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What We Wanted to Believe: An Open Letter to America (For Jordan Davis)

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What we wanted to believe was that the election of a black president -- an election that brought together unforeseen coalitions across a variety of racial, sexual, and class constituencies -- would symbolize a radical climate-shift; a long anticipated end to America's ongoing racial nightmare.

What we wanted to believe was that the expansion of the black middle class -- with their Affirmative Action success stories, Ivy League degrees, and cheap suburban-costs-of-living in North Carolina, Atlanta, and Maryland -- was a sign that "our people" were being more consistently incorporated into the "American dream." We wanted to believe that this meant that we were "safe" now: our children could walk home alone in their gated communities or drive through their neighborhoods in attractive SUVs.

What we wanted to believe was that the ever-escalating popularity and cross-racial commercial appeal of black music, media, television, and popular culture (from Scandal and Twelve Years A Slave to Beyonce and Melissa Harris-Perry) was representative of a sexy new form of American multiculturalism that was disproportionately benefiting African Americans.

What we wanted to believe was that the presence of a male, African American civil-rights lawyer (Eric Holder) serving as the nation's attorney general would signal a new chapter in how justice would be administrated in America. We wanted to believe that this new chapter would be characterized by more justice, more equity, and more accountability.

What we wanted to believe was that our black boys -- the boys that America has always loved to see singing, dancing, smiling, or playing ball -- were no longer at the bottom of the cultural food-chain. We wanted desperately to believe that in the wake of the widespread outrage over the "not guilty" verdict in the 2013 George Zimmerman trial, the national conversation about young black men had shifted into a more careful discussion. The media was smarter, post-Trayvon. Juries would be more careful too, post-Trayvon. This is what we told ourselves.

What we wanted to believe was that America was ready to make good on its word. More specifically, we wanted to believe that the phrase "liberty and justice for all" could be experienced as a reality on-the-ground rather than simply as an empty ideological abstraction. We wanted young black boys and girls to believe that that the phrase "liberty and justice for all" applied to them too.

This is what we wanted to believe. But in spite of these hopes, these dreams, these wishes -- we are now confronted with a paralyzing blue note: when it comes to the politics of race and justice in America, we are still a nation of the changing-same.

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