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Southern Trees Bear A Strange Fruit

July 14, 2013

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.

So the verdict in the Trayvon Martin trial is in and it’s exactly what I said it would be.

I’m not surprised. I’m not even outraged, because outrage would require strong emotion. I’m just numb. I feel nothing.Right, that’s kind of a lie. I feel all the things and as such, I can’t differentiate one feeling from another.

Look, I’m not the spokesperson for Black America. I’m one person with a voice. But I do listen to other people of color when they talk about things. Here’s what I’m hearing.

More Zimmermans

Fear. This is going to happen again. More PoC are going to be killed and more Caucasiains are going to insist the very blackness of their victims instigated so much fear in them that they had to shoot and kill. And they’re going to get away with it. It’s going to happen and we know we can’t do anything to stop it.

Blood on the leaves and blood at the root

I’ve talked about the thugification of Trayvon in the past and I’ve talked about the ways in which Florida more and more resembles 1950. The first is a symptom of the second. A return to the false racist stereotypes of the past leads to justifications for the kind of laws that allow someone to stalk and kill and unarmed teenager. Those stereotypes aren’t accurate but that doesn’t matter because the justifications they lead to and the deaths those justifications cause? Those are extremely real.

The idea that George Zimmerman was in fear for his life was barely questioned. Most people, including the prosecution, just accepted that premise and built around it. Everyone, every fucking one, accept the idea that the man with the firearm was in fear for his life as he was following the boy with the candy.

Can we pause for a minute and review that?

Guy with a gun.

Profiled and followed a boy with some candy.

Boy ends up dead.

The state accepts the assertion that the guy with the gun felt threatened and he gets to go home.

Trayvon Martin is dead.

Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

The lives of PoC in America simply do not hold as much societal value as those of White Americans and we never have. The story of America is the story of racial tension, from before our birth of a nation (see what I did there?) until right this very second.  Walking in certain place while black was illegal and punishable by death under statute in living memory. And Florida just made it clear that is still the case.

Here’s how this works. A white person kills a black person and they excuse it by saying they felt threatened. No matter what the black person has done, the white person feels threatened. So George Zimmerman stalked and murdered a child because he felt threatened. And he got away with it.

We never had a conversation about Trayvon’s fear. Not really.

Guess what, when you’re a PoC, most encounters with Caucasians you don’t know involve a certain amount of fear.

I’m sorry if this is a surprise to any white people reading this, but it’s true. We don’t know what will happen when we are stopped by a random white person for the possible crime being in a place, or riding in a car, or existing in the world. Will they randomly accuse us of some imagined wrong and then use that as an excuse to cause trouble? Will they commit some wrong and then blame us, certain that they will not be blamed? Will they erupt into violence?

These are not pleasant questions and OK, my tongue was maybe a little bit in my cheek but only a very little.

Pastoral scene of the gallant south,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,

Real talk, PoC have to live that way. A number of my very dear, liberal, white friends expressed the same sentiment as a result of the verdict; “Who would have thought that you could still be killed just for walking black?”

The answer is, black people. If you are black, you can be forgiven for adding “duh” to the end of that answer. We all thought that. We all live that. We have to. If we don’t live that way, we could die. This is the world as PoC must interact with it. And this verdict will make that world more dangerous. Because as easy at it was before for PoC to be profiled and then killed, the very little pause the possibility of consequences may have given someone inclined to shoot first and ask questions never, will be gone.

I mean, Florida has already had a case wherein someone shouts racial slurs, shoots a black man in the face, leaves him on the ground, calls 911, sits down to finish his fucking dinner and then tells the cops  he “only shot a nigger.”

That the world we live in now and it’s only going to get worse.

Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

Clearly that guy didn’t need permission. But there are some people who will look at this verdict, as further proof that PoC have no value, because that’s exactly what the verdict is saying. Killing something of no value is no big deal right.

And that’s where the numbness comes from. Because no matter how deeply the lesson of othering is ingrained, no matter how early the knowledge that we are different and less than is brought home, hope springs eternal.

Sp many of us think that maybe, just maybe, things will be different this time.

But it’s never different.  At least it hasn’t been yet.

Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh,
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh.

But it doesn’t have to stay that way. There’s just a hell of a lot of work we have to do, and by we I mean withe people. Because this is not a problem that PoC can solve. I know this is usually the time when I try to rally Black America into action, but we are not the mechanism for change in this case. This one is on you, white folks.You’ve got to do the work on this one.

