I don't remember how old I was when I first saw the picture of Emmett Till's distorted and bloated face in his coffin. It is forever etched in my mind. How does one name that fear that makes grown men brutally murder a 14-year-old boy for allegedly whistling at a white woman?
I will never forget the look of defeat on my then-husband's face April 29, 1992 during the first trial when the cops who senselessly beat Rodney King were acquitted. He came home while I was sitting in the living room rocking our son; I myself had been crying, feeling hopeless. He walked in on the verge of tears and said to me, "There is very little I can do as a Black man to protect my children or you." The tension, the anger and the fear that we felt was like invisible smoke choking us. How can we keep the pain of racism from destroying our lives?
I am a Black mother and when my son was born I was determined to keep him safe. My love for him became a shield, so I wrote a poem for him entitled, "I Will Not Let Them Take You." Last Sunday I had a long talk with my son who is now a 25-years-old, and he expressed his anguish about the Trayvon Martin verdict. As a Black man who was raised to respect himself and others, he sees himself in Trayvon and remarked. "Mom that was me in my hoody less than seven years ago. I coach young boys Trayvon's age and many of them wear hoodies. Last week as I was driving to a coaching session, I saw many cops and I thought to myself, they could kill me and claim anything and get away with it, just like Zimmerman." What could I as his mother say to my African American son? What words of comfort and reassurance could I offer him? After all, how can we heal the scars of racism, and move towards a post racial society, if we refuse to acknowledge the deep rooted pain and anguish that is still germinating in Black communities as a result of hundreds of years of enslavement and the institutionalized racism that goes unchecked?
I am tired of fighting. My son is tired of fighting. We really just want to live our lives and feel safe and protected, as does every other American citizen. I want to believe and know that my son and godsons, nephews and cousins, sons of my friends and any and all Black males can decide to go out to buy a soda and candy, any evening, any time, any where and will return home safely, without fear of some racist maniac gunning them down. But how is this hope possible in a society that wants to pretend that race is not an issue?
Race is an issue and it is the central issue in this case, otherwise Trayvon Martin would have never been marked "suspicious"; he would have never been demonized, as is often the experience of Black men in America no matter what clothes they decide to wear or in what neighborhoods they live.
Yes, we have a Black president, Barack Obama, and a first lady, Michelle, but if anything their rise to that throne has made us all realize the insidiousness of racism, and the length to which a number of people will go to not only discredit Obama and Michelle's right to be in the White House and lead the country, but the concerted efforts that are made to block policies that would benefit the country, just because Obama has put them forth. Some would rather see him fail than to support issues that would positively impact the entire country.
I have commiserated with my friends who have sons, a few of whom live in Florida and as black mothers we are all holding each other up. Our hearts are wrung with fear, and if but for the hope we muster, we would be flat on the ground.
My daughter has written and recorded an ironically poignant song, Just You (Suspicious), that deftly weaves in the historical legacy, and the struggle of African American men to be afforded the opportunity to live their lives with dignity and respect without having to constantly look over their shoulders. Though her song was inspired by Trayvon, I know she was thinking about her younger brother, her cousins, her god-brothers and male friends who are often mislabeled as suspicious when in fact they are sweet and decent Black men living their lives the best way they know how.
"Did not teach you how to fear your life/held my breathe hoping prayers would suffice/ you held all my dreams/ growing big in me/ Stop this world to just let you be" (Shola Adisa-Farrar/ Just You Suspicious)
As a mother of three children, one of whom is an African-American male, these are sad times for me. I must constantly fan away fear. I must constantly be vigilant for all Black boys. I must cast a net of prayer over my son and others. I have to form a circle of protection around them. I will not let the murders, such as George Zimmerman be exonerated. I will not sacrifice anymore of our sons. My son is safe, our sons are safe and protected. I hold this mantra in my heart and in my head, and eventually with perseverance, and decisive action, this will be our reality.