Though much has been said, I feel a need to publicly recognize what has happened. Publicly. For when time has pacified our resolve and memory fails to do justice to the pain we felt, and new problems have filled our consciousness, so in that space, in that unformed future, even there, there is some record, some institutional recognition of what happened to Trayvon and why it mattered. Even if that institution is just the internet. And the memory is just my blog.
It was like the taste of blood in your mouth when you cut your gums with floss. It tastes strange, but familiar. It is less a wound, than a numb reminder of your sensitivity. You know it shouldn’t be there and yet it has always been there, pulsing under the surface.
I am of a generation that had forgotten. A generation whose survival did not depend on the stories of my grandparents or great grandparents or great, great grandparents, ushering me to safety with the shield of their experience. No one had to teach me how to live in a world where black men who upset white sensibilities were killed without reason or retribution or where black women existed as both the object of white men’s desire and their disgust. We were beyond that. I was a classmate, a peer, a colleague, and a friend. Race informed my life. It defined many of my experiences. But it is not my life. I do not wake to escape the burden of my race every day and succeed in spite of it. I am of a generation that with the right dose of education and opportunity have been enriched by my experience of race, emboldened by the history of my people, and empowered to define my own path.
And then there was Trayvon. Well, there was Rodney King and Amadou Diallo and Sean Bell and Oscar Grant…and then there was Trayvon. And those are only the ones who come to the top of my head as I write this and the ones who have been named in the news. What of the others? What of the nameless, young brown lives lost every year in Detroit, Saint Louis, Oakland, Baltimore, and Chicago? What of the more than 50% of African American males aged 10-24 who will die of homicide in the US?
And what of those who live? What of that time Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested outside of his own home in Cambridge and when Academy Award-winning actor Forest Whitaker was falsely accused of shoplifting and frisked in a NYC deli? And those are only recent examples of the most famous and prestigious among us. I mean, President Obama even admitted to being the undeserving target of fear and suspicion.
What of my own father who was asked to get out of the car for an impromptu frisking after being stopped by the police, despite our entire family being in the car, being in our own neighborhood, and never being issued a ticket or citation for any wrongdoing. I was only 8. When he returned to the car, I learned a different kind of silence – the silence of shared understanding, fear, confusion, and sadness.
Those are the small slights, the micro-humiliations you suffer when what you want to be melts in front of what you are. They are what Maya Angelou has called the “unnecessary insult.” What Jelani Cobb referred to as “an extended paraphrase” of history, where the unwelcome past lives all too comfortably in our present. The words disappointment or disillusionment don’t nearly explain the feeling. How do you explain realizing you live in a world where you have to remember and you have to teach your children and children’s children to remember for fear of the consequence…Where the struggles of yesterday can instantly be made your struggle of today, if you are wearing the wrong hoodie on the wrong skin tone, in the neighborhood where that threatens your life?
Don’t wonder what the fuss was about. It was about Trayvon and it is about those who have gone before him – carrying the burden of our reminders.