I was ten years old when I first heard the story about Emmett Till. A young black man who reportedly flirted with a white woman at the age of 14 in 1955's Mississippi. It horrified me. It made me angry.
|Emmett Till: Killed at the age of 14|
after flirting with a married white
woman. Beaten, eyes gouged out,
shot and drowned.
It made me want to do something to change the world.
I think that might have been the moment my life became about philanthropy, advocacy and wanting to be a world changer.
You see, I didn't even realize I was black until I was 10.
My parents were in the military and they didn't really talk to my siblings and I about racial differences. About being black in America. About our heritage and our history. You may think that's wrong or that they did us a disservice, but growing up without the stigma of being black over my head was actually a good thing for me.
Because the people in my family are all various shades and ethnicities, some having married in and some born into the family, when my friend, Tiffany, told me that her sister said that people who stay out in the sun get darker, that was my explanation for all of the different shades of the world. I grew up ignorant of racism. I grew up being truly colorblind because of that.
My parents were also big in teaching us to appreciate different musical stylings, languages, cultures, etc. and while I grew up hearing all of this I also grew up watching COPS with my father. And living in America in the early 90s, late 80s, it seemed as it everyone being arrested on the show was a "black male." So I grew up thinking that there was "us" and then there was "black people." It never occurred to me that the reason why my skin color looked the same as some of those being arrested on television was because I WAS them.
|Participants in the Civil Rights Movement|
at a sit-in being taunted, harassed, and mocked
while having drinks poured on their heads.
When my teacher asked us to create a family tree and pointed out me and two other classmates and told us that we might only get to slavery in our family tree and that it was "okay," I remember the confusion that assaulted me. I asked her why she singled out me and my two classmates and I will never forget the conversation as long as I live.
10-Year-Old Vic: Mrs. Sanders why did you tell me, Greg and Brian that we might only get to slavery?
Mrs. Sanders: Because you're African-American honey and African-Americans were slaves when they were brought to this country and many of them don't have the history of their ancestors. Now, class, I want you to make your family trees as beautiful as you can.
10-Year-Old Vic: -raises hand- Mrs. Sanders?
Mrs. Sanders: -sighs- Yes?
10-Year-Old Vic: What's African-American?
-the class laughs-
Mrs. Sanders: Black, honey. African-American is black. You are black.
|A sit-in. A peace protest enacted by|
blacks during the Civil Rights Movement
I went home and slammed my bookbag down on the floor, hands on my hips and yelled accusingly at my mother "YOU NEVER TOLD ME I WAS BLACK!"
What followed was a crash course in African-American history. That weekend my parents had my siblings and I watching ROOTS, Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, KING, and every other VHS (yes, this was before DVDs and Blur-Rays) they had that talked about black history. I got angry. I got sad. I got disappointed in the country that I had loved so much up until that point. I marveled at the strength that black people displayed. I was amazed at how far black people had come. And then I experienced a rage so fierce that my parents kept me out of school for a few days and showed me the videos of white people that weren't racist that joined in the fight and struggle of blacks and helped them get their freedom and their rights.
|A common weapon used against blacks who protested|
was being shot with a water hose on full blast. Many
were injured, some died because of those injuries.
When I returned to school I had a new lease on life. My eyes had been opened to the ugliness that surrounded me and jokes I'd heard before from classmates and their parents had taken on new meaning.
Perhaps having my bubble shattered in such a way was wrong to you. Perhaps you think my parents shouldn't have done that. But I much prefer that way than the way I had my first encounter with racism.
When my parents separated we moved from Mississippi to Florida and you'd think I'd have experienced more racism in MS than in FL but you'd be wrong. It was here, in the state that I have moved back to, that I experienced racism so horrific at so many different times that to think of it or talk about it still makes me cry
I was walking home from the bus stop one day when a red truck drove past me. The truck turned
|A Freedom Riders Bus is set on fire.|
I ran home and told my uncles what had happened and they took off after the men. They didn't catch them, but I was shaken. I cried. I asked my auntie why they had targeted me. My mother was called at work and when she came home I asked her. Why me? Why had they attacked me?
Their words were all the same: Because you're black.
When the KKK showed up at my middle school and called out for all the "nigger children" to be sent outside so that they could hang us from the trees and our teachers kept us in the classrooms, my family's words came back to me.
They wanted to kill me because I was black.
|Jim Crow laws restricted blacks and white from using|
the same restrooms, water fountains, etc.
They hated me because I was black.
I have grown up and spent my life hearing that because I'm black (or because when people look at me they see a black person-regardless of the fact that I'm multi-ethnic) it gives some people the right to think that I'm a thug, a drug dealer, a drug addict, on welfare, uneducated, violent, an animal, worthy of being hung from a tree, less than other people.
I grew up being followed in department stores, hassled by the store associates. I grew up being asked in every interview if I had a "criminal record" and after I said no having them tell me that if I was lying I wouldn't be hired and was I "sure" that I didn't have a criminal record?
|Black men march hold "I Am A Man" signs|
Why? Am I supposed to continue to perpetuate the stereotype that black people only have a limited education? That we're stupid and all dependent on white people to help us out?
Living in the South, growing up here I got used to the discrimination. To the blanket racism. The subtle hate and prejudice. I got used to the comments. I knew how to hide myself when a member or members of the KKK came into the store and started to taunt or threaten me. I knew that while there were black people in the police department, if I got arrested it wouldn't be them I'd be dealing with.