What do I mean by work? Yes, I mean all of the usual things, voting and activism. Donate to the Trayvon Martin Foundation. Write your congress members. Sign the NAACP petition. Do all of those things. But more than anything I mean you’ve got to open your mouths and speak when you hear justifications like the one that was the entire basis of the Zimmerman defense. You’ve got to call out the lie that PoC are dangerous to Caucasians and more criminal overall. You got to point out how entirely racist that sentiment is. You absolutely cannot allow your desire to not rock the boat continue to make us targets because when you do that black people die.

Here is fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.

We should be better than that. I want us to be better than that. I presume most of you do too. As I’ve said before, as a PoC, I have to be constantly aware of the fact that I’m not of the norm because if I’m not that lack of awareness could get me very, very killed. That is not a flaw in my character or a blind spot in my awareness. That is a problem with the society I live in. I can’t fix society. Black America doesn’t have that power.

Set your goal; racial equity, not racial harmony. They aren’t the same. One is the state of actually being equal and the other is the state of shutting up and smiling while ignoring the lack of equity.

Fight for your goal. Know that you fight will be a long series of painful failures. That’s how profound change works. It hurts and it’s hard and you get slapped down and discouraged but you keep fighting. The members of the Montgomery Bus Boycott walked for over a year through violence and bombings and attacks, until they won their fight. You can absolutely correct the guy in the next cubicle when he starts talking about how black people are the cause of crime, or when one of your girlfriends says she heard that Trayvon was a thug, or when anyone starts justifying Zimmerman’s fear of the child he stalked and killed.

You can do that. You must do that.

Or we can all keep harvesting the same strange and bitter crop.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. July 14, 2013 5:57 AM

    I’m a middle-aged white woman who lives in very racist southern West Virginia. I WILL speak out. And I thank you for your words, which are so much more powerful than mine.

  2. July 14, 2013 2:28 PM

    Martin took about 40 minutes to complete a half-mile walk from the 7-11 to where Zimmerman first saw him. That walk would take 10 minutes, tops. I could crawl a half-mile on my knees in the rain faster than Martin walked it. Then, when Zimmerman saw him, he reported in the 911 call that Martin was moving slowly from house to house. (Source: http://www.americanthinker.com/2012/06/what_the_media_choose_not_to_know_about_trayvon.html).

    Martin had been previously found at school with twelve pieces of women’s jewelry in his backpack and a large flathead screwdriver (Source: http://usnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2012/03/26/10872124-trayvon-martin-was-suspended-three-times-from-school?lite). The security guard who searched him wasn’t even looking for drugs or stolen goods. He was searching for a graffiti marker of some sort, to prove that Martin had scrawled something on a locker.

    It’s not like the details from that second paragraph are needed to provide reasonable suspicion that Martin was up to something. When one observes a man, or a 17-year-old 5’11” ‘boy’ if that’s what we should call him, walking slowly from house to house in the rain and looking around, one is not legally or ethically in the wrong to keep an eye on him.

    Also, if the ‘best the prosecution could do’ was witness statements that contradicted themselves, and hiding evidence in the discovery process, then I’m not surprised that they couldn’t make their case. Any comments on the ethical violations they committed during discovery?

    • July 14, 2013 9:40 PM

      So this crap? Is exactly the kind of bullshit justification I was talking about.

      YOU’RE WRONG AND YOUR POINT OF VIEW IS ENTIRELY RACIST.

      Martin took about 40 minutes to complete a half-mile walk from the 7-11 to where Zimmerman first saw him. That walk would take 10 minutes, tops. I could crawl a half-mile on my knees in the rain faster than Martin walked it. Then, when Zimmerman saw him, he reported in the 911 call that Martin was moving slowly from house to house.

      So what? Strolling while black is also, not actually a crime.

      The following is an example of the kind of thugification I was talking about. Guess what?

      YOU’RE WRONG AND YOUR POINT OF VIEW IS ENTIRELY RACIST.

      Martin had been previously found at school with twelve pieces of women’s jewelry in his backpack and a large flathead screwdriver. The security guard who searched him wasn’t even looking for drugs or stolen goods. He was searching for a graffiti marker of some sort, to prove that Martin had scrawled something on a locker.

      Right, because Zimmerman knew Trayvon’s school history? Oh wait, no. He didn’t. What he knew was that a black person was walking in his neighborhood.

