apparently, calling an African American a “nigger” is the only way to degrade us. Invoking “nigger” in the conversation is tactical because when there are no specific examples to show black people using derogatory language against each other, the usage of the word in rap music becomes the default for example.

3. In response, black people (including politicians or organizations like the NAACP) jump on the bandwagon and reiterate on every talk show, blog post, interview or media outlet, that we must end the usage of the word, “nigger.” How does one manage such a monumental feat as making sure that no other African American ever utters the word again? By holding a march and burying the word, of course!

4. The focus of the conversation has now successfully shifted. We are no longer addressing the issue at hand: in the case of Imus, a white man with a public platform attacks the character and identity of black women. This original issue is no longer being addressed.

5. Not only has the discourse been redirected, but so has the victim’s rights to be victims. The Rutgers’ basketball team is no longer the victims of Imus’s public ridicule, but they are now the perpetrators of the transgression that victimized them because, “they probably listened to rap music anyway.”

Tracing this history of how we converse about race makes it very clear for me how the defense of George Zimmerman successfully painted the picture of Trayvon Martin, the victim of murder at the hands of a racial profiling vigilante, as a marijuana-smoking, violent black male. This is consistent with the way this conversation has been had for so long. Black people are only seen as perpetrators of crimes and wrong-doing, but never as victims.

There is certainly space for conversations on violence in black communities and conversations on how black people engage each other, but the Trayvon Martin case is not that space. The facts: Trayvon Martin was killed by a white man (not a black man), in a predominately white (not black) neighborhood. That white man (by the way, his official government documents identify him as white) has walked free because a jury could not imagine Trayvon as a victim.

The Last Word: President Obama’s Statement on Trayvon Martin

018

Hoodies up!

Because I teach about race in American history, I understand that it is a difficult topic for many people to discuss. Therefore, I support President Obama’s attempt to have a frank discussion about race and the tragedy of the death of Trayvon Martin. He was commended by liberals who felt his July 19 statement was “a word fitly spoken,” but I was unable to join in their enthusiastic praise. I was disappointed and, at best, ambivalent.

On July 19, the President reiterated what he said in his July 14 statement and expanded on thoughts he expressed after the shooting and in 2012. Relating that he is no stranger to the public reactions of whites who assume black criminality was important, even powerful. He could see himself in Trayvon Martin.

For some reason, however, Pres. Obama qualified his discussion of Martin by offering a conservative argument about black violence and crime. He stated that young black men are “disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence,” although he explained that, in part, this was due to “a very difficult history” of racial disparities and injustice. He continued by arguing the half-truth of so-called “black-on-black” violence, stating “somebody like Trayvon Martin was statistically more likely to be shot by a peer than he was by somebody else.” It is a specious argument. First, Martin did not meet his death at the hands of a peer; it was at the hands of George Zimmerman. Not by another black person. Not in a black community. Second, to embrace the fiction of “black-on-black crime” is to embrace the myth of black pathology. Department of Justice statistics show that between 1980 and 2008, 93% of black victims were killed by black assailants. Similarly, 84% of white victims were killed by other whites. Strangely, no one has bothered to address the “white-on-white” crime epidemic. The problem, Edward Wyckoff Williams writes on theroot.com, is that “African-American media and policymakers have been equally complicit in promoting a ‘black-on-black crime’ anecdote, thinking that it could help address some of the community’s problems; but what it has actually done is provide support for racial profiling and promote the disproportionate policing of black criminality as ‘legitimate’ and ‘acceptable.'”

Finally, Pres. Obama returned to the well-worn admonishment that people should not turn to violence. (See last week’s post, Keep Calm.) He stated, “I think it’s understandable that there have been demonstrations and vigils and protests, and some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through, as long as it remains nonviolent. If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family.” By addressing the potential (and perhaps imminent) threat of black violence, the President justifies irrational fears and reifies damaging stereotypes about African Americans.

In the end, this case was not about black-on-black or white-on-white crime, nor was it about statistics. It was about a continuation of separate and unequal justice. It was about a “stand-your-ground” law that allowed a man with a gun to argue self-defense in the shooting of an unarmed teenager. Let’s not forget that.

Keep Calm: Thoughts on the Aftermath of the Zimmerman Verdict

2 Dope Sistahs

“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”–James Baldwin

As the trial of George Zimmerman came to an end, I began to hear a troubling refrain, keepcalm“keep calm.” In anticipation of a “not guilty” verdict, those who might be upset by the verdict were implicitly and explicitly asked to abstain from violence.