I knew that no matter what I was guilty until proven innocent. Even if I was the victim.
|The Trayvon Martin Foundation|
seeking donations and volunteers. Please
You see, I'd grown complacent. I'd started to expect it. It didn't shock me anymore. With the Jena 6, and other black men who have been gunned down by police officers, unjustly arrested, profiled, murdered by whites who then got off, Trayvon's death was, unfortunately, just another dot on the screen to me.
And then it hit me. If I sat back and accepted the fact that this happened every single day, that there were many cases that never reached the media, then I was, in a way, encouraging the actions and the murders. I was tired of being afraid. I am tired of being afraid.
I'm tired of being followed and harassed. I'm sick of knowing that there are people who look at me and think they are superior to me just because my skin is darker. I hate knowing that I live in a state where people can kill an unarmed teenager just because he's black and in his hoodie looks "suspicious."
|The infamous hoodie symbol|
|"We Shall Overcome" is the anthem of|
The Civil Rights Movement. It is still sung today.
It's a serious issue and one that's uncomfortable and one that no one wants to talk about. You see, unless you live it you don't understand it. I have heard people say that this wasn't about race, but it was about race. No, it's not ALWAYS about race, but this time? This time it was. Trayvon's skin made him suspicious. My skin color makes me suspicious. And it's the same for every other black person out there.
Racism is alive and well. It's breathing, growing, forming, changing and adapting to the times. It's hiding in plain sight, but it's still there. It's in the police department, it's in the classrooms, it's in businesses, schools, in the neighborhoods... it's in the highest castes of our government. And if you don't have to deal with it, it fools you into thinking that it's not really there.
Many people think that racism is a thing of the past because our president is half-black, because there are so many black people doing such great things... I'm happy about that, PROUD of that fact, but in the ghettos, in small towns and small counties, in more populated areas, in places like Detroit, Chicago, Boston, Sanford, Lakeland, Orlando, racism is a beast still tearing away at the spirit of a people that has sadly gotten very used to the bites and the tears in their souls to put up much protesting.
|"The Little Rock Nine" are the first|
black students to integrate an all-white
high school in 1957 in Little Rock, AK
|Many people posted this image|
of Trayvon with this slogan to show
support and to show that anyone, any black
person could have been Trayvon Martin, killed
at 17 years old.
Well that changes today. Now. Here. I, along with many others, are now standing up to fight against this injustice. We are declaring loudly that what happened to Trayvon and so many others will not be something that we just "get over." We are going to protest. We are going to invoke change. Just as so many did with the brutal murder of Emmett Till, so we too are marching, speaking out, calling on those with the power to change laws. We are invoking change. We are proclaiming loudly and with vigor and strength that:
WE ARE TRAYVON MARTIN!
|James Craig Anderson: Beaten and ran over |
by a truck driven
by a group of young white teens
who wanted to go and "get a nigger."
I am the young black teen, followed around in the department store, suspected of stealing when I have more than enough money in my pocket.
I am the black person who is told in snide tones that they can't afford an item of merchandise because the store "doesn't accept food stamps."
|A young black woman is arrested during a peaceful|
I am the black student that teachers suspect of being the cause of all the problems in the class.
I am the group of black students who are followed by police officers when walking home from a school event.
I am the young black teen who is told not to walk the streets at night because they might be followed.
|A young black boy is attacked by police officers|
and dogs during a peaceful protest.
These are things that happen every day in this country. Unjust profiling of a people whose only "crime" is being black. Being darker than other people. Having a heritage that comes from Africa and the
And no, it's not just blacks, it's Hispanics, and Asians, and other minorities, but it happens to blacks more than all of these put together. I heard a statistic that said every day 28 black men are killed in this nation. Some of it is by other blacks, and I acknowledge that this too is something that should be changed, but the number of these murders that is perpetuated because of the color of the man's skin is astounding, alarming and heartbreaking.
|T-shirt for support of Justice for|
Trayvon Martin. It says "iRefuse To Keep
Growing up my granny always told me that the Lord would never put more on us than we can bear, and we have borne a lot. But the time for action is now. The time for justice is now. It's not too late to act. It's not to late to stand OUR ground and say
ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
We are Trayvon Martin, a people who are suspicious because we are black.
|A young black woman is carried out by police|
after a peaceful protest.
We are Trayvon Martin, a people with the knowledge that if someone white kills us, especially in the South, that they will more than likely get off because our pasts will be put on trial.
We are Trayvon Martin, a people who are tried and convicted, found guilty even when we are the victims.
We are Trayvon Martin, a people who are tired of being killed off. Tired of being afraid. Tired of being profiled. Tired of having to tell our white friends and our Hispanic friends and our Asian friends that they "just don't understand" why we're so angry. Why we're so hurt. Why we're so motivated.
We are Trayvon Martin, taking this injustice to the streets. Protesting. Demanding change.
|Young black teen holding a sign that|
Racism is not biological. Racism is not hereditary. Racism is taught. It is spread. It's in our media. It's being taught to our children in our homes.
Join with us in this fight. Not just against racism, not just against gun violence, not just for a people who are still being oppressed hundreds of years after the abolishment of slavery. Not just for the young teens dying every day or the innocent men being arrested and killed because they were guilty of being black.
Join with us because you see that there's a need for action. Join with us because you see the need to stand with us to protest the death of an innocent, unarmed boy and the family that lost him. Join with us because you're tired of hearing about these stories, mad that they keep happening, sick that there are so many that never reach the media outlets and because you, like me, want to invoke change.
Join with us as we declare "No Justice. No Peace!"
And as we declare that
WE ARE TRAYVON MARTIN!
-Vicktor Aleksandr Bailey
[ETA: I have decided to donate 20% of my profits from the sale of Raising Shawna and Chain Me to The Trayvon Martin Foundation]