Friday, August 2, 2013

You Just Don't Understand....

I don't know how many times I've uttered those words since the murder of Trayvon Martin to my "non-ethnic" friends and authors. It isn't that I'm trying to be patronizing, or even that I'm suggesting that they can't be understanding, compassionate, and sympathetic. It's T.A. Chase who actually told me about the death of the young man via-Twitter. But what I am saying is that the anger, the sadness, the fear that I feel is something that is only shared by other African-Americans in this country.

Now don't get me wrong, I'm very honest about my community. I know all about the alarming number of black-on-black crime that takes place every day and that is something that we as a community needs to change, but here's the difference between that scenario and what happened with Trayvon Martin: when a black person kills another black person, they go to jail.

Period. End of story.

As a matter of fact, here in the South especially, if a black person kills anyone they go to jail, or in the case of Marissa Alexander, who had a restraining order against her husband, Rico Gray, for previous incidents of domestic violence, just firing a warning shot can get you 20 years.

Yes, firing a warning shot, not shooting someone or even killing them, can get you locked up.

Now, I'm not saying that I know all of the details of the case. I only know what's been reported on the news and what was said in the trial, but even with that, I feel that George Zimmerman should be in jail. The Stand Your Ground Laws in place here in Florida, and 20 other states, is dangerous if it's not modified for clarification and to prevent this from happening again. What's to stop someone from confronting someone else, engaging in a fight and when they start to lose, pulling out a gun to shoot that person and getting away with it?

George Zimmerman did.

And I know here in this country we move from one sensational news story to the next, paying the barest amount of respect to those who lost their lives, before we're jumping onto what celebrity is sleeping with what celebrity, but for me, and others of the African-American community, what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family haunts us.

We are angry, hurt, disappointed in the justice system that sends so many of our innocent boys and girls to prison or death row even with the evidence states that there's reasonable doubt or even that we're innocent (Troy Davis is a prime example), and we're scared. What's to stop people in these states from simply having an open season on black men and women and claiming that they were standing their ground? You scoff and say that this wouldn't happen in this country. This land of the free and home of the brave. But who is really free and who is really brave?

Is bravery, Michael David Dunn, who gunned down four innocent black teens in their SUV at a gas station, killing Jordan Davis who is now using "Stand Your Ground" as his legal defense which states that he only had to "perceive" that there was a threat to his life in order to open fire? John Phillips, the prominent attorney who's representing Jordan Davis's family in its civil suit against Dunn said in an interview "In Florida courts, you don't need to be right; you just need to believe that you are."

Doesn't that just sound delightful?

I was talking to my friend, Ryan P. who lives in Florida and whom I've known since freshman year of high school about the Trayvon Martin situation and had to remind him of our history when he told me to "just get over it." Ryan was in the classroom with me, Angel, and Justin, when there was an announcement made over the intercom about keeping the students in the classroom because there was a "situation" taking place out in front of the school. That situation? The KKK was riding through the streets yelling out for the "niggers" to be sent out so they could be "taken cared of."

My friends and I all lived in fear for weeks after that.

This is my reality. No matter how educated my speech, no matter how I dress, no matter what music I listen to, what colleges I attended, no matter my IQ, or even the fact that I'm a published author, when people look at me the first thing they see is that my skin is brown. I'm catalogued as being "black" before I'm even catalogued as being a "person" and in the state of Florida, in the South, that's dangerous.

I couldn't believe Ryan's words to me, I think that probably hurt more than the comments made by other people, that it was "good" that Trayvon was killed because that's another "thug" gone or even that slavery should be brought back to this country so that blacks will be "protected" by their Masters.

I shit you not, that's an actual comment.

I asked Ryan if he remembered Black History Month our senior year in high school. We didn't learn about black history in any of my schools here in Polk County until the last day of the month of February, where we were taught that blacks were brought over on the slave ship, most of us were treated well by our owners, Harriet Tubman got a lot of slaves to freedom through the Underground Railroad, Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves during the Civil War, Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat, Martin Luther King, Jr. marched and now racism is a thing of the past.

Black History 101 in Polk County, Florida.

But our senior year of high school, I was so annoyed with the lack of teaching in my history classes I asked my teacher if I could stand up every class and share a bit of African-American history. It took a letter from my mother, my pastor, and my Drama teacher before he agreed. So every class I would stand and share some black history with the class. Daniel Hale, a black man who performed the first open heart surgery. Langston Hughes, Phyllis Wheatley, WEB Dubois, George Washington Carver, these were some of the people I shared with my class and on the last day I stood before my class and shared the "I Have A Dream" speech by Martin Luther King Jr with them all. And when I finished I stated quite plainly: "People would have you believe that Dr. King's dream has been recognized but that's not true. Because as long as I am judged by the color of my skin and not the content of my character, I'm still in a fight for my civil rights."

