When In Crime, Blame a Young Black Male

June 25, 2014

Abby Dean screenshot, Ferndale, WA, June 23, 2014. (Fox6News, WITI, Milwaukee, WI).

Abby Dean screenshot, Ferndale, WA, June 23, 2014. (Fox6News, WITI, Milwaukee, WI).

Yesterday morning, I was stuck watching ABC’s Good Morning America segment “4-Year-Old Leads Police to Prime Suspect in Burglary Case,” with the lead, “Real Life Nancy Drew.” The Whatcom County police (Ferndale, WA) interviewed Abby Dean, a four-year-old girl who witnessed two burglars breaking into and robbing her home. The four-year-old’s babysitter had identified “two armed Black men”  – including the next-door neighbor — as the perpetrators of this home invasion. But the brave little Abby Dean apparently went off script and bravely told the truth. “It wasn’t the right skin color,” as one of them had “beach-colored skin. And no one had dark skin,” the toddler said to police. It turned out that the babysitter, the babysitter’s boyfriend and another man had planned the burglary.

Meanwhile, the police handcuffed and questioned Cody Oaks, the next-door neighbor, for hours apparently, and prior to questioning, had a sniper trained on Oaks’ home. “It’s kinda sad ’cause I don’t think she realizes the dangerous position she put me in,” Oaks said.

Cody Oaks, Ferndale, WA, June 23, 2014. (Fox6News, WITI, Milwaukee).

Cody Oaks, Ferndale, WA, June 23, 2014. (Fox6News, WITI, Milwaukee).

Abby Dean’s no more Nancy Drew than I’m Sherlock Holmes. Truth is, the headline should be “Another Example of Overt Racism By Criminals and Police Foiled by Truthful Toddler.” While Dean deserves media coverage — she’s already done more at four than most people do about crimes in their whole lives — the real story is Cody Oaks. This could’ve very easily turned into a botched investigation, which could’ve led to Oaks’ death or serving serious jail time. For a crime in which he played NO role. All because in the minds of so many Whites, young and Black and male equals a violent criminal. That’s what that racist, seventeen-year-old, criminal mastermind babysitter thought, and apparently, so did the local police.

That this isn’t the story from this story shows how well colorblind racism has worked in the average American’s mind. It is obviously okay for Whites — especially White women — to blame Blacks for crimes they didn’t commit, no matter how outrageous. There’s Charles Stuart in Boston, who killed his pregnant wife, shot himself and then tried to blame a mysterious Black man (the boogie man) for his heinous acts in ’89-’90. There’s Susan Smith, the South Carolina woman who drove her car into a lake and drowned her child in that car in ’94. Only to then blame two young Black men for her insane crime, as these imaginary Black males attempted to carjack her. There’s Ashley Todd, the McCain presidential campaign staff who claimed that a Black guy robbed her and carved a backwards “B” on her left cheek in ’08. Only to learn that she mugged and mutilated herself for attention. Let’s not forget the Central Park 5, with whom the city of New York settled a lawsuit for $40 million over their wrongful arrests and convictions.

And people wonder why many of us continue to carry a public anger.

 


Race and The OJ Simpson Effect at 20

June 12, 2014

O.J. Simpson on the covers of Newsweek and Time Magazine, (the picture on right altered to make Simpson appear darker and caused an outcry), June 27, 1994. (Theo's Little Bot via Wikipedia). Qualifies as fair use due to low resolution of image and relevance to subject matter.

O.J. Simpson on the covers of Newsweek and Time Magazine, (the picture on right altered to make Simpson appear darker and caused an outcry), June 27, 1994. (Theo’s Little Bot via Wikipedia). Qualifies as fair use due to low resolution of image and relevance to subject matter.

