One winter day, when I was around 15-16 years old, my friends and I were walking home from a routine store run. We walked alongside Jamaica Avenue in broad daylight. The street was bustling with the usual weekend commotion of shopkeepers selling items, men howling at women for some love and affection, and children like us just going about their day. My friend Mike was walking with a big overcoat on while we were wearing hoodies and sweaters (the norm for a NYC winter). Mike was (and still is) huge into music, and he always carried a walkman wherever we went. He took out his walkman to put it in another pocket as we were discussing whatever frivolous topics teenage boys discuss. Suddenly, without warning or provocation, a cop car hurriedly sped up on us from the opposite side of the street. Two cops hopped out of the squad car, and immediately screamed for Mike to put his hands on the wall and “assume the position.”
They frisked Mike, and of course found nothing. They pulled him off the wall and immediately apologized, explaining that they thought Mike’s motion of switching the walkman from the left to right pocket was his way of hiding a gun. This baffled me, as he took the walkman OUT his pocket for the world to see before transferring it to his inner pocket. Did I mention that Mike is a bi-racial kid who looks more black than anything? We nodded disgustingly at the officers and went on our way. Later that day, I explained to my mother what occurred and she had three simple words for me: “Welcome to America.”
“Welcome to America.” A phrase that sounds inviting to all visitors from foreign lands, is actually an ironic anecdote to African Americans. It’s a sarcastic reminder that we unwillingly emigrated to this land, were enslaved and persecuted, were “bestowed” our freedom, and subsequently had to fight for the same inalienable rights as this country’s forefathers demanded in that famous document in 1776. Today, with racial undertones permeating through all facets of American society, the acquittal of George Zimmerman reminds us that for everything good about the U.S. of A, it’s still hard to just be a Black Man without fear of prejudice or subhuman standards.
I heard the verdict at around 10:05PM, and while I want to tell you that I was shocked, I wasn’t. I’m sure many black people felt the same way. We wanted to have hope that a jury that didn’t consist of people “like us” would see reason and do the right thing. Alas, this would be another case of blind justice peeking through her veil to see the color of the participants before executing judgment.
Of course, all the social media contrarians came out to tell us how WE as blacks control the perception and to ask the question “what are WE doing to change things in this country.”I hate when blame and responsibility is shifted back on blacks when clear bias occurs in our faces daily. I thought to myself, “What could I do to educate brothers like me to avoid these situations?”
That’s when the tears filled my eyes and anger filled my heart. That’s when I realized that I would’ve instructed Trayvon to do exactly what he did. If you’re walking through a gated community at night, which is supposed to be safe, and an unmarked car rolls up on you, and a strange dude hops out to question you, there’s only 2 choices: “fight or flight.” This is common sense to any black kid who grows up in the hood or even in a great community. Trayvon chose to run, and got chased down by a man who wanted to be the gated community’s version of the Punisher and exude the ultimate form of vigilante-ism by “solving a perceived crime problem.” The anger continued to fill my heart, because I knew that no matter what the guidance and mentorship I could’ve gave Trayvon, in that situation he still would’ve ended up dead.
We shine because they hate us, floss cause they degrade us
We trying to buy back our 40 acres
And for that paper, look how low we a stoop
Even if you in a Benz, you still a nigga in a coupe - Kanye West
People want to put the onus on blacks to change the perception, but what the majority doesn’t realize is that we have conformed our entire LIVES. We’ve conformed as African Americans even before conception, as our surnames are a constant reminder of an era where we were blatantly referred to as “3/5ths of a man,” our families decimated, our people enslaved for 400+ years. We try to be mindful of what we are named as to not seem “too black” and have perception as our immediate enemy. My name is as common and as “White America” as you can get, and I’m sure that conformity was a factor. As kids, we are taught to be reverent to law enforcement, and always be on our P’s and Q’s; not only for respect of authority, but to ensure that we don’t give law enforcement a reason to act on their prejudice.
Working in Corporate America as a person of color is the apex of conformity training. We have to speak a certain way so that our colleagues don’t perceive us as “those black people” they see on TV. We have to dress above standard, even when we dress down. To be considered for advancement, we have to perform at a higher level than everyone just to be on the same playing field as white employees with similar qualifications, and even then we can still be overlooked. We avoid talking about certain issues, or keep shit generic with our white colleagues because they “wouldn’t understand” due to their privilege.
I remember having a discussion with my white and Indian colleagues regarding Indian marriages. The two Indian woman told us about how when they prepare for marriage, they try their best not to tan and remain light as possible. My white colleague was confused, but didn’t really see anything wrong with it, so I asked them for clarification (although I could assume why). So my Indian coworker starts explaining: “Well you know in our culture all the women who do Bollywood and are considered ‘beautiful’ are lighter, and they associate…” She suddenly turns to me and goes “Well, YOU know,” and gives me that minority telepathic look that we all give each other when we know to read between the lines. We laughed it off because I immediately understood, while my white colleagues were oblivious to the sentiment that “white is right” is a deep institutionalized issue not just in the US, but in most places.
