21 July 2013

Takin' It to the Streets: Protests Emerge Across Nation in Response to Zimmerman Verdict

The New York Times has released a very good slideshow of images depicting yesterday's 100 rallies in support of Trayvon Martin around the nation.

Image of Trayvon Martin rally in Atlanta, GA, 07/20/2013, via New York Times.
If you're connected to me on social media, you'll know that I've been pretty vocal on Facebook and Twitter about this historic development in America's story. I've been posting daily: articles, commentary, images, and news developments all week. I have been unapologetic on these platforms about my content. No, my content has not been about libraries. No, my content has not been about street literature / urban fiction. No, it's not about education or hip hop. And, guess what? Some of it has been word-of-mouth info (shudder the thought).

As a librarian - an American librarian - an African American librarian - my intellectual mission is always more nuanced than my usual topics. Indeed, any librarian who is worth their education in gold, will at times, embrace a social stance for justice, that will be based on belief and experience - not someone else's facts and references. We're talking about real life here, and librarians do live it. If a librarian tells you otherwise - go to another library. Seriously.

As an American Black woman who is mother to 5 Black women who all dream of marrying and having families with Black men, it feels like the message that the Zimmerman Verdict sends is that American Black men's lives are worthless in the U.S. This in turn, makes Black women realize that their wombs are worthless, which in turn, means they - are worthless, too. This tells the Black American community that their lives do not count, that we are worth less than dogs (I do feel that the comparison to Michael Vick going to jail for dog-fighting is an appropriate parallel).

This verdict heralds in a tough time for American identity discourse because the injustice felt by the African American community (with the support of a wonderfully diverse American public) empowers us to have voice, to speak, to scream cosmically, our displeasure about being hated and how that hate is embedded within the infrastructure of this nation's systems.

But I believe that the scream is not from the verdict itself. I believe that this cosmic scream is in response to the verdict feeling like a band-aid being ripped off an old, festering wound, that just won't fucking heal. We realize that nothing has changed for Blacks in America, since 1619, just keepin' it real. Fundamentally, nothing has changed for us, in spite of the history in place that says things have (e.g. Civil Rights Movement, The Voting Rights Act (that has been gutted recently, also), Affirmative Action, President Obama's elections, to name a few). African Americans now realize with crystal clear clarity that in the nation of our birth, we are seen as sub-human. We are valued as less than animals. Since we know this is the biggest lie ever told: we're not havin' it.

Take that in for a moment, if you can. I mean really - take that in. Imagine you are born in a land where you are told from the cradle that you're a second class citizen --- the country's history tells you that and the country's infrastructure punctuates that, on a daily basis. In response, your family indoctrinates your humanity to set your mind and spirit in motion to navigate that reality in various ways so that you can at least survive childhood, if you're lucky. Coming of age into adulthood, it is anticipated that you will enjoy this human experience as a working, productive adult, free to worship your god, love your partners, take a walk alone or with friends (if you can do this without harassment), enjoy national pastimes alongside countrymen, create a family, get old, maybe travel a little bit, and make enough money to live out your life as best you know how.

Through a full lifespan there may be days when being "black in America" is not a salient issue. Note I said - through a full lifespan. If you're lucky, there are days when you get through racial hardships with a graze, not with a gunshot wound to the chest. You brush it off your back and keep it movin'. In between the usual bullshit of "being born Black", there are better days. Trayvon Martin's baby and childhood pictures show "better days" ... but being Black in America, the message is clear: you only get one time, one chance, one encounter, one day, one slip-up, that can make or break your very existence. Here's the problem: America's streets are landmines littered with banana peels.

Thusly, this verdict makes it crystal clear: in spite of the Civil Rights Movement, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, voting rights, Affirmative Action, Barack Obama, Oprah, Tyler Perry, Spike Lee, Jazz, Black Hollywood, Hip Hop, African American literature, the existence of a Black economic elite, The Cosby Show, Black lawyers, teachers, ministers, librarians, social workers, intellectuals, Supreme Court justices, authors, singers, athletes, inventions, scientists, activists, parents, and on and on .... at the end of the day - no African American accomplishment or contribution matters to mainstream America. Yous black. Your skin color means you are sub-human. You don't count. Your life is not worth a damn. Thanks for all the basketball games and music, but your children's lives are not worth a damn. Your ancestors and everything they went through, for mainstream America, we don't give a hot damn - yous an animal that can be shot dead on the streets because we said so; better yet, because we feel like it. And in a court of law - we AGREE on that fact, yo.

Imagine how that feels when that reality hits you. When you really, really understand with clarity that you can even have the most powerful person on the planet look like you, come from a similar heritage than you, marry one of your sistahs, hail from one of the most identifiable hoods in the nation, and by his own painful acknowledgement, not even HE, not even his life, his wife, his children's lives - are worth a damn. At the end of the day. For real, for real.

That's the reality of what the Zimmerman Verdict has illuminated upon America as a whole, in my opinion; and that's a deep, bitter pill to try to shove down a nation's throat. And that is why American Black people are angry/frustrated/disappointed/disillusioned, and why President Obama interrupted the Press Corps on Friday to break it down for mainstream America, and why you even have celebrities like Jay Z and Beyonce on the streets marching in protest. Because they too realize that with all their so-called political power, hollywood or hip hop royalty, and incredible money and accomplishments, their lives are not worth a copper penny to American society. No matter how hard they work - their LIVES - their heartbeats are worthy of just one thing: a bullet. Given Jay Z's work, I'm not surprised that he feels some kind of way about that idea. It makes sense that he's on the streets with the people.

So if you are not African American or Latino American or a person of color in America - and all this "Trayvon Martin drama" is starting to get on your nerves, or you look at patrons in your library, or students in your classroom and feel some kind of way because you just "don't get it" - try to put yourself in our shoes. Try. Look at your family and at yourself in the mirror and ponder what it feels like to have to accept that your land of birth doesn't value your life - at all.

Think about how that feels since you KNOW you're a human being, and you KNOW you're a child of God. Think about how you can be born and raised, standing, breathing, and living in a country, walking on soil that your ancestors bled and died on, to come to the sobering realization that your very existence is at war with the very grounds you walk on - every moment. of every day. 24-7. all your life. For real, for real? That's a reality that any sane person would not be able to digest. You don't have to be Trayvon Martin or look like Trayvon Martin, or share a cultural heritage and history with Trayvon Martin to understand that somethin' ain't right with the American cultural consciousness.

So in kind, just think of America as going through a huge digestive problem right about now. Because truth be told, that is exactly what is going on - as a nation we're trying to figure out how to digest one more piece of poison called injustice that smells horribly of manure. We're resisting because we're full of this poison and we're sick because of it - all of us - black, white, brown, yellow, polka-dotted, - whatever. As Americans, we're bloated with being force-fed inhumane ideas about who and what we are to one another.

We're constipated with the scourge of racism that is a cancer in our hearts, minds, and guts. So resistance to the verdict is not going to feel good to any of us. And an ideological balm may not be enough to soothe the aches and pains of ancestral memory. Thus, think about what will be required to bring this  organism called America to full health - and you'll have a deeper understanding of how the anger and frustration and tears of Black America must be healed by us all. Personally, I feel like America owes Black people a 400-year old apology.

Thank you for listening.

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