Today’s the twentieth anniversary of the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, still officially-allegedly murdered by the once great NFL Hall of Fame running back O.J. Simpson. In five days, it’ll be twenty years since the bizarre police chase of Simpson in a white Ford Bronco with his friend Al Cowlings on I-405 in the Los Angeles area. In the process, he took all of us — the media, the sports world, and anyone who cared about race and justice — on a ride that folks are still talking about two decades later. It had an impact on me in terms of how I saw Blacks and Whites and race. I shouldn’t have been, but I was mildly surprised that so many would become so emotionally caught up in a double-homicide case involving what at one time was one of the world’s most recognizable faces.

That week twenty years ago was my absolute commitment to two events. The NBA Finals between my New York Knicks and the Houston Rockets. And a church retreat for the male members (nearly 100 of us, almost all Black — talk about irony!) of Covenant Church of Pittsburgh. It was to be a week of watching my Knicks play at home and three days in the mountains of Western Pennsylvania at a retreat lodge, in a spirit of learning how to be godly men and of adult male bonding. The first full day of the retreat was June 17. After a day of workshops, prayer, praise, and singing (at least for me and the rest of the men’s choir), we all piled into the rec room to watch Game 5 of the Final. Only to see an overhead shot of a slow-moving white Bronco being trailed by an escort of L.A.’s finest instead of Patrick Ewing, John Starks, Doc Rivers, Charles Oakley, and the rest of the cast of characters from my favorite team.

Screen shot of NBA on NBA coverage of 1994 NBA Finals, Game 5, MSG, New York at Bronco chase of OJ Simpson, I-405 in L.A., June 1, 1994. (SI photos via Tumblr).

Screen shot of NBA on NBA coverage of 1994 NBA Finals, Game 5, MSG, New York at Bronco chase of OJ Simpson, I-405 in L.A., June 17, 1994. (SI photos via Tumblr).

The Knicks won, which was great, but I barely saw the game. They were up 3-2, but would lose the last two games in the next six days in Houston, turning Choke City into Clutch City overnight. But that wasn’t what I was thinking about when it first happen. I hoped that the police wouldn’t shoot Simpson before he had a chance to go to trial. The L.A. riots were just two years before. I feared that the issue of race would be front and center, with Simpson’s issues with his now dead White ex-wife.

What I saw within ten days of the Bronco chase was an artificially darkened Simpson on the cover of Time. I watched as the media condemned Simpson well before the trial. As Blacks were becoming angrier about the coverage. As Whites grew more confident about Simpson being convicted, losing his fortune and fame, and possibly getting the death penalty (or at least, life imprisonment). It was amazing how quickly folks took sides on the issue. My mother proclaimed that O.J. was innocent long before the prosecution botched the trial. Some of my grad school colleagues — all White, mind you — made all kinds of assumptions about where I stood on O.J. Simpson. They didn’t like the fact that I was willing to wait until the trial to make up my mind.

Many have benefitted from the O.J. Simpson effect over the last twenty years. From lawyers to journalists, TV stations and authors, many have reaped benefits and have built careers from the O.J. Simpson trial and verdict. Greta Van Susteren, Dan Abrams, Nancy Grace, Court TV (now TruTV), the late Jimmie Cochran, Alan Dershowitz, Christopher Darden and Robert Shapiro, among so many others. Even Mark Fuhrman got a book and a radio talk show (at least for a while) out of the trial. One could argue that Kim Kardashian, daughter of Simpson defense “Dream Team” lawyer Robert Kardashian, has benefited, albeit indirectly (it’s not as if her father’s a regular on her family’s reality shows, right?).

Conservative media in general received the greatest indirect residuals of all from the murders, trial, and acquittal involving Simpson. The events between June 12, ’94 and October 3, ’95 helped intensify an atmosphere of conservatism, a sense that our nation was out of control. With the acquittal, it made sense to millions for cable and talk radio to increase its coverage of news, especially news with a more “fair and balanced” slant.

National dialogue on race cartoon, July 21, 2010. (Bob Englehart/Hartford Courant).

National dialogue on race cartoon, July 21, 2010. (Bob Englehart/Hartford Courant).

