It seems like most of my conversations take place online through social media and right now social media is blowing up. It's been blown up since Saturday night when the outcome of the trial of the man who murdered Trayvon Martin was decided. Like everyone, I've read a lot about it, most of it helpful, some of it not at all. Some of it leaving me to click the window to close it almost as soon as I open it. It doesn't take long to figure out and I refuse to give it space and let it take up part of my head.
We're learning some important things here in this country in a time when the growing pains are fresh and coming with a quickness. Almost as soon as the Supreme Court made some very bad decisions, in my mind, about voting laws then it was like a fast roller coaster of a ride that only went down. How much further down can we go? I wondered aloud, to no one in particular.
The Cuban works night shifts sometimes and occasionally he does so out of state. Last night was his first night of an overnight trip where he worked with men he doesn't really know. He doesn't have to make friends with these guys on a crew for a few short days, but there's a sense of politeness that goes with working with new people on a regular basis. Almost as soon as they introduced themselves and started on the job, one of the guys, a kid in the assessment of The Cuban, they started in on their opinions of the court case regarding the man who murdered Trayvon Martin.
Because, of all the facts we know, and people love quoting facts right now and telling you that YOU WEREN'T THERE YOU DON'T KNOW, the one that is consistent is that a grown man murdered Trayvon Martin. And I will continue to say it that way the rest of my days.
"They shoulda seen if all those robberies and break-ins stopped as soon as Trayvon died," said the kid, all of 20-something and full of hubris, a luxury that will never be afforded to Trayvon.
"Stop. Back up. You need to quit talking about things you don't know to a man you don't know," The Cuban said.
I love him for many things and standing up this way to a stranger, albeit a young one on a crew he's working on, is right at the top of the list. I don't pretend it was easy for him to push back as forcefully on this kid nor did it make for good relations for the rest of the job. That remains to be seen as tonight is the second night working with him.
He told me this on a phone call and we talked about how much people need to shut up in this moment. This heavy, breathtaking moment of national grieving in which many people are telling Black folks the appropriate time and length of their grieving. This heavy juncture where the middle school interpretation of race has never been more apparent even while studies continue to show that Blacks are blocked, as a matter of systemic policies, from serving on Southern juries.
Messy, Messy Work
This season which painfully seems simplistic and comes with easy answers. It doesn't. But we're doing messy work right now as a nation.
There is a trivialization of an entire system that our country has as its history and not by accident. There is a general lack of understanding of systemic racism and I have spent the better part of the day working through it with people who are actually, and astoundingly, ready to learn it. I’ll have to turn to history to help me out here because it's brought us to where we are. It's touchy, though, because I have heard the excuse that people who are alive today aren’t to be made to feel guilty about the sins of their ancestors. For that, I'll turn to a quote by Susan Abulhawa who works to fight anti-Black racism in the Arab world:
I Was Wrong About the Black Panthers
I’m not asking that our broken nation work towards an understanding on the level of a race scholar, but I am suggesting that they do that work for a reason and it would be wise to have a basic understanding of that work. Now is a good time to revisit that privilege and the things we thought we knew from history. I won't ask that anyone else be vulnerable until I do that myself. For instance, I had a very warped view of the Black Panther Party when I was in high school and I let that carry me for too many years until I wised up and read some things on my own.
There’s long-lasting mythology and obfuscation about the Black Panther Party. Feeding children with their free breakfast program, working toward social justice in the community, and teaching martial arts as well as educating children who had been subjected to sub-standard education were not things I was taught from my teachers. I assumed they were just militant and angry and always carried around a gun to threaten people.
Oh, boy, was I wrong about that once I did some searching on my own. And I spent many years spreading my ignorance based on a few things that a few people said without showing me the whole picture. Do you know why the guns were always prevalent in a photo of Black Panther members? Because the laws in California, at the time, were that to carry a gun meant you had to keep out in the open. They were fighting the police brutality and the very illegal activities that were being carried out at the hands of the police. Yes, it was revolutionary, but it was in protest to a corrupt system. When Governor Reagan realized that gun laws for whites would apply to blacks, he quickly pushed through the Mulford Act to restrict them from what he deemed were laws that ought to apply more to whites than blacks. Reagan supported legislative action to stop the Black Panthers. It was created to support the system. Systemic, I say.
I wish I were wise enough as a teen to push back on those teachers, tell them to hush, and read for myself. A lesson that, when I finally learned it, ended up pushing me towards a minor degree in Afro-American Studies. By then, I couldn't eat it up fast enough.
I'm More Black Than You
And then, there was this: I got into an argument (one of several over the last few days) on the Facebook page of a friend. It wasn't over Trayvon Martin but the racist joke about the Asian names of the pilots of the Asiana flight that ended up killing two people. This friend-of-a-friend said that people need to have a sense of humor and not get bent out of shape. And then she ended her comment with “I’m not racist, either”. I replied that white people rarely get bent out of shape over race when they’ve never been on the receiving end of a racist rant. I could see her picture - she looked like a white woman to me. (For the record, I get about half and half with people who don't know me. In person, all Black people I meet know of my background. White people often miss it.) Her next reply came back with this:
I’m a true African-American. Born in Madagascar. My mom is Ecuadorian, dad is Canadian.
True, she says. She is TRUE. She is more than I, and I am not true. She went on to say “go and try to be happy today!!!!” (four exclamation points) and that “life is too short” and suggested that I “take a deep cleansing breath”.
Instead, I took a deep sigh. A heaving one that I’ve taken when I’ve heard this before. The argument that this very white looking woman seemed to find humorous as we discussed racism and stereotypes about Asians that she was more African than me. Her need to be blacker, more in touch, more African took the whole conversation off the rails and made her the martyr. But not, it turns out, the victim of racism. She never explained that. I didn't ever learn what racism she’d experienced because her main goal was that I be “happy today!!!!”
Race is a foundation of justice in America and the unquestioned casual racism got us here and this woman's need to be a more true, more real African was the least helpful part of what could have been a great conversation.
An Issue of Truth
It, meaning everything from the past 2 days, seems to come down to an issue of truth. I consider the number of times when I have spoken my truth about race and explicated my experiences to someone and how, should that conflict with their truth and experiences and we’re discussing race, it seems necessary on their part to consider my truth a lie.
My truth doesn’t threaten yours.
But my collective history of the United States is yours. I’m unsure why you don’t know it, too.
Here are some voices that we should be listening to right now. Listen, don't comment. Don't judge. Listen to their truths. Hush.
Carolyn Edgar - On Trayvon Martin and Fear
Faiqa Khan - On #Trayvon. And Us.
Jose Vilson - Justice. Even When It's Just Us [On Trayvon Martin]
Nick Chiles on Denene Millner’s website, My Brown Baby - In A Fog of Trayvon Rage and Sadness, Saying Goodbye to My Son
*I don't have a comment policy but I feel the need to remind people of civility. If you can't manage that, I will ban you. If you feel the need to hush, that works, too.*