When the Trayvon verdict came down a week ago, my first thought was, I need to write about this. It’s news. I should be tendering an opinion. I am a member of the media, after all. But somehow I couldn’t. I couldn’t summon one ounce of passion over the verdict. My poor mother, on the other hand, was so angry she cleaned the stove – a hated chore she accomplished so masterfully that the sucker looked brand new when I came to visit days later.
I was blasé about the entire trial. I half listened to testimony, not even bothering to cringe or roll my eyes when they put that ridiculous, practically illiterate girl on the stand. Yeah, that helped. And when old George was set free, I felt nothing. I wasn’t upset. I wasn’t surprised. I wasn’t compelled to march or cry or complain or even tweet.
The fact is, this type of thing – young black man gunned down and white killer set free – happens all the time. It’s just that poor Trayvon won the martyr hat for the year. Don’t get me wrong. It is a tragic loss of life. We’ll never know what that young man might have accomplished. He could have been our second black president. It’s undeniably sad that because of someone else’s immaturity and fear, he won’t have an opportunity to change the world or even to contribute in some way.
It’s tragic that Trayvon will only be remembered in this horrid context, his handsome brown face emblazoned on hoodies, associated with death and anger, injustice and wasted potential. But the fact is crying out about unfairness and racial this and that, while valid, is not the answer. We as a group have got to teach people how to treat us. If we don’t, nothing will change. There will be another Trayvon next year, and three years from now and on and on – because in the eyes of society, unless he’s on a basketball court, a football field or some other venue where it’s accepted that he will dominate, a black man’s life isn’t worth two dead flies.
What finally sparked my passion was a piece I read on EURWeb where Cornel West called the President a “global George Zimmerman.” WTF? President Obama is one, count ‘em, one man. He is an example, a fabulous one, of what happens with hard work, dedication, education, familial support. He is the first Black man in the White House. His influence is vast. But he cannot fix all of the ills that Black people suffer in this country. Not in four years or 40 years. Not without a whole lot of help from the rest of us.
West has long been a critic of the President. But whatever President Obama’s flaws, this widespread belief that he should be a savior for black people is just silly. Society has not been conditioned to see a black man or a black anything with significant favor. A black man has little to no power in this world. He and the black woman are caricatures, a glut of stereotypes, most of them negative, wrapped in a mantle of resentment because we are beautiful and talented and smart and do practically nothing with any of it.
If President Obama came out guns blazing, throwing his weight around and trying to strong arm change the way some pundits seem to think he should, he’d go down hard and super fast, and what good he has been able to accomplish – the residual effects that his very presence has helped to bring about – against a very tall stacked deck would not exist. He’d be slotted into a historical box marked “just another black man with more swagger than sense.”
Whatever barriers stand in black folks’ way, educational, sociological, economic, it’s not enough to prevent us from saving ourselves. We can do it. Everything we need is already there. But as a group we have to prioritize dignity, family, education, health and positivity. We have to embrace change, eschew fear, and be willing to try new things because failure is not a bad word, it’s a lesson, and the ego in its negative sense is not something we give a shit about. We have to support each other as we pull a collective George and Weezy Jefferson, and we have to believe and behave as though we have value, as though we are beautiful.
We have to read to our kids. We have to expose them to more than four blocks in the neighborhood. We have to fill each other’s heads with possibilities, love living good – the right way – traveling, working hard and above all we must hold one another accountable for doing the right thing. We have to do this consistently, as a unified group. Only then can we change society’s deep rooted feelings about us and our worth. And only then can we prevent needless deaths like Trayvon Martin.
This blog also appeared on Diversity Executive online.