Obviously Simpson hasn’t benefited. Our national dialogue on race hasn’t improved, either. Whites still seemingly want Blacks to be stereotypes and to shut up while entertaining them with our lives and our deaths. Some Black elites still make a point of divorcing themselves from other Blacks and from the world that’s race in America, Pharrell Williams most recently so. And with rapidly increasing economic inequality, it’s a wonder that thousands of Whites haven’t come in to Black and Latino neighborhoods to burn down businesses and beat up and lynch those of us unlucky to encounter their mobs, like they typically did this time a century ago.

All because of the multitude of examples of individual Black success, and occasions of Black-on-White (and especially blond)-woman-violence. Things change, but the cancer that is Whiteness and race remain the same, “a shame and a pitiful,” as my father would say.


Whiteness, Symbols and Racial Context

May 21, 2014

The Matrix (1999) meme (only, the "What if I told you" part is incorrect) featuring Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, May 21, 2014. (http://imgflip.com).

The Matrix (1999) meme (only, the “What if I told you” part is incorrect) featuring Laurence Fishburne as Morpheus, May 21, 2014. (http://imgflip.com).

For most Whites, racism’s an individual thing. For most Whites, Racism must be obvious. For most Whites, racial bias can only be a deliberate choice. For most Whites, racism’s not infused in the fabric of American culture, or baked into America’s institutions, or infused in its very political and economic structure. Of course, these “most Whites” are just plain wrong. What scares them on this issue — maybe even more than actually using the words “race” or “racism” — is the possibility that though racism is learned, that it also isn’t a decision. It’s an assumption, or really, many layers of assumptions. Of “rights.” Of entitlement. Of privilege. Of being special. Of being colorblind. Of folks knowing their place, and they as Whites knowing where to place these folks.

As I wrote in another social media context last week, part of the insidious nature of Whiteness — aside from its ability to morph over time — are the issues of symbolism and context. Racism for most is obvious and relies heavily on the most obvious of symbols, like in the case of hooded KKK members burning crosses, or in Donald Sterling‘s case, an elderly rich White guy whose Archie Bunker paternalism can be seen from space.

These incidents are the tip of the proverbial iceberg of race and racism in the US because most people of color exist outside the context that comes with Whiteness. For walking in Whiteness without any acknowledgement of one’s privilege — but with tons of assumptions of privilege — is the psychological and social equivalent of breathing and walking at the same time — one only thinks about it when forced to. If those Black and Brown are on TV in orange jump suits, it fits the narrative and context of Whiteness. If someone like me is a college professor in a predominantly White classroom, however, the context doesn’t fit the Whiteness playbook, and with that systems error, many of my White students manifest so many racial assumptions.

Writer, educator and NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on ABC's This Week discussing NBA's response to Donald Sterling's racist statements, May 4, 2014. (http://www.politifact.com).

Writer, educator and NBA Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on ABC’s This Week discussing NBA’s response to Donald Sterling’s racist statements, May 4, 2014. (http://www.politifact.com).

These out-of-context scenarios occur on individual and institutional scales. Like having White co-workers only recognize me in the context of being at work and at a desk, but being scared upon seeing me board an elevator with them five minutes after the end of a work day. Or in spotting me searching for something at a store, only to ask me to help them find something for them, assuming that I work there. Or in assuming that in the context of sports and entertainment, anyone Black or Brown with an IQ higher than 100 with verbal skills is “angry,” or is “too cerebral” to be successful, or has “an attitude problem.”

Then there’s the assumption that no matter one’s grades, test scores or degrees, that wee folk of color achieved all we have because of affirmative action, the symbol of so-called reverse racism in the US (talk about the narcissism and master-race assumptions of intelligence embedded in this line of reasoning!). For most of the history of Whiteness and racism in American history, this was an infrequent prospect. These days, these microaggressions and racist behaviors occur almost every moment of every day. Precisely because there are so many successful Black and Brown folks, at least in the semi-conscious mind of Whites in the midst of their own Whiteness. This despite the reality that these successful Black and Brown folks are only symbols of  the very success that has eluded a broad majority of those of color.

