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America's Illegitimate Sons and the Politics of Respectability

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Watching disheartening and at times contradictory accounts of juror B37 on the same night Rachel Jeantel was afforded the opportunity to give America a proper palate of her personality, a sensation of bittersweet relief escaped my body.

In 120 minutes, I was able to peer deeper into Jeantel's heart. Her "demeanor" which was so extensively scrutinized in earlier weeks as she testified in her best friend's murder case, was more than befitting for the moment. In that time and space, Jeantel was a hero in the way she articulated her truths and feelings about the case. Her compelling disposition was only buried by fear, pain and loss she was suffering in the loss of Trayvon Martin.

In turn, I was further devastated, although not surprised by the comments juror B37 made in her exclusive interview. Juror B37 shared that some of the jurors were buried in the understanding of the law pertaining to the case, which ultimately led to the acquittal of Zimmerman in the death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin. Juror B37 felt that Jeantel was "embarrassed to be there because of her education."

The judicial system has become infamous as a shield of discrimination. The tactic has become that the law was written and revised to support fundamentally discriminatory allegations, assumptions and actions. The individuals whose cowardice is enacted between the lines of these flimsy shields are tragically upheld in the courts we as "citizens" forced to trust. The unfortunate fact is that the law has debilitated truth and passion, deflected the ugliness of American history and truth and deferred millions of dreams.

There used to be a time where achieving, reaching and maintaining a specific plateau as a black individual marked a level of respectability. The idea that a black person, male or female although challenging for either, could succeed both socially and monetarily represented progress amongst white counterparts. But what has changed about the notion of a level-playing field between blacks and the rest of the country? What has been the sacrifice to reach new goals? What does it really mean to be black in America?

There should never be a cultural trade or detriment made for success or progression in this country, no matter what race you are. What it costs at the close of business proves far too expensive.

Valuation of black life is not defined to the limited and categorical prejudices perpetuated by any judicial system, nor should it be confined to a desired tax bracket and vacation homes on the Vineyard. Black legacy and black history are often two things we minimize to justify our success. An infamous quote from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. also triumphs the speeches from Marcus Garvey. The inspirational regurgitation of W.E.B. Dubois is a forgotten inscription from Harry Belafonte or James Baldwin; memorable lines from Oprah only leave whispers for Zora Neale Hurston. As a nation, there is a lack of focus and structural support in the entirety of black history.

Quote from the popular should not be overshadowed nor over-shared by actions of the way-makers.

As a nation, there is little we want to know about the problem and temporary, meaningless things we strive to do to fix them. Red, white and blue are colors more interested in the 'Sparknotes' version of the truth. The least descriptive, damaging and damning account of history is what this nation thrives on. Its' principles, laws and guiding light is itself, not the rectifying of injustices or miscarriages of inequity.

But what does this mean for men like Troy Davis, Trayvon Martin and Kendrick Johnson? The promise that all three share between them was they were black in America. The infraction of justice in the lives of the above men is at the center of a storm of pure politics of respectability. The masculinity, the social threat that these black men were seen as is directly correlated to who they are perceived in their cases, in the media and more importantly, who they were as human beings. When Langston Hughes penned, "I Too, Sing America" Hughes was artistically antagonizing the narrative of patriotism and the polarized perception of being considered an American citizen as a black man. Hughes was illuminating the hypocrisy that America re-named democracy. To be a place so commonly promoted as a the "land of the free" there are too many inconsistencies with such an empty-promised mantra.

The emaciated connection between African-Americans and this country is largely attributed to the divide of rights and truth. African-American who were both in this country are by law, "America" but social standards and conditions deeply oppose that fact.

Jealani Cobb's article about the Trayvon Martin verdict, a writer for The New Yorker, reads, "George Zimmerman, Not Guilty: Blood on the Leaves." Such a captivating title and a indication of how the present generation is hosting a dialogues about such convoluted issues found in the Zimmerman trial.

The latter part of the title, "Blood on the Leaves" references the lyrics of a Kanye West song, "Blood on the Leaves." West samples Billie Holiday's Strange Fruit (1959) Holiday's voice rings smoothly over a breath-taking song about lynching: "Southern trees bear a strange fruit/Blood on the leaves and blood at the root/Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze/Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees." West's narrative reflects the concept of a modern day lynching, an idea that protestors and activists would support.

While the rest of the song discusses unrelated issues, West connects his artistic voice to a political platform. This "strange fruit" case is not limited to Martin, although his case received an unprecedented amount of media and social attention. That anomaly of recognition, however, is not enough. While black bodies littering rural back roads have been a legendary American tale for centuries, it is not enough.

The fear that is associated with black males is misplaced. In fact, it was the white counterparts in the days of slavery and civil rights that enacted violence -- socially, mentally and physically. The rise of violence by blacks was often in retaliation, or self-defense.

The death of Kendrick Johnson, a 17 year-old Valdosta male who was found upside-down and lodged inside a wrestling mat at a high school gym was introduced as the modern day Emmitt Till murder, as their beating injuries were congruent. The Sheriff said nobody knew what happened to him except "he and the good Lord" And what about Troy Davis, the accused cop killer who was executed in Georgia despite extensive social intervention? Jordan Davis, a 17 year-old teen who was shot and killed by 46 year-old Michael Dunn, after a dispute over Davis' music volume.

And how could we ever forget Trayvon Benjamin Martin, the 17 year-old boy who was shot and killed by George Zimmerman in Sanford, Florida for appearing to be suspicious in a neighborhood he was familiar with. What was forgotten in that courtroom is the loss of life, the severing of breath in one human's body.

The truth is no one black life should be more praised or valued than another. In thinking that it should be has contributed to the continual deficit of black life, black progression and black upward mobility. What is absent in our attempt to contextualize history and protect our futures, fight long enough and hard enough until something has changed.

Simple progression is no longer an acceptable method of payment for all the lives that have been lost as a result of incapable and short-sighted laws. Excruciating injustice offers no refund and death has no return policy.