I must be honest. I have avoided the vast majority of news from Ferguson, MO. When asked to focus this week’s topic in that direction a sense of dread filled up inside me and I was at a loss for words. It brings me back to Jordan Davis and Trayvon Martin and all the anger I felt inside. That people I call friends could tell me with conviction that these children deserved to die for not showing proper respect to an adult. Unarmed, young, black men deserve to die because they are playing their music at window rattling levels, because they tell a stranger to get out of their face for approaching them, or because they look suspicious. I am a sheep that plays the race card too easy without knowing the facts. Then the smug smiles as the media, the source of the majority of racial profiling, turns on the frenzied masses it has created and presents a disparaging image of the young men we defend.
I learned a long time ago that we must raise our children to be aware always of our not so long ago past that still echoes through the streets of The South and in the swaying branches hatred and bigotry once swung from. We must speak in a softer tone, never be caught alone, be mindful of the company you keep. Dress a certain way and articulate your words to cloak our Grandma’s Geechee upbringing. Don’t get loud, don’t ever be confrontational. What I don’t know how to explain to my future son or my sprouting nephew is how not to be black. How do you not embrace the beautiful skin tone God blessed you with and the rich history bestowed upon us on the backs of royal bloodlines turned slave and risen from the ashes like a Phoenix? How do you choose to not be black?
Some may say this is extreme or coming from an emotional place but it actually comes from an exhausted soul that has had more racial encounters in my short life than I would ever feel comfortable to share with the world in the place I was born and raised. I have watched eyes look into mine and grow cold as my hair appears a little more coarse and my nose a bit more round, my lips a whole lot fuller, and now my stance a little more intimidating. It seems a work of fiction, something produced by a paranoid mind of ignorance and perhaps self hatred but truly it is not. I love who I am and only mourn the world that gives no reflection for the beauty I see.
In September of 2008, I was arrested and charged for assaulting an officer when I, an unarmed female, insisted on the officer’s name that was grinding my brother’s face into the concrete at the end of my own driveway. I was thrown on a hood, my hands cuffed and bruised, booked, charged, stood in front of a judge that chastised me for my violent nature and set my bond at $3,000.00. I attempted to seek justice through a lawyer that took my money and abandoned me with not so much as the dignity of meeting me at the pretrial intervention because we had no case. I do not drink, never smoked, I can’t even take prescribed pain medication. I was a college graduate at the time and already employed as a patient care technician at one of the local hospitals, about to sit for my Florida Nursing Boards. Most people know I don’t swear in public, I am somewhat a religious woman, I dress conservatively, and not a single tattoo graces any inch of my skin. The most trouble I’ve been in was a fifteen minute detention for talking in 6th grade from Mr. May, my Social Sciences teacher. I was in ZIP in high school and continue to volunteer my time to multiple charities and yet when all this was presented with my story it was my word against the officers and because I was an angry black female my word wasn’t enough. I know the family of the deceased pain. No matter the good, it can not compare to being black.
It is something that will remain on my record at least 10 years. The charges were dropped after I was forced to write a letter of apology to the arresting officer and completed community service scrubbing out kennels at my local Humane Society but any time I apply for employment that ugly incident rears its head. I did nothing wrong but unless you wake up black in The South you really can’t relate and the vast majority have no idea that these type of things still really do happen in the new millenium in the United States of America. Even in my own mind I war with the details of any of these stories and the multiple testimonies. Yet still reflections of my own experience as a black woman of very fair complexion and an educated background could be treated like a common thug for coming to the defense of her brother in a non threatening way. It is real and I know that the world is a little more scary when you are black in America.
So though I may be judged and most can not relate, I can tell you that Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and countless others would not be dead if the face reflected in their mirrors was not one of darker complexion. What do I tell my children? What do I tell my nephew? I tell them they should be afraid for their lives and always keep that in mind when interacting with law enforcement and with the public in general. You woke up black in America. Tread easy with all the weight that entails, be mindful of it in all situations, and cautious of that fact whenever you respond.