Agent Mr. Smith (played by Hugo Weaving) about to explode, The Matrix (1999), May 21, 2014. (http://www.oocities.org/)

Agent Mr. Smith (played by Hugo Weaving) about to explode, The Matrix (1999), May 21, 2014. (http://www.oocities.org/)

But the context here will rarely be obvious to those awash in Whiteness. Structural inequality and racism, institutional racism, even internalized racism — all confirm the world that most operating in Whiteness can see, precisely because this world is the one in which they are comfortable and virtually unchallenged. Challenging the very structures and institutions upon which Whiteness has been built is like trying to metaphorically deconstruct The Matrix. Most living in Whiteness don’t want to wake up, For waking up would obliterate their world, their very understanding of their existence. And that’s too high a price for recognizing racism and inequality, and their own inadvertent hand in both.


City Place Mall: Why You Don’t Shop Where There’s A “Hood Policy”

March 4, 2014

City Place Mall, main entrance, Silver Spring, MD, June 10, 2012. (Farragutful via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC 3.0.

City Place Mall, main entrance, Silver Spring, MD, June 10, 2012. (Farragutful via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC 3.0.

Last Thursday afternoon (February 27), a security guard at City Place Mall in Downtown Silver Spring, Maryland confronted me and my 10-year-old son about wearing a hood over our heads, having just come inside from below-freezing and windy weather. The security guard explained that the policy at City Place Mall is to forbid patrons from wearing hoods, hats, scarves, sunglasses and other clothing that would make us more difficult to identify. When I asked for a written indication of this policy, the security guard told us that the one sign for your 400,000-square-foot mall was downstairs in the lower lobby, which does patrons like me little good in informing us of their racism and stupidity.

Keep in mind, I’m a 44-year-old man with a 10-year-old kid, who’s only intent was to go to an indoor ATM machine to withdraw my money from my bank account so that we wouldn’t freeze. We weren’t shopping at Marshall’s or another store in the mall. What were we going to do, buy two packs of Skittles at the dump of a snack store at City Place instead of just one? Buy two bottles of Lipton Ice Tea (Arizona Ice Tea makes our teeth hurt)?

Me with hood get-up I wore last week with son in tow (numbers added), March 4, 2014. (Donald Earl Collins).

Me with hood get-up I wore last week with son in tow (numbers added), March 4, 2014. (Donald Earl Collins).

If this is how they treat all patrons, this policy would merely be a stupid one. I suspect, though, that they don’t stop women in veils or burqas, Sikhs with turbans or every person wearing sunglasses. No, Black and Brown male patrons — especially ones that look young and healthy — are their targets for such an idiotic policy.

I emailed Lisa Petrie about this incident and wanted clarifications about this policy. Petrie is a co-owner of Petrie Ross Ventures, LLC, the Annapolis-based group that manages (read owns here) City Place Mall. In addition, I asked her to answer the following questions:

1. Is this in fact the policy of City Place Mall, to force patrons to remove hoods and other clothing upon entering the mall?

2. If this is in fact your policy, then why isn’t it posted conspicuously at the entrances to the mall for all patrons to see and read?

3. Is this policy one that security guards are supposed to apply, and if so, are they doing so in an equitable manner?

Petrie didn’t answer any of my questions. Instead, she emailed me this response:

It is our policy in all of our properties to ask our patrons to remove their hats, hoods, etc. only as a safety precaution for all that visit our malls. I am unsure as to the procedures as I am not part of the operations team however I will ask that if you have any questions that you follow up with the property manager on site, Mr. Gary Brewer.

Bottom half of a Petri dish, the only thing I'll buy from City Place Mall in the future, October 20, 2005. (Miaow Miaow via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC 2.0.

Bottom half of a Petri dish, the only thing I’ll buy from City Place Mall in the future, October 20, 2005. (Miaow Miaow via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC 2.0.

This is a ridiculous statement, unless by “safety precaution,” Petrie means that there are George Zimmermans in all their malls waiting to shoot anyone with a hood over their heads if their skin has a significant melanin content. I did, after Petrie sent me his contact information, send Brewer the same information about the incident, as well as my questions. Mr. Brewer has refused to respond.

