This weekend, my hometown of Flint joined several cities around the country to rally in support of Travyon Martin. As for me, though? For the most part, I think I’m just about ready to put this Trayvon Martin thing to bed. I had zero interest in attending. No amount of marching will bring him (or any other victims) back to life. No amount of celebrity activism will erase the message conveyed by the “not guilty” verdict: black youth are apparently thugs who can be dispensed of at a moment’s notice and without reprisal. The cynical part of me is almost waiting for the next black youth to be gunned down and for the shooter to walk. At this point, that process is about as routine as the sun rising and setting every day.
That apathy – mixed with fear and distrust of law enforcement and government – is representative of the black experience in this country.
The fact of the matter is, the Zimmerman trial was extremely emotional for many of us, as black people. Sure, you have a collection of black folks (I’m looking at you, Jessie Lee. And you, Larry Elder) who are probably relieved to see one less ‘deviant’ on the street. But I suspect far more of us are carrying an emotional yoke from the outcome of this trial. What important to note though, is that I believe it’s less about anger, outrage, or revenge. Rather, I think our emotions at this point are more rooted in a tragically-diminished hope. I think many of us were hoping that “the system” – which has been rather disparate to black people – would finally come around. We were hoping that a clear message would be sent that it is not OK to profile black people just because they look the part and then shoot them down like animals just because they had the audacity not to back down. We were hoping that the system would show us that if we were killed, our character wouldn’t be destroyed nor our race demonized in attempt to justify our killing.
Fail on all fronts.
By and large, I believe we want to cling to the hope that this country is with us as much as we are with it. Yes, it’s true that many of us don’t trust this nation’s criminal justice agents, law enforcement, or – hell, the government in general. But it’s not because we don’t want to. We do. Not to pull humor into an otherwise serious discussion, but Dave Chapelle nailed it:
The fact is: we want to place our trust in this nation. We want to celebrate all the beauty and majesty this country has to offer. We want to be able to place our hands over our hearts and sing the songs which honor this country, and to do so with the same zeal, passion, and conviction as everyone else. We want to believe in the American Dream and in the concept that this nation is a living embodiment of equality and fairness. For all the faults this country has, I’d bet that none of us want to leave it. Ask a random black person if they’d get down with Marcus Garvey if he was alive today, and see how many of us laugh at you. Simply put: we love this country. We just want it to love us.
Our relationship with America is that of a kid who understands her parents have their favorite child, but is still hoping that one day she’ll be seen in the same favorable light. That child wouldn’t dream of running away, even if other parents may look a little more attractive and accepting of her (Mr. and Mrs. Canada, for instance). But she loves her parents too much for that. Unfortunately though, none of the signposts suggest reciprocity on the parents’ end. So all that child can do is hope things will turn around for her. Some of us still cling to that same kind of optimism. Some of us lay hope upon hope that one day, our lives will be assigned value; that our lives won’t be taken (by a jury or by a gun) simply because we ‘look’ guilty. Some of us still believe that our character will be examined individually, not based on the actions of a subset of people.
Still, others of us have given up on that dream.
I’m not quite at that point. I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet. But I don’t know how many more Travyon Martins, Oscar Grants, or Sean Bells have to die before I permanently join the ranks of the cynics. I’m praying I never get there. But I’m getting closer by the day.