If We Must Die: An Open Eulogy for Trayvon (and for Justice)


* * *

Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

—Claude McKay*

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 . . .

* * *

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.


7 thoughts on “If We Must Die: An Open Eulogy for Trayvon (and for Justice)

  1. Omg. This is a powerful piece. You are with no doubt, a great poet and orator. As I read this piece, I felt like you are our next Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, you will no doubt leave a mark and legacy for millions/billions to learn from. This piece reminds us all that we are pressed from every side but not defeated. We will rise and face adversity, oppression, hatred, ignorance murder, etc and we will rise and we will never stop rising no matter how hard we are pressed. This piece teaches us that while there are those and institutions that seek to rob us of our lives, our pride, our identity, our integrity, that we do not stand alone. This piece tells us to taste the rainbow and crush oppressive barriers by uniting with all who will stand no matter their race, culture, creed, gender etc. This piece is brilliant and unites, educates, and honors every black male who has had his life stolen in broad daylight, in the open, in the very eyes of others and, it teaches us to no longer look the other way as if it is not our problem. Each of these individuals are us and we them. They are our family. I love your words and your courage to express them and fill our hearts with truth, love, understanding and most importantly, hope.

    Beautiful David.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I cried when I read this… I cried for Trayvon…I cried for that little boy I once was…I cried for the struggles that my black son will inevitably have to endure…I cried because I am reminded that justice is fleeting for African-American men in this country. This piece reminds me of the resiliency of a people as it simultaneuously saddens me. I am saddened because I am reminded of the failures of this country. Warriors are produced every night in the ghettos…suburbs…in the plush tropical landscapes (even when after you produce a birth certificate, people may not still believe you are an American). This is what Trayvon’s death continues to signify for me. We have to continuously prove our American-ness, our humanity, and to justify our right to exist. As Questlove so aptly articulates, we are wounded but we have to find ways to make others feel comfortable…on elevators…in parking structures…on quiet streets when facing armed vigilantes.
    I am also energized by this piece. It is enveloped by my favorite poem, “If We Must Die” by Claude McCay. Right now, we are noble, “while ’round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, making mock of our accursed lot.” I cannot be more prouder of being an African-American. I am reminded by this piece to love…to love my people…to love my black sons and daughters…to love myself. Thank you!


  3. This piece came at a crucial time- a week away from the verdict and still so far from the justice that we all want to see. You spoke to the dreams of a child being taken away, and of the child he was going to meet, also crushed. And while you write about the powerful symbolism, we know, as you said, he was not a symbol or something static. Trayvon was a human being with a life and a family and I think that it’s important that you said that. Because if we look at it any other way other than a life stolen, society is going to be desensitized to it as other news pieces are designed to do. “It was about race and about more than race” is probably the best thing I’ve read in regards to this. The arguments I’ve heard are stopping at their opinion about whether race is the underlying factor instead of exploring what it means in a grander scope. I also like that you mentioned conscious vs unconscious racism, which has been a topic of many of my conversations because a lot of people are stuck in the idea that it has to be conscious, which we know isn’t true. I think this piece explores hope and truth and I know that your words are being heard across the country and helping people heal through movement. Thank you for this!


  4. Wow David I can truly say this piece has my spirit in an uproar, because all of the details that you pointed out about how black men are perceived in America. I can say that there have been instances where I felt my race, color and gender have been played out daily on this stage of bigotry, racism with an over indulgence of hypocrisy woven in the very fabric of its judicial system. Our young brother Trevon was one of many black males that found themselves on this stage not realizing that he would be sought after to play a role that he would ultimately die for. I feel the verdict for Trevon was decided long before this young man took his last walk to the store the night of February 26, 2012 in Sanford, Florida. I feel that most would agree that Mr. Martin’s life was cut down way too short and that given his age his life had barely began. Although his physical state of existence may have ended, his legacy has just begun. No longer will his race, color and gender be his only identification/permit to walk down a public street in the country of his birth. Now all of the streets of America are stained by the blood of Trevon Martin and the only recourse in removing this stain is to seek justice in dismantling these unjust practices that have been written into law. We, the people of this country meaning all races, color and genders must stand for what’s morally right! Don’t let the ideology of selective part of this country’s population dictate our youth’s self-worth anymore.

    Great work David…keep it coming!


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