If this is how City Place Mall and Petrie Ross expects to treat its patrons, though, I think that whatever plans you have for this mall should come with the disclaimer that not all patrons are welcome, especially Black and Brown males. You can name your dilapidated mall Ellsworth or even Crap. I already don’t shop there. I can always withdraw money from another ATM.


Over 3 Billion Blacks Killed

February 19, 2014

McDonald's signage, Austin, MN, May 20, 2006. (Jonathunder via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC and GFDL.

McDonald’s signage, Austin, MN, May 20, 2006. (Jonathunder via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC and GFDL.

Do you remember those McDonald’s signs back in the ’70 and ’80s, before the corporation went global (from 6,000 to 30,000 franchises since ’92), where they said, “Over 100 Million Served” hamburgers or “1o Billion Served?” If the signage is there at all these days, it usually says “Billions and Billions Served.” That’s about as cheap as Black life is in the US as well, though maybe a bit more expensive in Western countries in general (they do use the Euro, after all!).

I’ve been thinking about the low value of Black lives for years, even in the middle of grad school at Pitt. But I must admit, it’s been on my mind more and more since George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin nearly two years ago. Now, with the hung jury over the murder of Jordan Davis, with so many who find it easy to render Black and Brown lives cheaper than dog meat in the middle of the Roman Coliseum 2,000 years ago, it seems that there’s no such thing as a dead stereotype.

Jordan Davis' Facebook picture, February 17, 2014. (via Huffington Post).

Jordan Davis’ Facebook picture, February 17, 2014. (via Huffington Post).

It’s so infused in popular culture, as life and art intertwine in a macabre dance on Black and Brown bodies. Blacks especially (and for the most part, Latinos) don’t feel pain the same way as Whites. We lack the emotional and psychological control of Whites. We’re irrational and prone to criminal behavior. We’re lazy and don’t mind living in abject poverty. We love illegal drugs, but love malt liquor and hard alcohol even more. We’ll eat anything deep-fried, and don’t mind dying before middle age just so that we can save the Social Security dollars for elderly White folk.

With that as the backdrop, it’s no wonder much of the movies, music, TV and Internet depictions of us ultimately ends in our gratuitous, ubiquitous and anonymous deaths. Yes, even in 2014! I’ve recently binge-watched the now defunct CW series Nikita (2010-14) with Maggie Q as the lead. I counted at least thirty Black actors on the series over its seventy-four episodes. Only two survived the series, and one (character played by Lyndie Greenwood) wasn’t even in the last two episodes because the actress was doing double-duty on FOX’s Sleepy Hollow!

But if anyone were to take some of the largest grossing films and franchises of all time, it would become obvious how cheap folks in the US and elsewhere think Black and Brown lives really are. Between Independence Day (1996) and The Terminator series of films (1984-2009) alone, you would have to assume that almost all of the forty million Blacks living in the US died in these fictional realities, not to mention the 1.2 billion folks of at least partial African descent living in other Western nations, Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil and the rest of Latin America. That this has occurred more than once in these films alone puts us at 2.48 billion Blacks killed.

Then, between lesser known/lesser quality films like The Day After Tomorrow (2004), Deep Impact (1998), The War of the Worlds (2005) and Hunger Games (2012-present), it would seem that in every global calamity, most Blacks draw the short straw. These movies (and, prior to these movies, books) put us easily over three billion Blacks and Browns killed. And that’s without accounting for standard action films, cops-and-criminals shows, and other cinematographic renderings of the Black and Brown as disposable human beings. Unless you’re Don Cheadle, Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Morgan Freeman (sometimes) or Halle Berry, if you’re Black or Brown, your job in popular culture is to die a violent death.

Of course, those upset with my sardonic take will say, “Well what about gansta rap? What about Ice-T, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and so many other rappers who present Black lives as cheaper than bottled water?” Three things: 1. you really need to update yourself on today’s rap, between Lil Jon, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne, before commenting; 2. the “gansta rappers” of the ’90s were mostly rapping about a lived experience, not some fantasy life; and 3. they figured out that they could and can make money off of Black deaths in lyrical rhymes, just like folks in the movie, TV and real worlds.

