By Tanya Steele | Shadow and Act July 17, 2013 at 5:30PM
We are, most of us, grieving Trayvon Martin's death, again, after this absurd jury verdict. Last night, I watched Anderson Cooper's 'Town Hall on Race and Justice in America'. These discussions are interesting. There are, usually, a few thoughts that are heartfelt and impressionable. Charles Blow has been, particularly, moving.
A few days before, I told a friend that these discussions about 'race' keep black people situated in a 'victim' narrative. Stories of how we have to talk to our children to protect themselves when in public. Stories from high achieving black men about how they were stopped by the police, where they were taught how to place their hands on the steering wheel or to cross the street when walking on a street with a white woman. I scratched my head and thought, "we can talk about this until the cows come home. When are we going to have a 'town hall on racism' where white people discuss how they will speak to their children to make sure another George Zimmerman does not walk among us?"
When are we going to have a 'town hall on racism' that addresses how a jury of women, predominantly white women (and mothers!), don't identify with a black child? I need to know how that happened. I need to understand that. And I want white people to explain it to me. Before someone starts railing about the laws, understand that I read the law. I watched the trial EVERY DAY. EVERY DAY, beginning with jury selection, all of it. I decided I would bear witness for Trayvon no matter how I had to restructure my day. And I did it while reading the law.
The jurors had a CHOICE. They CHOSE to believe zimmerman. There was ample evidence that he lied. They could have discounted his statements. And, for those who want to blame the prosecution, again, I watched the trial. The prosecution proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that zimmerman did not fear for his life. The only evidence that zimmerman feared for his life were his words. The medical testimony proved that his life was not in danger. Along with the fact that neighbors were watching and the police were on their way. The jury chose to believe zimmerman.
So, we can discuss the law. But, we need to discuss the filter through which these women viewed the laws. We need to change the laws, no doubt. But, I also want a discussion about who created those laws and why. Laws don't create themselves. It is easy to attack "the laws". It is more difficult to examine the racism that went into the construction of the laws. It is easy to excuse the jury verdict because of "the laws". The views that created those laws were shared by, at least, one of the jurors.
The discussions can happen simultaneously. We can fight to remove the laws. But, the laws will pop up in another form if we don't address the reasons why they were created in the first place. It feels like we, suddenly, fell back into the 1950's. Sorry, I'm not going back. We've done too much work to get out of that madness. We are not going back. This is the time to move "forward without fear".
The absurdity of racism is killing us. It's about time we expose it. What the hell do we have to lose? Everyone is hiding in the shadows, tip-toeing, afraid to point the finger, having private conversations about racism. Feeling defeated that "they'll never get it". Well, how are they going to get it if we don't call it what it is? I don't want to live with a double-consciousness. I don't have time for that. That takes too much energy - energy that needs to be put into my work.
Today, a white woman referred to me as "Honey" on my Facebook wall, before she went into a diatribe about what I need to do. She was not a "real" friend. So, I looked on her Facebook wall. She had a post which read, "I said to the older African American, next to me" (her words), as the verdict was read, "This is a victory." Yes, she did. She said, to this elder, that the verdict was a victory because "now we are talking about the laws." I had a few choice words for her and 'honey' was not among them.
It has taken me years to throw off the 'bowing' yoke that racism shrouds you in. My neighborhood is gentrified. With gentrification comes a better grade of products. So, we now have a cheese store. My friend and I went into the cheese shop. Mind you, I've been to Italy and France and have eaten some of the best cheeses in the world. But, I was in 'bowing' mode, that day. I announced the type of cheese we would be interested in, to show that I belonged.
I was doing shows to get a wedge of cheese. Why in the hell was I posturing in a neighborhood I lived in for 13 years? I wanted the owners to feel "safe". I wanted them to know I was one of them. When we left the store, my friend said, "I felt relieved when you asked for that cheese. You let them know we belonged." We both remarked about the absurdity in our taking care of these white folks. Our grown asses were still 'bowing'. We then went off to write a play about our experiences as black Artists. And, how we have to, consciously, not bow and twist to make white people feel comfortable.
I slipped. Most of the time, I don't take care of white people. I let them know, exactly, when they are being racist. Or, I walk away. It's their problem. Let them figure out why I walked away. But, if I'm in the mood, I will give them insight into their particular brand of racism. I spent a good deal of my undergrad years "trying to bridge the racial divide". It wore me out because racism comes out in the most insidious ways; in apathy, in deflection, in condescending tones, in ways you don't expect. So, I keep it simple. Right now, white people need to listen and dig deep into how their silence and comfort with their privilege - allows zimmermans to roam the streets killing black children.
And, for the ones who want to rage about black kids killing black kids, for me, it all springs from one well. The well of racism. Black people devalue black life because the larger culture does. Black self-hatred is as american as apple pie. And, unless and until someone brings it to your attention, you will be a purveyor of hate toward black people.