This is why we're so angry, so hurt, and so fearful. Because like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, so many African-Americans in this country, in the south, especially, are judged on a daily basis by the color of their skin and not the content of their character. Not by their actions but by the actions of others. Not on their own merit but on the racist, discriminatory, prejudice beliefs of the society in which they live.

While being transgender and gay can get me attacked and even raped in this country by those who think I am an abomination, being black can get me killed. And that's not an exaggeration, that's just the cold, hard truth.

I have shared pieces of myself with those around me. Very few people know most of my whole life story, I share as I feel comfortable, as I feel I can trust someone and no one knows everything that has happened to me, been done to me, that I have done, besides me and YHVH. I protect myself in that way, but one of the biggest things I don't really share is what it feels like to be black in America. That people expect me to be ignorant, a thug, on drugs, in a gang, an animal, uneducated, ignorant, poor, on food stamps and welfare, and always pulling out the race card. Just waiting to blame the hardships of my life on white people and not taking responsibility for my own actions.

Ha! I laugh at that.

It's because of that I don't tell friends about going into stores and seeing white women clutching their purses, or getting in elevators and getting watched carefully while they try to scoot away from me. It's because of that I don't talk about the way I'm talked down to as if I'm stupid, or about the way I'm followed around no matter what store I've stepped into. I don't talk about the slurs I hear muttered beneath the breath of people who think I'm beneath them just because my skin is darker. A person can only be called "nigger" so many times before they become numb to it.

I pointed out to Ryan that he would never truly understand what it's like to be reminded on an almost daily process that your life is inferior to someone else's because your skin just happens to be darker. He asked me why I had never shared this with him before and I told him that I didn't want to be the person who constantly pulls out the race card or makes it seem like everything is about race. I know that it isn't, but I also know that some things are. A lot of things are. Because of that I can't just "get over" something like this.

If Trayvon had been white would I still be writing about his murder? HELL YES!

The murder of a child, because by law Trayvon was still a minor as he was only 17 years old, he still had a long life ahead of him, is wrong and should be persecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

Which in this case it was.

I know, I know, I've just rambled this whole time and now I'm saying that the law was followed? Yes. The State of Florida has a "Stand Your Ground" law that made George Zimmerman's murder of Trayvon Martin, legal. Remember what John Phillips said? Yeah, the law is on the side of anyone who says that they thought their life was in danger. And the worst thing is that in situations like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, the witness to the crime, someone who can provide another side of the story, is dead an unable to speak for themselves. And more often than not, their lives are put on trial. They are painted as thugs, drug users, troubled teens on the way to becoming felons, murderers, rapists and gang members. Even if they were nowhere near that path in life.

I've done drugs before. I think I've share here that I was an addict for about six or seven years with three instances of "falling off the wagon." However, I am not a thug. I laugh when someone tells me that they thought I would be one. Even as an addict I watched the History Channel for fun, listened to jazz music, got almost straight A's in school (when I was there), and volunteered in my community. But had someone confronted me in the gated community that I live in with my family, and when they started to lose the fight that they initiated and then shot and killed me, it would be my life on trial and I would be found guilty and my murderer would get off.

Guilty of what?

Guilty of being black.

Yes, that's an actual thing. It's not on any books officially, at least not stated in those words, but it exists and those who are honest about the world in which we live, about our nation and about the fact that racism still exists, acknowledge that it is as well.

And yes, I'm venting my frustrations, my anger, my hurt, my disbelief that in 2013, with a biracial president, someone who is half-black in office, this is still a battle that we are having to fight. It hurts me to know that I had to call my daughter and tell her to try to stay off the streets at night. I cried when a reader, who has biracial children, told me that she had to tell her sons that when the world sees them they will see black men and instantly peg them as thugs. I wanted to throw something around the room when another reader told me that she had no idea what to say to her sons but that she wanted to lock them in the house with her and keep her eye on them at all time so that they wouldn't become the next Trayvon.

How is this okay in this day and age? How can we go about our lives knowing that there are people who are having to live their lives in such a way and still insist that our society is not in need of change? Are we as a society so delusional?

So what can you do? Well, I figure if you've read all the way to this point that you want to do something to help. There are a number of petitions floating around in the air, either for a civil suit against George Zimmerman or for Florida to modify it's Stand Your Ground laws. I am having my sister copy and paste the links here:

And after you do that what can you do? Well, one of the biggest things is to assess yourself. Change begins with one person. When you see a black person, a hispanic person, a person of an ethnicity different from your own, what is your initial reaction? If it's anything other than something either flattering or outside of the color of their skin, if you have an instinctive reaction to clutch your purse or your wallet, to move to the other side of the street, to lock your doors, to expect them to speak ignorantly, then there's a change that needs to be done withing yourself. Trust me when I tell you that I had to do this very thing myself. It's hard to realize that you have some preconceived prejudices about a race or a group of people based on what is shown on television. In my case, it's worse when it's the very community that you come from.

