Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The Talk


The photo here is of my son and two of his closest friends, boys he has called brothers since they were children. They have grown into good and responsible men, all three—but too many people can't see that when they look at them. All they see in a young Black man is a suspect, not a future doctor, lawyer or architect. Not a young man who wants to be a firefighter and who might one day save their lives.

I realize that many who are not parents of Black boys may not understand the sorrow and frustration I feel over the not guilty verdict for the man who took Trayvon Martin's life. Most days, I don't dwell too much on the fact that the Black males I love are forever unsafe in this world where I have chosen to raise my children, because that was as true before Trayvon's death as now. And until this morning I have held at arms length the memory of the afternoon during homecoming weekend in my son's sophomore year when a White cop walked through a crowd of students, all but two of them White, and stopped in front of my son. The cop poked my Black boy in the chest, and said, "What the fuck are you carrying?" My son mercifully remained calm. He said, "Nothing. Feel free to look." He had only his wallet and ID card on him, and a roll of toilet paper because the group was heading from one house to another for homecoming weekend parties and his friend at the house they were going to had asked him to bring a roll from his house as they had run out.

The cop took my son's wallet, cursing all the time, and told him to turn around. He handcuffed my son, and pushed him roughly into the squad car. My son said, "Excuse me, officer, but can you tell me why I am being detained?" to which the cop said, "Shut the fuck up." Fortunately, my son's friends erupted, screaming at the cop that that was the most racist thing they ever saw, taking down the cop's name and badge number, because as White students they could do that without fear of retaliation. Eventually the cop opened the cruiser door and told my son to get the fuck out of the car. He still held my son's wallet and ID in his hands. He studied the ID and said, "So you're a student?" My son nodded. The cop then undid the handcuffs he had locked around the wrists of my beloved child, threw the wallet and ID on the ground, and spat, "Get the fuck out of my face."

My son knew to wait till the cop had got back in the cruiser and driven off before picking up his belongings. His friends swarmed around him. "How are you not seething with rage right now?" they asked him. And my son said, "If I walked around as a Black man seething with rage, that's when trouble would really jump off." And he's right. I still shudder to think what would have happened if my son in a fit of adolescent bravado (he was 19 then) had resisted that cop. Trust me when I tell you that is what the cop was hoping for. And I still shudder to think what would have happened had the cop actually taken my son to the precinct house, away from his friends, away from White witnesses who could not believe what they had seen. I think those outraged kids saved my son from much worse that afternoon. And I think that cop also afforded them a rude education.

So yes, I am going about my day doing what is before me to do, which by the nature of the work I do includes engaging professionally with the fact of George Zimmerman's not guilty verdict. But on Morning Joe this morning Mika Brzezinski read from a column that the Washington Post's Eugene Robinson wrote today. It said in part:

"If anyone wonders why African Americans feel so passionately about this case, it’s because we know that our 17-year-old sons are boys, not men. It’s because we know their adolescent bravura is just that—an imitation of manhood, not the real thing.

"We know how frightened our sons would be, walking home alone on a rainy night and realizing they were being followed. We know how torn they would be between a child’s fear and a child’s immature idea of manly behavior. We know how they would struggle to decide the right course of action, flight or fight.

"And we know that a skinny boy armed only with candy, no matter how big and bad he tries to seem, does not pose a mortal threat to a healthy adult man who outweighs him by 50 pounds and has had martial arts training (even if the lessons were mostly a waste of money). We know that the boy may well have threatened the man’s pride but likely not his life. How many murders-by-sidewalk have you heard of recently? Or ever?

"The conversation we need to have is about how black men, even black boys, are denied the right to be young, to be vulnerable, to make mistakes. We need to talk about why, for example, black men are no more likely than white men to smoke marijuana but nearly four times as likely to be arrested for it—and condemned to a dead-end cycle of incarceration and unemployment.... 

Trayvon Martin was fighting more than George Zimmerman that night. He was up against prejudices as old as American history, and he never had a chance."

And now, as I write this, Eugene Robinson and Michael Steele, Liberal and Conservative, are standing on the same ground, describing with one voice the talk each of their parents had with them when they were just young boys, explaining to them what it meant to walk out their front doors as Black males in America, how they should behave if stopped by a cop, what they should understand about how people would react to them.

