A few weeks ago some people (myself included) were led to believe that Civil Rights Icon, Freedom Fighter, Revolutionary and ex-President of South Africa, Nelson Mandela was knocking on death’s door. I was bracing myself for the sad news that another great leader had left us. Mandela fought against a brutal and tyrannical form of institutionalized, rationalized, legalized, and codified form of racism called Apartheid. This particular form of oppression had been used to allow the white minority to rule over the native black population in South Africa. And while some believe that somehow with the election of Black President and a call for healing from Mandela himself that South Africa redeemed herself as a nation. I’m sure the average black South African would disagree with you.
Here in America there has been this attempt to erase our muddled history, distort the harsh realities of our present all the while lamenting the grim prospects of our future. Despite the civil rights movement, despite the black power movement, despite the election of our nation’s first black President. Our great nation has not come to terms with the fact that she is a racist. She doesn’t look at her black sons and daughters and see them as her own children. She looks as confused as a mother hen who suddenly finds herself atop a hatched goose egg.
How can I call a whole country racist you ask? Well you see what I’m doing is taking an old racist routine known as the one drop rule. The one drop rule was the rule stating if you had one drop of black blood in you, you were black. My one drop rule is if you let just one racist influence the consciousness of a nation then that nation is racist. There are nations with worse identity politics and more brutal discrimination than our nation. But there aren’t many whose very legacy is stained with the blood of slaves. There aren’t many who have so thoroughly exploited, demeaned, degraded, and eroded the very personhood of an entire demographic of their citizens.
Blacks in America are in the same boat as blacks in South Africa, we are in worse shape than the Kurds in Iraq, we are on par with the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza strip. But the difference between us and those people is the fact that those people aren’t being lied to and told that they are crazy for feeling like they are under siege. And if your teenage son can’t go to the store without fear of being shot than you are under siege make no mistake about it.
I can’t take the trial of George Zimmerman as a new lesson. Rather it is a reinforcement of what I already know. That while America has been patting herself on the back for all the progress it has made it still looks at non-white people as lesser. Stereotypes and Bias against Trayvon were more important than the fact that he did nothing. The whole trial was focused on George Zimmerman’s right to “defend himself” against someone who did nothing to threaten him. I don’t think anything was said about Trayvon’s right to defend himself against a strange man that was following HIM!!!
You have undoubtedly heard this a million times already but it doesn’t make it any less true: if Trayvon Martin had shot George Zimmerman his life would be over by now. He would have been another 17 year old tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison. Never forget that the fact that a black man is only three-fifths of a man is something that had to be corrected. Our country was founded on that principle. And to assuage the spectre of white guilt a national blame the victim campaign was launched in the late 70’s to further dehumanize us. After all slavery was a long time ago we should all have our shit together. And why was Trayvon wearing a hoodie anyway? and did you hear the way Rachel talked on the stand her testimony is totally discredited because she “copped an attitude”. Also the irrelevant facts that Trayvon had marijuana in his system and had once been suspended from school are actually relevant cuz it just proves that he was a suspicious “other” who may have been up to no good and George Zimmerman was right to stalk him.
This is the America we live in. Barack Obama may be the President but Trayvon Martin isn’t even a human being. Your son, your brother, your cousin may not make it through the night. Not because he is a bad person, not because he is up to no good, but because our society has taught and constantly reinforced the lesson that black is dangerous. black is scary. black is bad. I dread the day when I have to tell my nephew to keep his eyes low and speak meekly when confronted because his life isn’t guaranteed. He is not given equal protection and priority under the law. He is the natural enemy of “mainstream” America. For no other reason than that he is young, male, and black.
I have a very selfish reason for wanting this Zimmerman case to go away. It is because it drains the life out of me. It depresses me. It kills my spirit and my soul. It hurts my heart, my head and my stomach. It almost makes me physically ill. To be subjected to these harsh living conditions is one thing. Because we live in a country where you can mostly get used to racial injustice. You pretty much have to. Speak too loudly about it, as a black man, and you are pretty much unemployable. So we middle-class/educated Blacks make this Faustian deal with the devil. We will sell you our collective souls and we’ll at least shut up if not turn a blind eye to all the foolishness.
It can be hard to cull anything positive from a tragedy. We talk about making ourselves aware. We talk about arming ourselves with knowledge. But who exactly is aware and who exactly is knowledgeable? I just got done reading a piece in Time Magazine that says only 16% of White Americans feel like there is a lot of discrimination in the U.S. today. The greater culture continues to view the Civil Rights movement as successful. This revisionist history has affected every aspect of our culture. In that very same Time Magazine respected political writer Joe Klein expresses another delusional belief that “our children” will be color blind. That’s the same thing liberal idiots said in the 60’s and guess what their children are serving on that Zimmerman Jury and their color blindness is predictably selective. They don’t see race as a motivating factor but they can with a straight face say that they don’t know who started the fight between Zimmerman and Martin.
The harassment of our people has been legalized. Our perpetual status as second class citizens has been codified. There is nothing more debasing and degrading than being confronted by law enforcement anywhere in this country and instantly following the same script a freed black man had to follow when confronted by law enforcement in 1865. Don’t look them directly in the eye. Speak in soft tones. Comply with them regardless of how unreasonable, hateful or racist they are towards you. The cost of living is putting aside your pride. Black men are asked to accept this as a natural fact of life. Our very existence is somehow threatening. Once as a 15 year old I was threatened with a police call because I raised my voice to a vice principal. As blacks we are not allowed to be imperfect teenagers. We are not allowed to be angry. Because we have been reduced to stereotypes. Anything we say or do only reinforces those stereotypes. So it doesn’t matter if Trayvon Martin was doing nothing. A Jury found that Zimmerman has the right to confront him and ask for his papers. This is our life. America is South Africa.
But what we can’t do is let this one go like we let Sean Bell go, like we let Amadou Diallo go, like we let Rodney King, we have to stay angry. We have to stay indignant. We have to let outrage at our treatment become the new standard. We need instituional racism to become as taboo as over racism. Keep it with you. Keep Trayvon in your heart and your mind when you step to a ballot box. Remember the fact that in 2013 you have to tell a whole group of young people that you are perceived as a threat in your own country just because of your skin color. And don’t stop until one day that conversation doesn’t have to happen.
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