See if there is a march for Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis or against the Stand Your Ground laws taking place in your state or your area. If so, march or contact the organization and see how you can help. If we want to see change in this nation, it's up to us to make it happen.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have A Dream" Speech: (Bold sections are the parts that have not yet been realized or still hold true today, August 02, 2013 almost 50 years to the day that the original speech was given.)

I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation.

Five score years ago, a great American, in whose symbolic shadow we stand today, signed the Emancipation Proclamation. This momentous decree came as a great beacon of hope to millions of slaves, who had been seared in the flames of withering injustice. It came as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity. But one hundred years later, the colored America is still not free. One hundred years later, the life of the colored American is still sadly crippled by the manacle of segregation and the chains of discrimination.
One hundred years later, the colored American lives on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity. One hundred years later, the colored American is still languishing in the corners of American society and finds himself an exile in his own land So we have come here today to dramatize a shameful condition.

In a sense we have come to our Nation's Capital to cash a check. When the architects of our great republic wrote the magnificent words of the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, they were signing a promissory note to which every American was to fall heir.

This note was a promise that all men, yes, black men as well as white men, would be guaranteed to the inalienable rights of life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

It is obvious today that America has defaulted on this promissory note insofar as her citizens of color are concerned. Instead of honoring this sacred obligation, America has given its colored people a bad check, a check that has come back marked "insufficient funds."

But we refuse to believe that the bank of justice is bankrupt. We refuse to believe that there are insufficient funds in the great vaults of opportunity of this nation. So we have come to cash this check, a check that will give us upon demand the riches of freedom and security of justice.

We have also come to his hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is not time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.

Now is the time to make real the promise of democracy.

Now it the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.

Now it the time to lift our nation from the quicksands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood.

Now is the time to make justice a reality to all of God's children.

It would be fatal for the nation to overlook the urgency of the moment and to underestimate the determination of its colored citizens. This sweltering summer of the colored people's legitimate discontent will not pass until there is an invigorating autumn of freedom and equality. Nineteen sixty-three is not an end but a beginning. Those who hope that the colored Americans needed to blow off steam and will now be content will have a rude awakening if the nation returns to business as usual.

There will be neither rest nor tranquility in America until the colored citizen is granted his citizenship rights. The whirlwinds of revolt will continue to shake the foundations of our nation until the bright day of justice emerges.

We can never be satisfied as long as our bodies, heavy with the fatigue of travel, cannot gain lodging in the motels of the highways and the hotels of the cities.

We cannot be satisfied as long as the colored person's basic mobility is from a smaller ghetto to a larger one.

We can never be satisfied as long as our children are stripped of their selfhood and robbed of their dignity
by signs stating "for white only."

We cannot be satisfied as long as a colored person in Mississippi cannot vote and a colored person in New York believes he has nothing for which to vote.

No, we are not satisfied and we will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.

I am not unmindful that some of you have come here out of your trials and tribulations. Some of you have come from areas where your quest for freedom left you battered by storms of persecutions and staggered by the winds of police brutality.

You have been the veterans of creative suffering. Continue to work with the faith that unearned suffering is redemptive.

Go back to Mississippi, go back to Alabama, go back to South Carolina go back to Georgia, go back to Louisiana, go back to the slums and ghettos of our modern cities, knowing that somehow this situation can and will be changed.

Let us not wallow in the valley of despair. I say to you, my friends, we have the difficulties of today and tomorrow.

I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.

I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed. We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.

I have a dream that one day out in the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slaveowners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.

I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.

I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day down in Alabama, with its vicious racists, with its governor having his lips dripping with the words of interpostion and nullification; that one day right down in Alabama little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.

I have a dream today.

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be engulfed, every hill shall be exalted and every mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plains and the crooked places will be made straight and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope. This is the faith that I will go back to the South with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope.

With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.

With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to go to jail together, to climb up for freedom together, knowing that we will be free one day.

This will be the day when all of God's children will be able to sing with new meaning "My country 'tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing. Land where my father's died, land of the Pilgrim's pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring!"

And if America is to be a great nation, this must become true. So let freedom ring from the hilltops of New Hampshire. Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York.

Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania.

Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado.

Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.

But not only that, let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.

Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi and every mountainside.

When we let freedom ring, when we let it ring from every tenement and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old spiritual, "Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we are free at last."

(Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. August 28, 1963)