I can’t seem to find the words to make people understand – really understand – that the accepted fear of a man, not in particular clothing but in particular skin, is how we got to a bullet in the chest.

Listening to NPR today, a panel began a meandering discussion which at one point had a young black man stating that he understood that he might scare people. He continued to explain that he didn’t think it meant it was ok, but everything in his explanation made me cringe for him. Made me think of all the ways he could try not to be what he wanted to believe the fear was based on. He could dress in a suit and not a hoodie. He could sing country music lyrics and not Lil Wayne. He could be meek and mumbling to a stranger who felt justified in following him for no reason and not assert his right to not be harassed.

And he would still be black.

And if he were in the wrong place at just the wrong moment, in a state with seeming “get out of murder law” on the books, he would be dead. Dead like 17-year-old Trayvon.

The thing is, his clothes aren’t really the problem. One of the strongest memories I have of my father is almost 20 years old. Lost in the jumble of his face at my volleyball games and teaching me about nature on walks through creeks, an elevator ride sticks out. We were in his office building, where he was the manager of the child support division, and he was dressed in a three-piece-suit. It was a bright day and I was chatting away. A white woman appeared at the elevator door, child in tow and my father, smiling, held the door for her.

She clutched her daughter to her chest and refused to get on the elevator with us in broad daylight, in a state office building, with my father clad in his three-piece-suit and me, his teenaged daughter, by his side. It is still a fresh wound for me all of these years later – seeing my dad through the eyes of a stranger.

It wasn’t his hoodie that inspired her fear, he wasn’t wearing one.

I wish I could get people to understand that although Trayvon was a good kid with no record, that isn’t the point. Would it be ok for Zimmerman to have shot an unarmed teen in the chest if he had been carrying a bag of skittles and an ice tea as long as he had a record? The problem isn’t that he shot a good kid- the problem is that he shot a kid at all. That he shot unprovoked. The he shot against the instructions of the police. That he shot a “they” that was really only a him…a man-child who will never get to be a man.

The problem is that he shot a young black man and it appears to be of no legal consequence.

This tragedy is finally receiving some attention. The questionable response of the Sanford police department has been brought to the attention of the state of Florida and the FBI. Finally, this heartbreak has reached the attention of the masses.

Enter the debates.

Amid all of the talking and outrage, I want to make sure we are tackling the issue. Trayvon is a victim of the issue – not the issue itself.

The conflation of blackness and danger is at least part of that issue and so pervasive “that driving while black”, and now “walking while black”, are valid concerns for people of color. By simply occupying black skin a person must navigate a world hostile to danger (real or perceived) and therefore hostile to them.

This notion can’t be fixed with blogs or pleas to see the humanity of six and a half million black men. It doesn’t mean we should stop talking, but more than words have to change. Systems have to change if there is hope of changing minds.

A friend’s FB thread began an argument that the fed’s should jump into local jurisdiction and “fix” this case. My desire to work through the system was met with derision.

No one cares so why wait for justice?

I’m not naïve. I don’t want to wait idly by for justice, I want a unified us to point out the cracks in an ailing system as it is dealing with this tragedy. I want us to be vocal and mindful and vocal some more so that errors and shortcomings can be corrected. Because sometimes we have a short attention span, and sometimes there isn’t an electronic trail that tells the story so compellingly…and in the absence of sweet kid with a spotless record we might not be as motivated to unite and cry and demand justice.

But if we watch the system now… Watch it while we are collectively outraged. Watch it while it creaks and moans and shows us its broken parts (like an apathetic police force and an alibi-law), justice might happen be served, now and in the uncertain future.

And while nothing can make the death of Trayvon ok, a legacy of justice in the lack of the injustice done to him, might be the closest thing.

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1 Comment on Walking While Black

  1. LaDawn says:


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