The Value of a Black Male Life in America

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Last night, I ate dinner with my son and a friend, who went to undergrad with one of Trayvon’s cousin. “His parents reported him missing,” she shared, “because his body was in the morgue, labeled as John Doe, for three days.” Despicable, I thought to myself. “All he had on him was skittles and a bottle of iced tea” she recounted the facts. Her eyes were impassioned; she was worried; she was disgusted. My anger grew as she voiced her thoughts about the situation. The whole time my eyes were transfixed on my son, as he played with his toys while we waited for dinner. Unnecessary questions about his safety as a black male raced through my head. Regardless of race, no parent wants to bury their child. For a moment I tried to empathize but the thought of my son senselessly dying prevented me from even fathoming the Martins’ hurt. Instantaneously, my heart felt heavy as the incomplete thought of the pain the family was currently experiencing overwhelmed my body.

I could not sleep last night. My mind, my thoughts, my prayers were preoccupied with Trayvon Martin, the young black male killed in Florida last month by a self-appointed neighborhood watchman, George Zimmerman. The case within the last week or so has captured the nation’s media attention. Various celebrities have tweeted their disdain and outrage with the way the case has been handled. Trayvon’s murder has dominated tv shows from morning shows to evening news casts. Change.org, a website that promotes social change via online petitions, has over 1.65 million supporters for the Trayvon Martin case, calling for the arrest and prosecution of Zimmerman. And I was able to avoid most of the conversation until yesterday. I avoided most of the Trayvon Martin case partly because I have been away from televisions and internet access as I travel, so my knowledge of it was limited, but mainly because I knew that I would be incensed with anger. I only learned a few facts here and there mostly via twitter and I did not feel suited to discuss something this meaningful without doing my homework. So in the middle of the night, I rummaged through news sites, blogs, petitions, timelines, and any other form of online conversation about Trayvon. My anger grew. I, like many other Americans, are frustrated with America’s senseless killing of Black males. Our country’s history is littered with racially motivated crimes against black males.

Remember Emmett Till.
Remember Amadou Diallo
Remember Sean Bell
Remember James Bryd Jr.
Remember the countless other Black males murdered because they were black and often considered and perceived to be dangerous.

Even in Sanford, Florida, where Trayvon was unnecessarily slaughtered, there was a black teen murdered back in 2005, Traveras McGill, whose killers’ trial was thrown out because of the ‘self-defense’ argument, which is the same one that Zimmerman has issued and because of it has not been charged.

Unfortunately, the fear of the black male body is ingrained in our culture. It is so prevalent that people who come from other countries instantly know that they do not want to be associated in any way, shape or form with blackness. Even with sports dominated by black males, especially the National Basketball Association (NBA), while many marvel at the black bodies as they glide through the air, there is a strong sentiment that the league is overrun by thugs. Below is a picture of the Miami Heat basketball team showing solidarity and concern for Trayvon, wearing hoodies before their game last night.

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Black = Dangerous

This learned thought process was undoubtedly the track being played through George Zimmerman’s head as he went against the advice of 911 operator he called when he spotted young Trayvon walking home. It was that idea that prompted him to get out of his car and engage in a confrontation with young Trayvon.

Black = Dangerous

Senseless murders and crimes will continue until the our nation’s understanding of blackness changes. The value of Black life has to increase. Blacks have to be viewed as more.

“If I had a son, he’d looked like Trayvon.”-President Obama

President Obama’s statement touched me deeply. He spoke with his earned authority of President, but his fatherhood resonated most with me. My son is one of the academic leaders in his kindergarten class, a generous and a thoughtful boy, filled with innumerable possibilities of what he can one day achieve. Unfortunately when he walks down the street, very few see his potential before they see his black complexion. And I am proud that people see his blackness because it is part of his identity. He will grow up to be a Black man in America and that will be a specific battle that he will have to fight. ALL of my black male friends, ranging from doctors to lawyers to construction workers, have had an experience in which their blackness was misunderstood to be a threat. I am conscious of my blackness on a daily basis, being careful of how I speak to what I wear because of America’s stained racial past. While my white colleagues wear jeans and sneakers routinely, I never don the same attire because it means something different when my students see a young black male dressed like that. My authority suddenly diminishes. So instead, I wear slacks, button shirts, and blazers daily to alleviate disengage counteract my perceived threat that all my students, families, and colleagues have learned about the danger of black males. My son, unfortunately, will have to deal with that as well. He already does because he is one of two black boys in his predominantly white class.

All of this post-racial talk, “I don’t even see race” propaganda that America has forced down our collective throats, increased after the election of Obama four years ago, has come to a screeching halt, as it should. Dr. West had it right years ago, Race Matters. And anyone who thinks that this Trayvon case does not include race needs to reevaluate race in America.

“But I bet you money, if he didn’t have that hoodie on, that nutty neighborhood watch guy wouldn’t have responded in that violent and aggressive way.” –Geraldo Rivera

And then this comment by Geraldo Rivera broke my proverbial back.

Wait, what?

He implicitly explicitly placed the blame of Trayvon’s death on a hoodie, a piece of clothing. He blamed the victim for his victimization. It is the standard response when people want to find a scapegoat, someone or something that can carry the burden/blame and then be easily executed. Mr. Rivera this case can not be easily boiled down to a hoodie. The value of Black men will not increase if they stop wearing hoodies. Wearing a suit, I have struggled to get a cab in New York City. Those cab drivers did not want to stop for me because of my color, not because of my attire. Similarly, Zimmerman attacked and killed Trayvon because of his color and the perceived threat his color posed

At some point, America has to give basic human rights to all. It is written in our founding documents, and we continually fall short of it. It is my hope that Trayvon does not escape our collective consciousness in the same way that Till, Diallo, Bell, Bryd Jr., and others have. Unfortunately, he has joined the long list of black males that highlights America’s negative connotation of blackness. America is responsible for the death of Trayvon. We, as a country, have to look critically at ourselves and answer and confront our historical battle with race. This is not a time for Whites to feel guilty; we don’t have time for that. That guilt is personal and we have a larger agenda. This is not a time for Blacks to blame the proverbial man; we don’t have time for that. We cannot look towards others for answers, but need to be accountable for our actions as well. We all have been a part of the issue, thus we all have to reexamine our actions and thoughts.

Our children deserve better. My son deserves better.

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One thought on “The Value of a Black Male Life in America

  1. Pingback: Trayvon Martin, Paying for Justice « polentical

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