Sometimes, I wish as a Black Man in America, I had the luxury of being naive to race issues. I wish I could be as appalled and shocked as my white coworker, who isn’t from NYC, voicing his apprehension over the city’s “Stop and Frisk” law, because he didn’t want to be randomly targeted since he wasn’t a criminal. He voiced this concern to myself and another black coworker. We informed him that he had nothing to worry about, and when he asked why, we coyly replied “Because they only stop black people,” and laughed it off once again. I’ve had to laugh off all the random police stops for driving while black, the looks of concern I get in restaurants I walk into where I’m the only person of color, or any other situation where race was held against me. All black people seem desensitized at these outrages because from the repetition and normalcy of these occurrences, being disenfranchised is encoded in our DNA.
I’m a cop a nice home to provide in
A safe environment for seeds to reside in
A fresh whip for my whole family to ride in
And if I’m still Mr. Nigga, I won’t find it suprisin – Mos Def
People will refer to the laws as the source of contention rather than racial profiling or inequality. They will scoff at anyone who brings up the Mike Vick case, where dogs lives held more value than a 17 year old boy, or Plaxico Burress who shot HIMSELF and did two years in prison. If you don’t like those examples, lets speak about the young black woman who is about to do 20 years in prison for firing warning shots at an abusive husband. A woman who used the “Stand Your Ground” defense for firing those shots, which didn’t touch the man, was found guilty, while George Zimmerman, who pursued an unarmed child and shot him, was acquitted. The point isn’t that the laws differ so you can’t use certain cases as examples of the inequality of the justice system. The fact is that no matter HOW the laws are construed, it seems that blacks will always lose the case.
If you’re a black man and you don’t remain vigilant of and obsequious to white people’s panic in your presence—if you, say, punch a man who accosts you during dinner with your girlfriend and screams “Nigger!” in your face, or if you, say, punch a man who is following you without cause in the dark with a handgun at his side—then you must be prepared to be arrested, be beaten, be shot through the heart and lung and die on the way home to watch a basketball game with your family.
To stay alive and out of jail, brown and black kids learn to cope. They learn to say, “Sorry, sir,” for having sandwiches in the wrong parking lot. They learn, as LeVar Burton has, to remove their hats and sunglasses and put their hands up when police pull them over. They learn to tolerate the indignity of strange, drunken men approaching them and calling them and their loved ones a bunch of niggers. They learn that even if you’re willing to punch a harasser and face the consequences, there’s always a chance a police officer will come to arrest you, put you face down on the ground, and then shoot you execution style. Maybe the cop who shoots you will only get two years in jail, because it was all a big misunderstanding. You see, he meant to be shooting you in the back with his taser.
I swear. There could be a “no violence against blacks in hoodies” law,and if a white person goes against this law they will still find a way to be acquitted. This is why Blacks were more disappointed than shocked at yesterday’s ruling.
Both the prosecution and the defense wanted to make it abundantly clear that this case wasn’t race-related. It’s easy to look at cases like George Zimmerman’s and claim it’s not racially charged when you are the majority. How was this not racially charged when the defense tried to justify Geroge Zimmerman’s concerns by showcasing that black men had robbed houses in the neighborhood, and seeing one at night was just cause for alarm? People in that community shouldn’t be startled by the site of blacks, because BLACKS LIVE THERE TOO! How is this not racially charged when the defense tried their best to subtlety paint this 17 year old boy as a weed-smoking, rap lyric spittin’, problem child who was in the wrong place at the wrong time? You already see what Rob Zimmerman, the brother of George, thinks about Trayvon, that “Trayvon Martin was looking to procure firearms, or growing marijuana, or looking to make lean.” Seriously.
Nowadays, a 17 year old kid who’s had trouble in school, recites rap lyrics, and smokes weed could identify with white kids equally or even greater than black kids! Let’s be real, if Trayvon Martin was a white kid wearing a hoody, he would’ve made it home to see the rest of that basketball game. George Zimmerman would’ve drove by, or even asked the kid if he was ok and needed a ride home. He would’ve never jumped out the car to confront him because he assumed the kid’s guilt. I thought it was telling that defense attorney Mark O’Mara, when asked what he think would’ve happened if GZ was black replied “If George Zimmerman was black, I don’t even think this case would go to trial or be publicized.” You know why? It would’ve been black-on-black crime. It’s always status quo when niggers are killing each other, I guess.
I fear bringing a kid into this world. This verdict honestly made me reassess the possbility. How do you deal? Trayvon Martin could’ve been my brother, nephew, son, or cousin. Trayvon Martin could’ve been me. It boils my blood and saddens me that for all my education, conformity, aspiration, and diligence of ascending beyond stereotypes to be successful, I will always be a nigger to most whites. I will always get stopped in the same counties in certain states every year when driving with a bunch of black people, and given speeding tickets because the state troopers “were following us for three miles and saw us speeding” even though we never saw you in the rearview mirror “trailing our car.”
I call this the conviction of Trayvon Martin because even in death, an unarmed, unassuming black boy has to prove his innocence, and in the end was convicted of being black at the wrong time. Stories like the ones I shared can be shared by any black man 15-75 in America, as we are always united by the experiences of an oppressive culture.
No, George Zimmerman is not white. But his assumptions about Black men are rooted in the foundational assumptions of white supremacy and his treatment by the justice system have conferred upon him privileges usually reserved for white men. The malleability of white supremacy for non-Black bodies says something about the singular power and threat of the Black body in this kind of racialized system – Brittany Cooper
Amadou Diallo. Sean Bell. Oscar Grant. Emmett Till. Trayvon Martin.
Will I be next?