I, like many of you, am angry, confused, shocked, and disheartened. I have attempted to reserve my thoughts out of fear of speaking out of turn but I cannot censor my heart.
This year, I spent the Fourth of July in Savannah, Georgia -- a city that is no stranger to the fight for civil rights. During my time there, my mother "made" my 8-year-old nephew, 91-year-old grandmother, and other family members and me take a Black History Tour of the city. I reluctantly went, thinking that I knew pretty much everything that there was to see.
I'll admit it: I glossed over the "whipping tree" that was used for the public beating of blacks. I spent just a few seconds looking at the "jar of marbles" that was used to prevent blacks from voting by having them guess the number of marbles. I was stoic sitting in the oldest African-American church in North America, which is ironically only a few blocks from Paula Deen's restaurant, Lady and Sons.
When we finished the tour, we drove back to Statesboro, Georgia to the 120-plus acre farm that my grandfather sharecropped and later bought in the early 1950. During the drive my boyfriend, whose family was not direct descendants of slaves, asked me what did it feel like to experience the tour and contemplate the magnitude of how far "we as black Americans" have come. I thought about it for a while, and told him I was afraid that I had become desensitized to "the struggle." I told him I was cognizant and academically educated on racial discord in the U.S., but at times, I felt too far removed emotionally due to my naïve perception of a post-racial society.
Fast forward three weeks where the Zimmerman trial held many of us in suspense. Although I was disappointed in the prosecution and their case, I was confident that George Zimmerman would be found guilty and justice for Trayvon would prevail.
I was wrong. I was naïve. But, sadly, I do not think I am alone. Many of us are too far removed from the fight that are parents, grandparents, and civil rights leaders experienced in order for us to be where we are today. In our generation's terms, "THE STRUGGLE IS REAL."
Young Black America, we have collectively witnessed our modern day Emmett Till, the public approval and silent consensus for the disregard for a black life. Sadly, this has happened too many times before: Amadou Diallo, Kimani Gray, Patrick Dorismond, Timothy Standbury, Sean Bell, Traveres McGill.
After after receiving news of the verdict, I was reminded by the innumerable times when my mother would tell me to "sit up straight, behave, don't raise your voice in public, don't congregate in groups, walk with a purpose, and remember, that 'they' are always watching you and expecting you to fail." I often thought that my mother's "isms" were over the top in an uphill attempt to raise a refined lady. I now realize that she was doing exactly what her mother and grandmother did: fighting to raise a black child in a country that expects the worse for them.
I realized that my mother critiqued my speech and my grammar not because she wanted me to speak "proper English," but because if I did not, my education, my character, and my value in this country would immediately be discredited. Think back a few weeks to the State's "star witness," Rachel Jeantel. During her two day testimony, many of us heard a surge in negative thoughts, comments, and secret cringing from both blacks and whites when she took the stand. However, the sad but real truth is this: America did not care that English was not Rachel's first language. We did not care that she was probably suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder after being the last person to hear Trayvon's voice. Even the State did not seem to care enough to properly prepare her for the stand. Why? Because nothing of quality was expected of her. She was black (check), she was large (check), and she had an attitude (checkmate). She fit the bill for the negative stereotype of what many people perceive black women to be. Contrast her testimony to Dr. Shiping Bao, the Asian medical examiner. Dr. Bao had a thick accent. He did not answer questions from the State directly. He often had to be directed by the judge to stop interrupting questions and provide direct answers. Dr. Bao was deemed by the news to be a "challenging witness." Rachel, well, she was labeled, "combative."
As I talked to friends about the trial, there were two key themes that kept arising: 1) the flawed judicial system, and 2) the need to have more dialogue with our young black boys. While both statements have merit, the real truth is that the system is not really flawed. How can you fight for a system that promotes equal protection under the law in a country that once deemed you and I to only be three-fifths of a person?
Secondly, more conversations need to occur with our young men, but conversations are just the beginning. We can change every Facebook profile picture black in honor of Trayvon, we can take photos with our hoodies on, and we can write long blogs and posts about our feelings (yes, like this one). However, not much will really change. What we needed is a call to action, a new wave of young black leaders who demand that we literally and figuratively "pull our pants up," challenge us to be accountable for our actions, and propel the conversation inward to ask, "did we fail Trayvon?" I wholeheartedly agree that justice was not served for Trayvon. His parents sought to raise a child in the same way my parents and probably yours did. However, it takes a village. My prayer is that we keep our dreams of a post-racial society, but never forget where we have come from and where we will end up if we solely rely on the judicial system and conversations to shape our community. We cannot afford live in communities where we fail to provide hands-on support to Amir, Miles, William, Steven, Marcus, Jason, Khalil and the rest of our young black boys who could fall victim in our society for no justifiable reason. The struggle is real.
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