Perhaps, it is understandable that authorities in Sanford, Florida, where both the shooting and the trial took place, feared the reaction of the crowd outside the courthouse. The Sanford police chief and the Seminole County sheriff made a joint appearance and issued a statement. Sheriff Don Eslinger declared, “We will not tolerate anyone who uses this verdict as an excuse to violate the law.”

However, the pleas for calm were not only from Seminole County. The Kansas City Star (Missouri) reported that both the mayor and the police…

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Activism through Writing: The Power of the Pen

The Runaway

The Runaway

Over the years, I have studied various slave narratives like the Narrative and the Life of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Jacobs’ Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. Whenever I teach them, I remind my students of the purpose in which these narratives were written: to have a written account of their horrible experiences that would lead to the eradication of slavery. The authors of the slave narratives sought to tell their stories and the stories of those around them, but they had to do so while maintaining the anonymity of those still enslaved and those who aided them to freedom.

Being able to balance telling the story and maintaining anonymity required the authors to stealthily navigate the racial terrain of America, which included violence that was supported by the legislature. The Fugitive Slave Law, for example, created an atmosphere in which slaves attempting to escape their conditions could be found by bounty hunters who were at their leisure to brutally beat or kill them. This is the risk that Douglass and Jacobs faced when publishing their works. If they were found, they could have been killed. Yet, they risked their lives to tell the stories of the many slaves who were still in bondage, incapable of reading and writing, or who had no way to articulate their pain and suffering for the world to know. This is why they wrote.

They were brave and fearless to risk their lives to write about the pain they themselves endured, but they were compassionate to articulate and give voice to the pain of others.

I, too, write as a way giving voice to others. And, while I bet this argument may have been made a hundred times before, countless others are still rendered silent each day by the pain of their experiences. And, so the writer becomes the conscience of the people; the pulse, if you will, of the experiences that people encounter every day. Imagine what might have happened to the narrative of Rachel Jeantel in the Trayvon Martin case, had writers of all types not come to her defense? She would have certainly been rendered silent.

I find writing as a form of activism, that works simultaneously with the work that I do. Change has always occurred with the aid of writers.

Keep Calm: Thoughts on the Aftermath of the Zimmerman Verdict

“To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”–James Baldwin

As the trial of George Zimmerman came to an end, I began to hear a troubling refrain, keepcalm“keep calm.” In anticipation of a “not guilty” verdict, those who might be upset by the verdict were implicitly and explicitly asked to abstain from violence.

Perhaps, it is understandable that authorities in Sanford, Florida, where both the shooting and the trial took place, feared the reaction of the crowd outside the courthouse. The Sanford police chief and the Seminole County sheriff made a joint appearance and issued a statement. Sheriff Don Eslinger declared, “We will not tolerate anyone who uses this verdict as an excuse to violate the law.”

However, the pleas for calm were not only from Seminole County. The Kansas City Star (Missouri) reported that both the mayor and the police chief wrote blogs in which they urged the public to “remain calm” and “work together to quell any disturbances.” In fact, it seemed as if the whole country was getting an admonishment when President Obama issued a statement the day after the trial. He asked Americans to engage in “calm reflection,” emphasizing that “we are a nation of laws” and that “we” must respect the jury’s verdict.

But I knew that this was a very specific message to black communities when I read the tweets from civil rights activist and Rainbow/PUSH founder, Rev. Jesse Jackson. In tweets from July 12 through 14, he urged people to “avoid violence” because it would only “compound our pain with street justice.” A tweet from Howard Rambsy II, director of Black Studies at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, confirmed that I was on the right track with my analysis. On July 14, he wrote, “From the African American Leader Handbook, Rule #1: Tell black people to remain calm. Rule #2: See Rule #1.”

I was angered, though not surprised, by the verdict. There is nothing wrong with being angry, being outraged even. Trayvon Benjamin Martin, a teenager who took a walk to a convenience store, was targeted for “walking while black” and is now dead. The person who killed him was acquitted. Shouldn’t I/we be angry at this pointless violence and loss of life. After he was killed, people raised their voices in protest, organized, marched, petitioned and wrote to keep the memory of Martin alive and demand justice. Many African Americans could relate to this case because they or someone they knew had been pulled over, stopped, frisked, or questioned by “authorities” when simply minding their own business. Thus, a guilty verdict was not only important for Trayvon Martin’s family but also for the larger black community by extension. The paternalistic advice to “keep calm” plays into stereotypes of African-Americans as the likely perpetrators of violence. Now, isn’t that racial profiling?