Venison meat for braising, February 19, 2014. (http://www.simplyscratch.com).

Venison meat for braising, February 19, 2014. (http://www.simplyscratch.com).

This will make the likes of George Zimmerman, Michael Dunn, and substantial numbers in the NYPD and LAPD happy. Actually, what would really make them happy would be a version of the movie The Purge (2013). But instead of crime and murder being legal for one day a year, they would have to get a “coon hunting” license to kill themselves a Black or Brown person one day a year. That way, they could keep our numbers low, just like hunters do with deer every fall.


The Walking Danger

July 12, 2013

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Justice4Trayvon blackout box, July 12, 2013. (http://jet.com).

Regardless of the verdict in the Florida v. Zimmerman (a.k.a. Justice4Trayvon) trial, there’s one sad and terrifying lesson to take away from the past seventeen months. No Black male past puberty can assume themselves to be safe once they leave their homes to do so much as to cross the street. It doesn’t matter if you’re 6’1″ and 173 pounds, like I was my senior year of high school, or 6’6″ and 300 pounds, like a good- sized high school offensive lineman. We’re not just assumed guilty. We’re assumed to have a value the equivalent of a quart of recycled cooking oil.

It amazes me that with as much walking as I did while growing up in Mount Vernon and in walking all through the city, I only faced a handful of Walking While Black incidents. From the time my Mom and my late idiot ex-stepfather Maurice moved me and my older brother Darren into 616, I was a frequent walker. At seven, my Mom sent us to the store for groceries, for soda, for cigarettes and pork rinds. Yeah, the store was a block and a half away on East Lincoln, but that block and a half led to my first mugging at nine.

By then, my walks to the store went into Pelham and Milk ‘n Things, a three-block walk, as well as stores within three blocks of the Pelham border. That led to the first weird stares from Italian store owners. At the same time, when my father Jimme came back into our lives in ’79, we’d walk to Mount Vernon’s South Side. We’d walk to East Third Street and Wino Park on Fulton and Third, to the rib shack across the street from the park, to Sanford Blvd, even into the Bronx depending on Jimme’s alcohol level. That would lead to confrontations with street folks, and even occasional stares from cops.

Wise Cheez Doodles, one of my favorites to buy as a teenager, July 12, 2013. (http://twitter.com).

Wise Cheez Doodles, one of my favorites to buy as a teenager, July 12, 2013. (http://twitter.com).

By the time I hit puberty in the spring and summer of ’82, in no small part because of the collapse of anything resembling a family at Hebrew-Israelite 616, I began to walk everywhere. Some of my walks were because my Mom’s marriage had given her more mouths to feed and no time to go to the store. So me (mostly) and Darren (on occasion) would walk from 616 to stores like C-Town in Pelham (a mile or so away), Waldbaum’s on East Prospect (a mile and a quarter away) or stores in between for food. This became part of an eventual everyday routine, one that would last until well after I began college at the University of Pittsburgh (at least, when I was home for the holidays or the summer).

We also walked to get my younger brothers and sister Sarai out of the stifling apartment, especially because it was quite literally so during the summer months. We walked from 616 to Pelham, Pelham Manor, the Bronx, Bronxville and New Rochelle in those first couple of summers after puberty. The kids helped us look less suspicious, I suppose, because two teenage Black males had no business being anywhere near the six-figure-income-set’s communities in the mid-80s (or even now) otherwise.

I also began walking to explore, escape and think. It was next to impossible to think at home, with the constant noise, threats of abuse and actual abuse and domestic violence. So by the time I’d reached tenth grade, I needed to walk, by myself and with no agenda other than to make plans for my future while clearing my head. I did get followed by Bronxville PD a couple of times. But mostly, lost Whites from out-of-state would stop and ask for directions to the Bronx River Parkway or I-87.