My husband and I had that talk with our son, too. Every parent of a Black boy has had or will have that talk, because not to do so is to endanger the life of their child. My son is a runner, a decathlete. I remember telling him when he was in high school to run on the track at his school and not in the park or on the street, because a Black man running is forever a suspect in the eyes of a cop.

So this morning, as I listened to words written by a Pulitzer Prize winning columnist for a major newspaper, and realized that for all his accomplishments he was just another endangered Black male, the tears came. It was a release.




22 comments:

  1. I would post some thing that makes sense- but I can not- can't see through my heartache and tears and there is no sense to be made.

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    1. It is indeed senseless, except that it has opened a lot of eyes. Not all, but one cannot give up hope. xo

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  2. Dear Angella, My heart is broken in pieces....
    what to do?
    love,
    yo

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    1. Yolie, dear one, so many hearts are broken over this, and that is actually a hopeful thing. Hugs.

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  3. also, just a thought, maybe a rationalization to sooth the hurt, the disaster of Florida's decision - the centuries of horror that led up to it- the nation's outrage , perhaps there will be more of what humans were inteded to be- compassionate, loving and understanding , colour blind, non sexist,accepting...."I have a Dream" - birth pains.So sad right now- retaliation- beheading of Zimmerman comes the cry- it is so much bigger than one idiot- so much! Clearly a sort of last straw, broken camels back, opportunity to nail this issue square on. We all bleed red, made of stars, we are capable of reason and empathy- Your children are my children- when your child is hurt - Mama Bear spirit overtakes us and we mothers will do what we are intended to do. As soon as the lump in my throat clears anger will motivate. The verdict opened the flood gates ! This country has some serious work to do, guns in the hands of idiots (and they all are) is a start.

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    1. Linda Sue, I so agree with you that this is bigger than one man. And vigilante retaliation against Zimmerman isn't the goal. It would just be piling hate upon hate. Justice is the goal. He should be held accountable for his actions in a court of law. Which means that changing the laws that allowed him to walk free, and changing the mindset that leads to unconscious and automatic profiling of Black boys, is what we need to work on as a nation. Thank you for being here, for caring.

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  4. Yes, I think this latest incident has opened up a lot of minds but I am not sure if the opening of minds is enough for real change. I don't know what is. I am sorry that it took Trayvon's life to open up minds. I am sorry your son went through that incident at 19 and still has to fear where he runs, etc. I cannot fathom how our society can justify murder and heinous treatment based on skin color. I thought America had come a long way but it seems not. I also know that my being sorry really does nothing. Sweet Jo

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    1. Sweet Jo, your being sorry does so much. It means you are conscious of the need for change and that is a very big something. I appreciate your being here. Hugs.

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  5. This story of your son is so sad and awful and so humbling, to witness his grace under fire, his dignity in a terrible situation. I will teach my children better. I still have hope. I'm so sorry that you both went through this, him as a boy, you as a mother.

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    1. Vesuvius, I was very proud of how he handled himself, and I hope and pray he never has to reach for that particular brand of grace ever again. You do the best work there is, teaching your children. Thank you, friend. xo

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  6. Oh God, Angella. I grew up on the South side of Chicago, so it's not like I don't know these stories. But each individual one scares me as if starting from zero.

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    1. A, it does feel like that, doesn't it? And yet we have moved beyond zero, and even if we have been put a few steps back by this verdict, I have to believe it will ultimately move us forward. Thank you for commenting here, and for being part of it all. xo

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  7. Last night I read for so long from that Tumblr site- the I Am Not Trayvon Martin site and it gave me such powerful hope because so many people do get it as far as they can.
    I remember once when a child I loved told me she was gay and I, worried for her because these things then were not nearly as accepted as they are now (and still not enough) said, "You don't have to be SO open, you know." And she looked at me and said, "If I were black, I couldn't hide it."
    There.
    May we evolve, may our children be safe. May no one ever need to give another talk to a child about how to stay safe if that worst thing happens.

