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Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!
For four hundreds years, across the deep straits of wading waters, through the interrupted tides of justice, far from the humble shores of equity, in the base pits of subjugation, we have endured. In our endurance, we have stood still—and even today we stand as we stood then—brokering an ancient hope against our losses, managing pride through the audacious enterprise of an unwavering faith that firmly abides against the shades of mourning. In mourning, as much for Justice as for Trayvon, our frozen tears cling fast to the inextinguishable fountains of fire that cry out from beneath our mother’s bellies and burn fervent in the desperate hearts of men, the common colors of compassion, ornate and unsullied, where we find ourselves petitioning but to little avail to the quiet, churning, idle ears of Isis.
It is not mercy but memory that calls us to this moment, as The Trayvon Martin Verdict is as palpable days later as it was on the day the jury declared it, as tangible now as it was then, burying a discontent already bottled in broken dreams. If it has not yet made its full impact upon the social establishment, then the nature of The Verdict itself is the reason that a beleaguered, discouraged, but nonetheless proud people have gathered across a globe to mourn and remember, yet again, the crimson fall of a young Black son—an American son, an African son, an African American son, Sybrina Fulton’s son, a sun set too soon. For the break between the revolutionary masses and the complacent mainstream is, perhaps of necessity, clearer now and more decisive than the noisier and more dramatic break between the militants of the past and traditional political and institutional structures that our neglected dealings now support. In death, Trayvon should teach us all to live.
Trayvon was no symbol, however. He was a boy who held symbols in his hands, who brandished hoop dreams big enough to eclipse the American psychotic nightmare that resigns boys like himself to prisons or graves. He was a boy, traveling as many boys do along unfurled paths of (im)possibility, the road to which—if it ever existed at all for young Black men—cannot, by definition, lead from main street to the valleys of promise. Which is to say that few commentators have or even will look upon Trayvon’s dreams with sympathy, even if a number of them might be daring enough to concede that Black boys do dream.
By evoking race—as in acknowledging that Trayvon is a Black boy and that Black boys brandish dreams—I might be reviled as a “racist.” Here the term racist is taken to refer to anyone who acknowledges the proto-existence of race and its monumental social consequences, and performing unto themselves a heinous but racist act of hypocrisy, such dissenters will fling opprobrious terms, such as racist, lightly at Black people now, particularly in the aftermath of this unfortunate verdict. Yet in so doing, they must also now—in the resident silhouette of Trayvon’s hoodie-framed face and fallen shadow—finally own up to all the long layers of rejection and abuse that Black people have experienced and endured at the hands of injustice—with few voices raised in objection.
Is this too harsh and sweeping a generalization? Some people might think so; many other people will not; which is a way of stating the problem and the prospect before us: We are divided, not as a nation occupying the same space but as people capable of empathy and love for another. In the pit of this chasm our approbations are revealed. Here, Black men are assumed to be “violent,” as if violence is the sole invention of Black masculinity. But violence heralded against Black men in the U.S. and throughout the globe is in-built in the established social order, particularly in American society. There is no need for the ruling race to take to the streets to clobber our boys, although there certainly is enough of that, or struggle for him; brutalization is inherent in all the customs and practices which bestow privileges on some and strips them from all others, relegating Black males in particular to the status of social outcast—criminals and deviants.
These are old and well-worn truths, which hardly need repeating. What is new is the reaction to them. Rapidly now, a nation that clings preposterously to the fiction of post-racialism is turning onto that uncertain road, and we are doing so with the approval of all kinds of groping injury. In our desire to appease the wound, we have become too fast to forget that there are many Trayvon Martins who daily languish in our secret social shadows; they are continually reminding us that the foundations of our American Dream, weakened by legalized social injustice and undermined by socialized legal injustice, are broken, unnecessarily lost in burdens of self-hatred (via identification with the oppressor). To awaken from this bemused and diluted trance, we will have to develop a keen faculty for togetherness, identifying, fractionating out, and rejecting the absurdities of the conscious as well as the unconscious racism inflicted upon all of us—regardless of race, united to one bag like Skittles—while making our progress our bait in the truest moral examples of the spiritual goods that have so kept us enraptured.