Hershey's Chocolate Milk (at 17, a 16oz was my favorite store-bought drink), July 12, 2013. (http://www.gifarmer.com).

Hershey’s Chocolate Milk (at 17, a 16oz was my favorite store-bought drink), July 12, 2013. (http://www.gifarmer.com).

It wasn’t until after my seventeenth birthday — when I finally began to put on a little weight (muscle, I guess) — that walking around New York, Mount Vernon and nearby environs began to feel dangerous. Or at least, others began to act as if I was the danger. I’d become a regular weekend strap-hanger on the 2 out of 241st Street headed either to the Upper West Side, Midtown or Downtown, as well as parts of the Bronx. To hunt for the latest tapes, to go to a museum or a library, to just walk around and take the city in. But I also knew to be careful, to be leery of the NYPD, to keep my hands out of my pockets whenever I went to Tower Records or Crazy Eddie’s or even Gray’s Papaya.

Still, there were incidents at Milk-N-Things and Tower Records and a general feeling that folks, older, often White but also frequently Black were genuinely afraid that I — a person who’d been mugged four times before my fourteenth birthday — would hurt them.

Walking was how I learned how different I was from a societal perspective. That though a teenage, I was the dangerous Black male, to be treated as if I just escaped the plantation, as if I hope to find a store to knock over and a White girl to knock up against her will.

I’d hoped to spare my son this lesson. Sadly, because of George Zimmerman killing Trayvon Martin, I can’t. But at least he won’t have to learn this lesson from scratch like I did. And luckily, I knew and did enough to avoid danger — or being seen as the danger — long before I turned seventeen.


Rachel Jeantel, A Real, True Beautiful Friend

June 28, 2013

Witness Rachel Jeantel continued her testimony,  George Zimmerman trial, Sanford, FL, June 27, 2013. (Jacob Langston, AP/Orlando Sentinel; http://time.com).

Witness Rachel Jeantel continued her testimony, George Zimmerman trial, Sanford, FL, June 27, 2013. (Jacob Langston, AP/Orlando Sentinel; http://time.com).

There will be months’ worth of stuff written and said about Rachel Jeantel and her performance on the witness stand during the George Zimmerman trial. Everything from her dark skin and being overweight to her lazy tongue syndrome and reluctance to take the witness stand. Between Black Twitter on Wednesday critiquing her language, shyness, and style and blond-haired, bubble-headed Whites picking apart her testimony on Thursday, it’s a wonder that anyone sees Ms. Jeantel as a human being. She’s far more than the hero, villain or ghetto girl that folks in social media have and will portray her to be.

Ms. Jeantel is beautiful to me, skin-deep and otherwise. Yes, she’s not perfect, which is one of the things that makes her a beautiful person. The most important thing to remember about Jeantel, though, is that she’s a real person and a real friend. The truest friend any human being could ever hope to have. I should know. I’ve never had more than eight people in my life at any time that I could truly call friend, and none during my preteen and teenage years before college. Of those, about half have proven themselves to be fair-weather friends, unreachable when I’ve needed them the most.

Jeantel is the ultimate friend, for she has acted in Trayvon Martin’s best interests even after his death. A friendship that gave her the strength to tell the truth, to endure ridicule and scorn and hours of cross-examination from Don West. Jeantel gave voice to Martin from beyond the grave, knowing that she was in the right.

Jeantel makes me think of a scene from Tombstone (1993), the one with Val Kilmer playing Doc Holliday. Dying from the long-term effects of tuberculosis and living the life of an alcoholic gambler, Holliday continued to ride with Wyatt Earp to hunt down his youngest brother’s killers. When asked, “Why you doin’ this, Doc?,” Holliday said

“Because Wyatt Earp is my friend.”

In response, the other character said, “Friend? Hell, I got lots of friends.” To which Holliday replied, “…I don’t.”

Jeantel may well have lots of friends, but her friendship with Trayvon Martin is as real, true and beautiful as it gets. I hope that my close friends are even one-tenth as true to me after I’m dead as she was to Martin this week.


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