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    1. Ms. Moon, may we ever evolve, all of us, yes. I think if we could talk openly, as we do here, and not be so afraid to ask about what we don't know, and to learn from the experience of others, it would help so much. It helps immeasurably, for example, to hear about Elizabeth's experience with Sophie. I have learned so much and still learn every day. And I also learn from you. Thank you for being my sister spirit, as different as we are on the outside, surely we are evidence that we are kindred under the skin. Love to you, dear one.

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  8. I was in my physical therapists office where they have television and Eric Holder was saying he was "concerned." An older white man said that people should just let this go because the trial was over...I lost my normal reserve, telling him that this was a long way from done because there were so many implications involved and that I thought Zimmerman had over reacted and was probably guilty of profiling and murder and that there had been no justice for the murdered boy or his family.

    Then I added that I was ashamed of this state and its laws and this country the type of thinking that leads jurors to acquit in this case. He started to say something and closed his mouth...I thought I might feel better after airing these things but I don't...

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    1. Dear e, maybe that man will go home and think about what you said, and maybe he might reconsider his assumptions. Or maybe he wont. We wont ever know, but you were courageous in speaking up as you did, even if you don't feel much better. What happened still happened. Nothing to feel good about there, but we have to find a way to move on, all of us. I appreciate you so much, and wish you peace. xo

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  9. hi angella, i have been ruminating over your post since i read it yesterday. as so many of your friends have said, despite our awareness of this, to hear your story, our angella, our angella's son, brings it home in a way that nothing else has done.
    i hate to say this, but i am so pessimistic about this country. everything seems to be on a horrible spiral to the bottom. violence is more macho than ever; women are depicted and degraded as sexual objects even more than they were back in the 1960s and 70s when the women's movement was formed; we can't have universal health care because some people apparently don't 'deserve' it (?); and racism is clearly deeply entrenched in this frightening culture. the only positive thing recently has been support for gay marriage, but the battle for that was marked by the most bizarre ideology deeming heterosexual marriage as some kind of untarnished banner.
    for me, it comes back to where i started, politically, with feminism, and our mantra that all politics is personal. we fix it one by one, by kindness and compassion toward each other. every 'each other' we encounter.
    peace and love to you and your amazing family, angella.

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    1. Dear Susan, the thing is, practically every Black boy I know has a story. It is so common, but we dare not give in to the almost banality of it, because if we do, there will be more Trayvons. I appreciate your writing here as you have. I think you're on to something important. we seem to have devolved into a culture of meanness, lacking empathy and therefore compassion for one another and our different walks. How do we build that? How do we live and let live, and maybe even learn to love who we don't immediately "get." I do know it begins by putting down the stereotypes we hold, often unconsciously. We all have them in different ways. I know I hold some and I'm trying to become conscious of them. If we can make them conscious and choose a different thought about those we have stereotyped, I am sure it will help. But perhaps I erred. It doesn't begin with recognizing and rooting out stereotypes. It begins with the willingness to do so. That's where we're sorely lacking. Still in some corners, in this corner, there is light and hope. You are part of that, and thank you. Hugs.

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  10. This is the best piece of writing I have read on the distressing series of events so far. I think about the words of Anne Frank writing that she believed people are basically good and I really wonder if that is true. Maybe people are basically cruel and angry, making those of us who strive for beauty and justice the outsiders. My older brother, who is white but looks like a redneck, has had horrible abuse (beatings, arrests) heaped on him by nasty police officers in Florida. I have moved on from that anger but worry about him. So, I have an inkling, albeit small, of the bullshit and helplessness that comes from these horrible encounters. I am happy your son was able to restrain himself from the injustice he experienced that day. That is so difficult. And I am so sorry for the pain and worry you and your family have to deal with because of small-minded, hateful people. I wish I could wrap you in a warm blanket of protection and love but the world is so messed up. I can send you my love though, for what it's worth.

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  11. Angella, my friend, I have no words to express my horror. I can't imagine your son remaining so calm and so intelligent, he's an inspiration.

    So are you. People like your son, and like you, are making our society better. And unfortunately there is still a hell of a lot of room for things to get better.

    I love you so much.

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