"Lord, I suffered through the years and shed so many tears."
- Tupac Shakur, "So Many Tears", Me Against the World (1995).
There are certain years, concretized within our collective memory, noted for the multiplicity of tragedies encountered over the duration of its days. These are years where the proliferation of pain experienced rises above individual and local concerns and becomes forever infused within our communal narrative. For African Americans, 2013 possesses all the painful markings of such a year.
This year commenced with the 150th commemoration of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and gave witness to painful half-century remembrances: the assassination of Medgar Evers, the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, and the bombing deaths of Addie Mae Collins, Cynthia Wesley, Carole Robertson, and Denise McNair in Birmingham, Alabama. However, this year has also wrought new pains with striking frequency, pains that proved multi-facted, ranging in scope from persecutory public policies to the reclamation of 19th-century racial caricatures, from cinematic revisitations of historic Black suffering to scenes of real bloodshed in the streets.
In 2013, the inconceivable has become commonplace. Both Jonathan Ferrell and Renisha McBride were killed while harmlessly seeking aid in Charlotte, North Carolina and the Detroit suburb of Dearborn Heights, respectively. In Dallas, Texas, young Donald Maiden, 8, was shot in the face without cause (as if a cause could ever be justified) by a 46 year-old white man as Maiden played outside with his friends.
All life is sacred and untimely deaths, regardless of the character or crimes of the deceased, are tragic. Yet, a unique sting accompanies the untimely death of children. This year, the death of two Chicago youth -- Hadiya Pendleton, 15, shot and killed in a Chicago park days after performing at President Obama's second presidential inauguration, and Jonylah Watkins, six months old, shot five times as her father changed her diaper -- ripped our hearts.
Yet great injury has not solely been restricted to young Black female bodies but has been extended to attacks against their existential worth. Beautiful Black girls have faced banishment from educational corridors as multiple coiffure controversies were launched nationwide. The natural textures and styling of their tresses was deemed detrimental to the educational process, a dubious distinction previously assigned to such offenses as in-school fighting and truancy. It is painful to know that these young girls, and thousands vicariously through them, face such needless vitriol on account of their lovely natural locks. Even laudable efforts aimed at strengthening and rebuilding a sense of existential worth for young girls and women, especially the work of Black Girls Rock, was met with rebuke.
In 2013, Hollywood has experienced a revival of cinematic creations engaging the Black experience. Several films, namely Fruitvale Station, The Butler, and 12 Years a Slave, achieved box office success. These cinematic reflections engendered painful, albeit necessary responses from audiences as the sufferings of our ancestors must always be remembered. However, inexplicably, a painful and wholly unnecessary revival of donning blackface occurred as both celebrities and the general public alike returned frequently to draw from this well of cultural insensitivity.
"Stop and Frisk" continued to give cover to racial profiling and police harassment. After making a purchase at Barneys New York this year, Trayton Christian was harassed and arrested, his purchase at the high-end store and his pigmentation considered mutually exclusive. Overseas, billionaire and cultural icon Oprah Winfrey faced gross discrimination, as she was denied the opportunity to purchase a luxury handbag she can afford thousands times over. Countless others, whose names we will never know, but whose experiences are known all too well, faced discrimination and harassment while walking in their own neighborhoods.
However, this year, our communal pain reached its zenith as the verdict for George Zimmerman was read in a Florida court. Our pain emerged not simply because of Trayvon Martin's untimely death, nor because of the crucifixion of his character by the media and the courts, nor even because of the declaration of Zimmerman's innocence. Our pain was fully realized in that, for many African Americans, Zimmerman's acquittal was fully anticipated. History has revealed a predictable devaluation of a Black man's life on these shores. Zimmerman's continued alleged criminal antics have only served to pour salt on our open wounds.
As the end of year draws near, our eyes are affixed on the State of Georgia, and our pain is renewed, as justice, yet again, appears fleeting in the death of Kendrick Johnson, a young man unconscionably rolled up in a wrestling mat with blunt force injuries. In his case, vital evidence, including his own human organs, is missing. And still, no perpetrator has been charged in the crime.
The year in Black pain has featured discrimination and harassment, intimidation and oppression, maiming and murder, and aggressive attacks against the Black psyche and soul. This present recollection does not account for every instance of our communal pain, or for every tear shed in response.
Yet despite these tears, we can also draw solace from our collective narrative. We have faced many dark days before. As James Weldon Johnson so eloquently penned, "We have come over a way that with tears has been watered. We have come treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered." Johnson's pen leaves us with this prayerful hope: "God of our weary years, God of our silent tears. Thou Who has brought us thus far on the way. Thou Who hast by Thy might, led us into the light. Keep us forever in the path we pray."
May the pain of 2013 fuel our just pursuits in the year to come, and may God lead us into justice's light. And may God speed up the day when every tear shall be wiped from our eyes!