You remember, forever and forever, that moment when you first discover the cruelties and injustices of the world, and having been ill-prepared for them, your heart breaks open.
I mean really discover them, and for yourself; not because someone else told you to see the elephant standing, gigantic and unrelenting in the middle of your room, but because you saw him, and now you know he’s there, and will never go away until you attack him, and with a vengeance.
Last night, and I am writing it down so that I will not forget — because I already know she will not — my oldest daughter, who attained the age of 12 only eleven days ago, became an American. Not in the legal sense. She was already that, born here, and — as a white child in a nation set up for people just like her — fully entitled to all the rights and privileges thereof, without much question or drama. But now she is American in the fullest and most horrible sense of that word, by which I mean she has been truly introduced to the workings of the system of which she is a both a part, and, at the same time, merely an inheritor. A system that fails — with a near-unanimity almost incomprehensible to behold — to render justice to black peoples, the family of Trayvon Martin being only the latest battered by the machinations of American justice, but with all certainty not the last.
To watch her crumble, eyes swollen with tears too salty, too voluminous for her daddy to wipe away? Well now that is but the latest of my heartbreaks; to have to hold her, and tell her that everything will be OK, and to hear her respond, “No it won’t be!” Because see, even though she learned last night about injustice and even more than she knew before about the racial fault lines that divide her nation, she is still a bit too young to fully comprehend the notion of the marathon, as opposed to the sprint; to understand that this is a very long race, indeed that even 26.2 miles is but a crawl in the long distance struggle for justice. And that if she is as bothered by what she sees as it appears, well now she will have to put on some incredibly strong running shoes, because this, my dear, is the work.
This is why daddy does what he does. Now you know.
And yes, I am fully aware that there are still those who would admonish me for even suggesting this case was about race. Not just the defenders of George Zimmerman, with whom I shall deal in a moment, but even the state, whose prosecutors de-racialized this case to a point that frankly was as troubling as anything the defense tried to do. Maybe more. I mean, the defense’s job is to represent their client, and I cannot fault them for having done so successfully. But the prosecution’s job is to make it clear to the jury what the defendant did and preferably why he did it. By agreeing to a fundamentally colorblind, “this isn’t about race,” narrative, they gave away the best part of their arsenal before the war had really started.
Because anyone who still believes that this case had nothing to do with race — or worse, that it was simply a tragedy, the racial meaning of which was concocted by those whom they love to term “race hustlers” — are suffering from a delusion so profound as to call into question their capacities for rational thought. And yet still, let us try to reason with them for a second, as if they were capable of hearing it. Let’s do that for the sake of rational thought itself, as a thing we still believe in; and for our country, which some of us still believe — against all evidence — is capable of doing justice and living up to its promises. In short, let’s give this one more shot.
Those who deny the racial angle to the killing of Trayvon Martin can only do so by a willful ignorance, a carefully cultivated denial of every logical, obvious piece of evidence before them, and by erasing from their minds — if indeed they ever had anything in there to erase — the entire history of American criminal justice, the criminal suspicion regularly attached to black men, and the inevitable results whenever black men pay for these suspicions with their lives. They must choose to leave the dots unconnected between, for instance, Martin on the one hand, and then on the other, Amadou Diallo or Sean Bell or Patrick Dorismond, or any of a number of other black men whose names — were I to list them — would take up page after page, and whose names wouldn’t mean shit to most white people even if I did list them, and that is the problem.
Oh sure, I’ve heard it all before. George Zimmerman didn’t follow Trayvon Martin because Martin was black; he followed him because he thought he might be a criminal. Yes precious, I get that. But what you don’t get — and by not getting it while still managing to somehow hold down a job and feed yourself, scare the shit out of me — is far more important. Namely, if the presumption of criminality that Zimmerman attached to Martin was so attached because the latter was black — and would not have been similarly attached to him had he been white — then the charge of racial bias and profiling is entirely appropriate.
And surely we cannot deny that the presumption of criminality was dependent on this dead child’s race can we? Before you answer, please note that even the defense did not deny this. Indeed, Zimmerman’s attorneys acknowledged in court that their client’s concerns about Martin were connected to two things: suspicious behavior (not one of which they could name, or which was corroborated by anyone, and for which there is no evidence in any event), and the fact that previous break-ins in the neighborhood had been committed by young black males.
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