Who prays for our sons?
When their bodies are bloodied, broken and frozen in the footnotes of this, our complicated history, who falls to their knees, head bowed, hands outstretched through storm and cloud and toward the warmth of the sun, and prays for the boys, the fathers, the uncles and nephews and friends? Our brothers?
Whose tongue will confess when another Tracy Martin and Sybina Fulton and another Ron Davis and Lucia McBath and another Dominika Stanley and Charles Jones and another Carol Gray and another Wanda Johnson and another Saikou and Kadiatou Diallo and another William and Valerie Bell and another Moses J. Stewart and Diane Hawkins and another Mamie Till have their hearts torn from their bodies with the news that Trayvon and Jordan and Aiyana and Kimani and Oscar and Amadou and Shawn and Yusef and Emmett won’t ever again make them laugh or hold their hands—won’t ever bow their heads in church pews or rip open Christmas presents or inhale deep and blow out the birthday candles or say, simply, “I love you, Mommy,” and “I love you, Daddy”? Who wipes their tears—our tears—when they and we know, too, that their babies—our babies—will never, ever come home?
This wicked system of things—it simply is not natural. The murders. The outcry. The half-assed investigations that seek placation, rather than justice. The, “No really, we give a fuck, but not really” stories flooding the 11 o’clock news that go ignored by the “real” Americans while they eat their microwave popcorn and keep up with the Kardashians and the Real Housewives of Wherever, unmoved save for their keyboard gangsta conservative (and always anonymous) racist rants in the HuffPo comments section.
You know what else is not natural? The getting away with it.
The. Getting. Away. With. It.
Of course, there is no surprise in that part of it—the part where Zimmerman and the many like him who came before him walks free. Extreme sadness, yes. Anger, too. And disgust. Definitely disgust. But surprise? No. This is the American way. For us, there is no justice.
Still, it is becoming increasingly hard as an African-American mother to explain and to instruct—to dream a world in which my babies can do/say/be as they please in the land of the free, where, clearly, they are not… free. When black children’s bodies are stereotyped and policed and dissected and disregarded and taken without recourse, when something as simple as buying Skittles and wearing a hoodie in the rain can get you murked, when American law licenses white men to stalk, attack, shoot and kill someone’s baby and brag and giggle about it in front of an international audience, it’s kind of hard to assure my kids that it’s all going to be all right. Especially when I’m not convinced of this. How do we make our kids feel safe when we don’t feel safe?
And so we are left with our fears. Fears that leaped out in Technicolor when the jury in the George Zimmerman murder trial pronounced him not guilty in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Our children are in the crosshairs. And Zimmerman’s attorneys just laid out for the world to see a blueprint for how to buck down black boys and men and get away with it. The heart is heavy. And it throbs and aches.
This is normal. And it is okay. I co-sign a Facebook status my writer friend, the brilliant and prolific dream hampton, sent up my timeline this past weekend: “Be in your pain. You are human and this verdict is deeply inhumane.”
Say that shit with your chest. From your gut. Because it is true and right and tamps down the hurt—just a little bit.
But even as we work through the pain, we must respond to it. James Baldwin once wrote in a 1970 letter to Angela Davis, then a political prisoner, that it was the duty of Blacks to fight for her life as if it were our own, “for if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.” I channel this thought as I talk to my own girls and my stepson about Trayvon and Zimmerman and the justice system and just us. I channel, too, Martin and especially Malcolm: “We declare our right on this earth…to be a human being, to be respected as a human being, to be given the rights of a human being in this society, on this Earth, in this day, which we intend to bring into existence by any means necessary.”
I kick off my response by exercising the most human of responses—the most human of actions: I hug my babies and rub their backs and kiss their cheeks and let them know, for sure, that they are loved with abandon. That they are valued. And valuable. More precious than anything I claim. Even my breath. The very beat, even, of my heart.
And then we talk. And talk some more. About Trayvon. About Zimmerman. About the law. And the history of the American justice system and our place in that. And Emmett. And the Four Little Girls. And all the white men who walked free and clear as Black mothers and fathers cried out over the caskets of their babies.
They must learn.
As we pray and confess, our children… must… learn.
And then, together, we fight.
With the might of the angels, with our babies on our backs, we fight.
* * *
Here are four of the first things I’m doing to lift my voice on behalf of Trayvon Martin:
I’ll be making a donation to the Trayvon Martin Foundation, the organization founded by Tracy Martin and Sybrina Fulton to provide support and advocacy for victims of violent crime and to increase public awareness of all forms of racial, ethnic and gender profiling.
I will be boycotting Florida. No vacationing, no speaking, no attending conferences, no spending my black dollars in a state that says regularly that black lives/votes/concerns are not welcome there. I’ll return when the Stand Your Ground laws there are overturned. In the meantime, I won’t so much as drink Florida orange juice.
I’ll be writing regularly here on MyBrownBaby about efforts to repeal state Stand Your Ground laws that are used to justify mindless killing, particularly against people of color. Want to help in that effort? Reach out to the Coalition To Stop Gun Violence, which is working tirelessly to overturn Stand Your Ground laws and get Congress to implement common sense gun reform.
I’ve signed this “We Still Fight For Trayvon” ColorOfChange petition to get the federal Department of Justice to bring civil rights charges against George Zimmerman. You should, too.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.
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This post was simply beautiful. I wish more knew of the profound wisdom that our dear brother James Baldwin had. Thank-you for reminding me that there are many others out there committed to the struggle for justice. Blessings from Dathistoryguy!
Beautiful, thank you for putting word and direction to emotions many of us struggling with right now.
Thank you, Denene.
right on. A gentleman accused me of not looking at the case objectively. Objectivity is a luxury people of color cannot afford. That is for people who have never been followed in a retail store, pulled over while driving a car that is a bit too nice, or walking through a suburban neighborhood.
My feelings are so strong, many thoughts are going through my mind. I’m simply going to say, Thank You, Denene!
Hi Denene! This…was powerful..life- affirming and so…necessary. Yesterday was hard- and today was just weird. Searched my twitter feed to see if anybody, anyone was processing this the way I was and I found your post. Thank you. I signed the petition and am committed to pushing my passions in this direction. My children,your children…our children are so worth it. Blessings.
This sums up everything that I’m feeling. Thank you for writing and sharing this.
Thank you Denene. God bless you for your gift of words.