The Geek Shall Inherit The Earth

Thursday, July 18, 2013

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What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black?


Okay, I am breaking my promise to myself not to blog about Trayvon. I have been holding back trying to think of anything positive that I could contribute to the conversation, but the truth is there is nothing good about this situation. I can’t love and light my way out of this. Believe me. I have been meditating and praying on this, but the feelings I have aren’t shifting and I can’t stay silent any longer.

Since Obama’s second election I have never felt so under attack as a black person in this country. It was like our country had some kind of Grand Wizard cotillion where all the racists who weren’t already out there decided to come out of the closet. Between Obama and the US census projection that by 2050 people of color will be the majority, white folks are angry and scared. And if history has taught us nothing, it has taught us that scared and angry white people are dangerous, if not deadly to anyone who might pose a threat. 

What could be more threatening than a young black man, armed or unarmed. I won't write out the list...this post is already going to be too long...but since the verdict in addition to all those famous shootings and lynchings of black men that we keep recounting, almost every conversation I have with the black men I know has turned into a post traumatic flashback. There was that time when........fill in the blank with: "the police broke my jaw", "I was followed and questioned for fitting the description of a suspect", "I was arrested in front of my students", "my brother was shot and killed", and the list goes on. It's times like these that bring to light the quiet norm...that even in this so called post racial society, I don't know a single person of color who doesn't have a story about (at the very least) being  harassed because of their race.   

In the last few years there has been a noticeable spike in the number of hate groups in this country and a correlated spike in gun sales. People attribute the guns to the anti gun legislation after the Newtown shootings, but the question remains, who is being shot? And who is being held accountable for murder? When white children are shot and killed it becomes a national tragedy. When black children are shot and killed, it’s apparently not even manslaughter. But race is not a factor right? I have had to stop listening to the news because it just sets me on fire.

When I heard the verdict I wanted to punch a juror in the face. I could have done bodily harm to the arrogant, disrespectful, gloating defense team and to the incompetent prosecution as well because they seemed to have no inkling of what a disservice they had done not only for their clients, but for all of us who just needed to know that justice would be served. In the debrief one of the reporters asked the question about what message this verdict would send, and the prosecution danced around it saying that this wasn’t about messages.

To me the message was crystal clear that still after all this time, after all the efforts of the civil rights movement, the lives of people who look like me are completely expendable. You don’t have to be armed, you don’t have to be menacing, you don’t even have to be an adult to be perceived as threatening enough to be shot and killed in your own neighborhood. 

What is worse is that when I say I'm angry, people keep telling me to stay calm and to not be violent. We don't want to perpetuate stereotypes now do we? Quite frankly my concern is less about stereotypes and how my anger will be perceived and more about the safety of my friends and family and the complete failure of this country's judicial system to provide us with adequate access to justice. I say adequate, because we are so far from equal that adequate and half-assed even would be preferable to this complete and utter bullshit. And as for not being violent, I am not the one who shot and killed someone. If you want to tell someone not to be violent, I recommend telling that to George Zimmerman. 

Yesterday I attended a press conference and prayer vigil held by the United Black Christian Clergy here in Seattle. It was a forum in which the UBC called for a civil rights trial for Zimmerman and also announced that they would be lobbying against the laws right here in my state that parallel Florida’s stand your ground laws. The clergy made statements and expressed their feelings. Afterwards we had the opportunity as a community to talk about how we felt. I think it was good to come together in community and to have a forum for self expression, but ultimately the fact remains that I still can’t trust my country. I still can’t trust the law to protect me or anyone who looks like me. And while this is not exactly new, it just makes me crazy because this is where I’m from. Like it or not, there is no other place I can call home.

I will close with a very long, but awesome poem by Margaret Taylor Burroughs written in 1975, but still the question facing black mothers today.

 What shall I tell my children who are black by Margaret Burroughs

What shall I tell my children who are black
Of what it means to be a captive in this dark skin?
What shall I tell my dear one, fruit of my womb,
Of how beautiful they are when everywhere they turn
They are faced with abhorrence of everything that is black.
The night is black and so is the boogieman.
Villains are black with black hearts.
A black cow gives no milk. A black hen lays no eggs.
Bad news comes bordered in black, mourning clothes black.
Story clouds, black, black is evil
And evil is black and devil's food is black...

What shall I tell my dear ones raised in a white world
A place where white has been made to represent
All that is good and pure and fine and decent,
Where clouds are white and dolls, and heaven
Surely is a white, white place with angels
Robed in white, and cotton candy and ice cream
And milk and ruffled Sunday dresses
And dream houses and long sleek Cadillacs
And Angel's food is white...all, all...white.

What shall I say therefore, when my child
Comes home in tears because a playmate
Has called him black, big lipped, flat nosed
And nappy headed? What will he think
When I dry his tears and whisper, "Yes, that's true.
But no less beautiful and dear."
How shall I lift up his head, get him to square
His shoulders, look his adversaries in the eye,
Confident in the knowledge of his worth.
Serene under his sable skin and proud of his own beauty?

What can I do to give him strength
That he may come through life's adversities
As a whole human being unwarped and human in a world
Of biased laws and inhuman practices, that he might
Survive. And survive he must! For who knows?
Perhaps this black child here bears the genius
To discover the cure for...cancer
Or to chart the course for exploration of the universe.
So, he must survive for the good of all humanity;
He must and will survive.
I have drunk deeply of late from the fountain
Of my black culture, sat at the knee and learned
>From Mother Africa, discovered the truth of my heritage.
The truth, so often obscured and omitted.
And I find I have much to say to my black children.

I will lift up their heads in proud blackness
With the story of their fathers and their fathers
Fathers. And I shall take them into a way back time
Of Kings and Queens who ruled the Nile,
And measured the stars and discovered the
Laws of mathematics. Upon whose backs have been built
The wealth of two continents. I will tell him
This and more. And his heritage shall be his weapon
And his armor; will make him strong enough to win
Any battle he may face. And since this story is
Often obscured, I must sacrifice to find it
For my children, even as I sacrificed to feed,
Clothe and shelter them. So this I will do for them
If I love them. None will do it for me.
I must find the truth of heritage for myself
And pass it on to them. In years to come, I believe
Because I have armed them with the truth, my children
And their children's children will venerate me,
For it is the truth that will make us free!

Reagan Jackson is a writer, artist, YA fiction aficionado, afro-punk, international educator, and community organizer based in Seattle, WA. You can find her most Tuesdays at the Seattle Poetry Slam or maybe just being nerdy at her favorite bookstores. 

2 comments:

  1. I agree 100%. In my opinion, probably the best write-up to date on the Trayvon Martin issue. Thank you for also posting the poem.

    I however, don't think that the prosecution was incompetent, I think they played their cards the exact way they wanted them to. Meaning that they weren't pushing hard for Zimmerman to be found guilty. I believe they were working with the defense. Something else was going on behind the scenes. The fact that we, regular everyday people clearly saw the picking of an all white jury, the flaws and missed opportunities in the prosecution's argument makes me believe that something else is going on than only being incompetent.

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  2. I too have held my tonque and discussion on the Zimmermab trial. Mostly because of sheer lack of sadness and unclear thoughts. I want to express still dont know what to say about it, but just want to say you did a great job on this.

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