Resisting the Devaluation of Our Lives and Our Stories
“If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” ~Audre Lorde
We are halfway through the first week following the devastating verdict in what could be described as the trial of Trayvon Martin: the innocent Black boy who basically stood trial for his own murder, and lost. Since Saturday, there have been a number of peaceful rallies throughout the country, insightful articles by our brightest Black thinkers, petitions to the Department of Justice to file civil rights charges against Zimmerman, celebrity vows to boycott the state of Florida, and the resurrection of quotables about this country’s skewed version of justice from Black geniuses like Ida B. Wells, Ella Baker, Frederick Douglass, and Audre Lorde to name but a few.
The verdict broke my heart, but the thought of what it means for the future state-sanctioned devaluation of Black life made me sick to my stomach. Even a “guilty on all counts” verdict would not be sufficient justice, because there is no amount of prison time that can restore the innocent young life that has been brutally extinguished. And those of us who understand the Prison Industrial Complex know that prison is not a mechanism for justice anyway. In many ways, there is value in this verdict because it demonstrates yet again just how disposable Black life is and always has been. Had Zimmerman been found guilty, it may have simply pacified many of us enough to go stumbling back to our slow death in the form of business as usual. Those of us who have been angry all of our lives about the murder of Black babies and the disdain for Black life are not surprised by a not-guilty verdict, because we remember that the men who tortured Emmett Till were exonerated. We watched the celebration and wicked smiles of the officers who beat Rodney King nearly to death as they were acquitted. But there are those of us who are surprised, and who are new to this grief and rage, and it is moments like this—when there is no place to comfortably hide from the exposed underbelly of America and its racialized distribution of injustice—that serve to politicize new factions of the population who may have believed until now that there is some semblance of justice in this country.
“Post-racial America” is one in which the same Stand Your Ground Laws that validated the murder of Trayvon Martin do not apply to Marissa Alexander, who received a 20-year prison sentence for firing warning shots and killing no one in the same state that absolved Zimmerman; nor do they apply to Trevor Dooley who claimed self-defense in the 2010 shooting death of his neighbor. Post-racial America is one in which Zimmerman trial jurors are prohibited from considering race in a clearly racially-motivated hate crime against a Black child, but when 100 young Black activists from the Black Youth Project create a brilliant video response to the verdict, the comments section is bombarded with hate-filled racist and homophobic remarks. Sadly, moments like this galvanize not only new and old activists for social justice and anti-racism, but also every paranoid, racist bigot hiding behind a screen name and avatar. And the ignorant, poorly-written venom that they spew onto our heartfelt blogs and videos prove that, if nothing else, the American institution of education is failing us all:
We document our own truth through social media, blogs and other outlets because the mainstream media de-legitimizes our movements. If we let them tell our stories, they would have us believe that all we are doing is waiting for a reason to storm Walmart, when in fact, the protests in LA have all been peaceful until police showed up, their fear hardly masked by their riot gear, and started shooting rubber bullets into the faces of the mourners. I was in Leimert Park on Monday night and can attest that the eight helicopters, four fire trucks, six ambulances, and more police cars than I could count was way too much for the small non-violent assembly of Black people listening to Sam Cooke and sharing their collective grief. Not to mention the five eye-witness news vans that were lined up with idle reporters reapplying their makeup in the rearview mirrors, waiting to capture a story about belligerent Black rage… or create one.
In this moment, perhaps more than ever, it is critical that we remain clear about the nature of the beast that we are up against. It has morphed and changed shape many times –sometimes, like now, visibly rearing its head, and other times cloaked and obscured by doublespeak and propaganda– but the underpinnings of murderous anti-Black racism remain the same. We must also remember that even as we mourn the premature deaths of our children and fight to survive in this nation that eats its young and reserves its rights for a selected few, we still deserve joy and peace of mind. That is what I would have wished for Trayvon Martin, and Oscar Grant, and Jordan Davis, and Darius Simmons, and Kimani Gray, and Kenneth Harding Jr., and Rekia Boyd, and Hadiya Pendleton, and countless others on a too long list: I would have wished for them more time on Earth to enjoy good food, big hugs, deep laughter… things that I work hard to keep at the forefront of my own life, to balance myself against so much struggle and bad news. In trying times like these we need an intentional self-care practice, remembering that we, too, deserve to thrive and be well. It is not necessary to martyr ourselves in the process of liberation. Our desire for health and survival in our communities begins with a recognition of our own intrinsic right to live happily, healthfully, and joyfully in the present moment.
Each of us only has at our disposal a 24 hour day and a limited supply of energy. I choose to spend mine building alternatives to the world I am critiquing. I stand with those who are working to explain this tragic, distorted moment to their children and their students. I am in solidarity with the Black Youth Project, Dignity and Power Now, and the Coalition to End Sheriff Violence. I stand with Black Lives Matter and the Catalyst Project who have declared that we will not tolerate open season on Black bodies. Stand with us, in whatever capacity you can, against legacies of racism and genocide. Remember that “power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.” ~Frederick Douglass