      It’s not like the details from that second paragraph are needed to provide reasonable suspicion that Martin was up to something. When one observes a man, or a 17-year-old 5’11″ ‘boy’ if that’s what we should call him, walking slowly from house to house in the rain and looking around, one is not legally or ethically in the wrong to keep an eye on him.

      If your understanding of keeping an eye on someone is bringing a gun and killing them then you are doing wrong. also, you are a danger to every black person you encounter.

      • July 14, 2013 10:16 PM

        I guess the witness who saw Martin on top of Zimmerman, pummeling him in what he described as a ‘mixed martial arts’ move (Martin was an accomplished fighter who had been asked to train other kids to fight), lied.

        I guess lawfully carrying a concealed weapon with a permit everywhere you go is ‘bringing’ a gun, as if you’re going back to your house and strapping it on AFTER you see the suspicious guy, for the purpose of killing him– very nice wording.

        And I guess being a neighborhood watch volunteer means you should call the police and walk away. Why keep up with where the suspicious person is going? It’s not like it’s your neighborhood; not like you care about the residents.

        Once my Florida concealed carry permit arrives, I will once again be carrying on a daily basis, as I did when I was an Alabama resident. I don’t think that minorities are dangerous or scary. I would consider it my responsibility to call the police if I saw a suspicious activity in my neighborhood, regardless of the individual’s ethnic phenotype. In fact, the only time I’ve been victimized was by two white men who robbed me at knife-point. I have no reason to assume that a person of your lovely skin color means me any harm.

        Zimmerman stated that the young man was moving slowly from house to house and looking all around. In the rain, no less. It’s comical how you can lie to yourself, even with the entire case already presented and done with, and insist that he must have been innocently walking four times slower than an average pace. In the rain. Yep, makes sense!

        I made this a long comment, but I’m done now. It makes me ill to look at the kind of race-baiting garbage that you post, and wonder if you’re having an impact on an impressionable, uneducated mind somewhere. I won’t be responding to you, or visiting this page again.

        • July 15, 2013 12:28 AM

          Thank you again for so clearly and entirely exemplifying my point. “The first is a symptom of the second. A return to the false racist stereotypes of the past leads to justifications for the kind of laws that allow someone to stalk and kill and unarmed teenager.”

          By Florida statute, a person who is in fear for their life is perfectly justified in using violence. And you know what? If some random white guy were following me with a gun, I would absolutely be in fear for my life. As such, if Trayvon was on top, which is still in dispute as other witnesses have said he was not, well within his rights to attempt to defend himself from the person stalking him with a gun.

          Everyone, every fucking one, accept the idea that the man with the firearm was in fear for his life as he was following the boy with the candy. It’s a laughable premise.

          I’ll point out again, YOU’RE WRONG AND YOUR POINT OF VIEW IS ENTIRELY RACIST.

          Hey rational people. That sentence that I keep typing in all caps? That’s for you. That’s all you need to call out the ridiculous justifications that people will come up with.

          And I guess being a neighborhood watch volunteer means you should call the police and walk away.

          He wasn’t a member of a neighborhood watch, not a real one. In fact that National Sheriff’s Association, the people who administer the NW programs just produced a statement which states, in part, “The Neighborhood Watch Program fosters collaboration and cooperation with the community and local law enforcement by encouraging citizens to be aware of what is going on in their communities and contact law enforcement if they suspect something – NOT take the law in their own hands,” continued Executive Director Kennard. “The alleged participant ignored everything the Neighborhood Watch Program stands for and it resulted in a young man losing his life. Our thoughts and prayers are with the family of Trayvon Martin during this terrible time.”

          He was WRONG and everyone who isn’t having a critical logic and compassion fail knows that.

          Zimmerman stated that the young man was moving slowly from house to house and looking all around. In the rain, no less.

          Strolling in the rain in a strange neighborhood? There are roughly a gabillion logical reasons a person could do that. The first that springs to mind is that he was looking at house numbers. But you know what? Shockingly to absolutely no one except George Zimmerman and apparently you, strolling while black is not a crime. but it’s the reason that child is currently in the ground.

          So, white people who aren’t this guy right here. This is the choice you have. You can be this guy, and keep insisting that the murder of an unarmed child was somehow justified by his past or his pace or anything other than his race or you can use the sentence I’ve been using and call it out when you see it. If you don’t do that, you keep reaping your strange and bitter crop.

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