We have reached a point in history where the denial of racism appears to be the road to success for black people. Who is this helping? Certainly, it is not serving us. Clearly, the high rates of black unemployment speak to that. Where are our celebrities? President Obama's speech about race was akin to someone walking a tightrope in a circus. He was trying to keep his balance and not offend either side. Racism may affect both sides but, let me tell you, black folks are on the suffering side of the rope.
Why isn't there a coalition of celebrities, who stand together and issue a press statement about their pain at hearing the verdict. They don't have to indict anyone. They don't hate to pump their fists in the air. Just a word? An expression of grief? Hell, Trayvon and his family supported them in some way, I'm sure. But no, not a tweet. A press conference. A public statement. A simple acknowledgment that will let black children know that you see them and care about them and understand their frustration. We have to start honoring one another, and let go of the fear that we are alienating white folks. How many dollars do you need before you can stand upright?!
What's the worst thing that can happen? You are attacked by the Right? Economic marginalization? We are at a point in history where we have enough capital to create institutions. So, there is no need to possess the same level of fear and bowing that we had to enact to survive. Those days are over! Jamie Foxx, with his Trayvon t-shirt, was brilliance!
And, for the black folks who will say, "white folks will do what they will do. we need to just do for ourselves." Okay, I'm all for spending your money where you see fit. However, our lives intersect with theirs. Unless you are moving, which most of you won't (you stay here and complain about "whitey"), we need to squash this madness.
The trial for the murder of Darius Simmons is underway. Darius was a 13 year old black male who was shot by his neighbor who accused him of burglary. The defense is saying that the murderer did not have an "intent" to kill. Of the 12 jurors, one is black. And there is a video of the murder. Spooner is attempting to plead "insanity".
From the Milwaukee-Wisconsin Journal Sentinel: "Spooner has confessed to shooting Simmons, saying in statements to police on the scene, that he had reached a "breaking point" after his house was burglarized two days earlier. He suspected his teenage neighbor of carrying out the heist and gunned him down in front of his mother."
Aren't you tired? I'm exhausted. I'm tired of grieving. This has to stop. And, this is not about how much black men should contort and twist their bodies to behave. This is about a sickness in "white" minds who believe that a black male is a criminal. It is about a culture that reinforces the idea that black men have no value. We have to penetrate this mythology. Now. Not next year. Now. If white folks want to talk about 'race', let's do it. But, they have to bring something insightful to the table that will shift this stronghold of racism in the culture. The stories of how we die, how we suffer, are known. We need to dismantle the idea that white life is valuable and black life isn't. That can only happen when white people start sharing their honest thoughts - no matter how ugly and insulting.
We have to demand that white people speak up in discussions on racism, not race - racism. While we tell our thousandth story about being accosted, turn and ask a white person, "What are you learning from this? How will you change as a result of hearing this? How has the verdict impacted you and your life going forward? What will you do differently in your life, as a result of this verdict?" Something. The parade of black grief while white folks sit and stare has to cease. We did not create the conditions for our suffering.
We have to speak our truth, without fear, in order for change to happen in the culture. Witnessing the level of multi-cultural outrage at the verdict, I believe people are hungry for an earnest dialogue about racism. People are perplexed at how we got here and want answers. Those answers will not be pretty but we need to hear them. And, no, I don't believe that white people will volunteer their racism. Perhaps something akin to the 'truth and reconciliation committee' in South Africa. Simply, create a safe space for sharing racism. The interview that Anderson Cooper conducted with Juror B37 was brilliance. How he was able to get her to speak with such shocking frankness was instructive for all of us. We need more of that in order to understand how to deal with it. How we get there, I'm not sure. But, we must find a way.
Day after day I am seeing expressions of grief in my Facebook feed from my black friends. Every now and then, I will see a white person express their shock and disgust. The post I mentioned earlier, where the white woman called me "Honey," was met with a tirade from my white friends (and black, too). I did not prompt my white friends, they hopped on board. Let me tell you, I was grateful because I'm tired.
I am so heart broken over the dismissal of Trayvon's humanity that I don't know what I'm going to do next. I wondered where I could go to begin a one person 'Occupy Wall Street' movement. I feel the need to do something. After the verdict was delivered, I sat in silence for 60 minutes. I couldn't move. I was paralyzed. It is heartening to see the nationwide protests because it lets you know you are not alone. But, damn, this one hurts. The prosecutor was asked, in an interview, "what is one word you would use to describe Trayvon?". She was silent, thought deeply and said, "Prey. P-r-e-y. He never had a fighting chance." Here come the tears, again.
Look "forward without fear" people. What other choice do we have? I may not start a one person 'Occupy Wall Street' movement, but, I promise you, I will stop contorting my being to accommodate white neuroses. That's my new civil rights movement. Care to join me?