This was Trayvon’s unknowing message to us all. Though it seems ironic now, he held in his hands the symbolism of our discontent and the candy-coated emblem of its resolution. I do not find it ironic that in one hand Trayvon clung to an Arizona Ice Tea, for Arizona has come to represent the face of national injustice to which Florida now chooses to mimic. There is also insight in the emblem of ice tea, as in the American rapper Ice-T, whose infamous protest song “Cop Killer” is itself witness to the violence of injustice to which Trayvon would fall prey.
If one hand indicts us, then the other might redeem us. In his other hand, Trayvon held onto a bag of Skittles, a candy known for its many colors, suggesting that our variety is not a verdict but a treat. To this latter message, I find it apropos that Trayvon was carrying candy to our future, to a young relative—a child of tomorrow—who on that listless night would not taste the blend of many flavors. His, like ours, would be craving deferred.
Still, despite the stark symbolism, many will ask, was The Trayvon Martin Verdict about race? Of course it was about race, if little else, but it was about race and more than race, all the same. It was about the long-awaited ending to that enduring procession of justice for which many have marched and died; it was about a dying dream whose pulse, withering like leaves of winter, finds itself frozen and asleep in the terrestrial slumber, which tempts our patience in purgatory to further wait. As we have seen and heard in recent weeks, conscious and unconscious racism is everywhere, and in spite of our fatigued and waiting souls, we find it infecting all the vital areas of national life. But the revolutionary intransigence of new generations carved from this waiting, like a new rainbow of hope stretched across the sky, have bred of a young, interracial coalition of witnesses, who are themselves declaring that racism will no longer exercise its insidious control over us.
I take as example a white female Twitter friend, who courageously spoke against the ignorant racist rants of a man responding to one of my recent tweets on the Trayvon Martin trial. There is also the young Chaldean female Twitter friend, who was as demoralized by The Trayvon Martin Verdict as I. If the tag of “racist” is one that the racist will chain to us in dismissing our cries for justice, then we are more than willing to bear that. He will not separate the cause that we seek, the unfortunate reality for which Trayvon gave his life; he will not delight himself in our sacrifice of tears, for these young non-Black Twitter friends know as millions of unheard Black people in this country have long known—that on the other side of that great conversation that this nation must hold, on the other side of our struggles together with race—should we ever authentically choose to struggle with it together—there is healing.
In spite of the injuries that injustice has inflicted upon our souls, I am hopeful still because across this country, many young people—regardless of social identification—have been infected with a fever of discontent. We are no longer satisfied with an unjust status quo. We are finally saying, “Enough!” Social media is reacting with a liberating shock of realization, which transcends mere objectivism, cronyism, complacence, and even race. We are rediscovering the strength to bind a new heritage, the courage to write a new history, the will to love. And with newly focused eyes, we have become struck with the wonder that this strength which has enabled us to endure and, in spirit, to defeat the power of prolonged and calculated oppression after centuries of being told, in a million different dialects, that some are more beautiful than others, that lighter skin is more valuable than darker, we have, in the recesses of our deep developing psyches, revolted.
The trend has not yet reached the point of avalanche, but the future can be clearly seen in the growing number of young people—like Trayvon, friends of Trayvon, children of Trayvon—who are snapping off the shackles of intimidation and are wearing their Skittles across their skins, perfuming their hair in the fragrances of justice, and inclining their features with the ruddy brush of struggle.
So if we, too, must die—
. . . let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain . . .
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1. The title and poetry in this piece is take from the poem “If We Must Die” by Harlem Renaissance poet Claude McKay. The poem can be read at the following link.