Photo: You see that hoodie now and you think it’s precious. At what age does that preciousness fade away?
Every child is precious: Born with incredible potential and beauty. They are born with untarnished honor and worth. Every one of their actions considered to be the most important on earth. Children are a privileged class–and though they are challenging, they are protected. They are loved. Their worth, dignity, beauty, preciousness goes without question and is a privileged thing. Every child is precious and valued..
Except for Black boys.
Outside of our community–outside the arms of mothers and grandmothers and aunts and other women who choose to love them, outside of pastors and uncles and fathers and mentors, outside of our churches and our institutions that choose to perpetually rally on their behalf–little black boys (and girls, too, but I’ll address that in a moment) lose the innocence, the preciousness, the unquestionable value and worth that other children get. Somewhere, their energy, their light, the things that make them special is converted. It is transformed in the eyes of others, who don’t understand them, who don’t love them, and becomes twisted into something to be feared and loathed. Somewhere along the way, little black boys enter a period of acute and unceasing danger: open season. The time when black boys are too powerful to go unnoticed, too alluring to go unmolested, too menacing to be left unmonitored, too dangerous to live. Black boys leave boyhood when their little baby bellies and toddling wobbles become early muscles and swift strides. Our boys shed their boyhood quickly. Our society turns our boys into men unreasonably early. Our men are hunted like they are animals. Some people in this society see that as an obvious comparison.
As a little black girl, I was talked to about strangers. Men that would see my budding body as something to be used and discarded. As a lot of women are taught to protect themselves in the face of men who would prey on them, little black girls get a darker kind of story. The story of men who see us as women for comfort. Women who are irresistible–feral in our own behaviors and sexuality. Women incapable of controlling ourselves: In anger and in coitus. Women incapable of love, but women certainly capable of giving satisfaction. Women who are coveted for physical assets, but never mental contribution. I need only look at my daily WordPress stats sheet and see the search terms that people have used and have stumbled onto my blog. The sexualization and fetishization of black women is not new, and indeed, it’s easily combated.
But hunting season. Open hunting season? That is impossible to escape.
6 women took something precious from my sons on Saturday. 6 women came to the conclusion that, if you fear Black men and you encounter them in any situation and in any place in the world, it is perfectly reasonable to execute them. If you are in an area and encounter a black person, and you deem that black person’s presence to be inappropriate and you fear that they will (inevitably) do harm to you or others like you, it’s ok to execute them. If you choose to actively hunt a black person, for sport or for fear, and you execute that black person, simply plead self defense and you will be free to continue to hunt. “Reasonable doubt” is incredibly clear when it comes to Black men: Black men are large, Black men are scary, Black men are naturally capable of fighting, and Black men are capable of killing no matter what the circumstance.
Or the age.
6 women decided that my sons aren’t precious beyond the walls of my household.
6 women decided that my sons do not deserve the freedom to walk the world without fear.
6 women decided that my sons are not worthy of being given the benefit of the doubt—that they are good people, doing the right thing, in the right place, doing lawful things.
6 women decided that my sons, with their skin that is just brown enough, are not dignified enough to be able to defend themselves when they are lawfully walking the earth but are stalked and assaulted by another.
6 women took the legal precedents of life and liberty away from my sons.
6 women put an open season sign on the backs of my boys.
Do you think me dramatic? Have you rolled your eyes at this blog post? Have you wondered what the big deal is about this case, anyway? Have you thought out loud about why we’ve invested so much energy into one dead kid and one neighborhood-watchman?
We mothers have so many things to worry about. Common colds, terminal illness, crazy drivers, accidents of any kind. We worry about kidnappers just as much as we worry about our kid wandering and getting lost on a cold night. We worry about school and its many, many influences on our children. We worry about drugs and alcohol. We worry about every little thing that will touch our precious children.
And some of us worry about guns and our children.
For a lot of women, “guns and our children” brings images of Sandy Hook. For others, it brings images of blood on streets in Chicago. For yet more, it brings images of Sean Bell.
and now, for mothers of color, it brings images of George Zimmerman.
But the problem is that George Zimmerman is really George Everyman. Every man with a gun who thinks he has something to protect. Every man who looks at his house like it’s his “castle” and his wife as his “woman” who needs to be protected from every boogieman from here to the ends of the earth. George Everyman is the one who carries the gun not just because an ancient piece of paper says that he can, but also because he knows that he must be prepared for the inevitable day when someone acts out of line. George Everyman lives in every neighborhood in every state. George Everyman sees a firearm not as a tool for protection after every other measure has been used. George Everyman sees a firearm as the first and best line of defense when the animals come out.
But George Everyman isn’t the only problem.
Tom and Becky Everyman are the problem, too. The middle-class/upper-middle class white people who saw this case and decided that it didn’t matter. The people who live in communities and actively choose to avoid people of color as much as they can. People who aren’t actively calling Black people niggers on a daily basis, but people who also cross the street whenever they see a Black person walking in their direction at night time. People who hold their purse a little tighter when there is a Black person in their aisle at the grocery store. People who see Black people move into their neighborhood and then begin to wonder if they need to get a security system. People who are racist, but just not overtly racist. People who never wonder about the experience of their Black and Brown peers. People who wake up every day in a world of their own choosing. They see Black and Brown people in the places they expect–Grocery store clerk, Starbucks Barista, Janitor, Waiter, mail delivery person–and those people are ignored. They see Black and Brown people in other places–lawyer, doctor, supervisor, President–and, well, those people are exceptions to a very long held and yet to be discarded rule.
Tom and Becky Everyman are the people who end up on juries. Tom and Becky Everyman look at circumstances like this one and wonder out loud about why Trayvon was out at night, what Trayvon was doing to arouse suspicion, why, if Trayvon was so innocent, would he start punching George Zimmerman. Why he would smoke marijuana and get suspended from school. Tom and Becky Everyman know that Trayvon must have done something to make George uncomfortable. Tom and Becky Everyman have absolutely no problem with George stalking Trayvon for no reason. Tom and Becky Everyman think that it’s perfectly reasonable to assume that, since Black people had committed crimes in the neighborhood before, every Black person who entered the neighborhood must be committing some sort of crime. Tom and Becky Everyman doesn’t have a problem with Trayvon being just barely 17 because Tom and Becky Everyman already fear young black men that age. Tom and Becky Everyman tell themselves they aren’t racist. Tom and Becky Everyman don’t know enough Black or Brown people, so no one tells them otherwise.
6 Becky Everymans disregarded that Trayvon was a precious child. They decided that his preciousness had expired and had transformed into what everyone knows is the inevitable snarling, animalistic Black man within. The one who deserved to be followed, assaulted, and shot at point blank range.
6 Becky Everymans put open season signs on my sons’ backs.
The Martin Family has endured this saga with a grace and power that can only come from a place of true and powerful faith. They said from the beginning that all they wanted was a trial. Justice came in the form of an arrest and a trial. They got those two things, and they said that they were satisfied with that, and thus, I must take my cue from them. I told myself that I would accept whatever verdict that jury handed down, but I must tell you, it was a hard, impossible swallow.
My sons are precious today. They will be precious tomorrow. They are children who are loved, just as Trayvon was (is). My sons have infinite potential, so long as they are given as many opportunities as possible to reach it. My sons are being raised by two good people who believe in peace and justice, just as Trayvon’s parents did.
One day, my White husband and I will sit our sons down at a kitchen table. We’ll have to explain to them, calmly, how to behave around men, specifically White men, who are armed. We’ll have to explain to them that they’ll have to assume, in some cases and in some areas, that many of the White men that they may encounter may well have a concealed weapon. We’ll have to talk to them about how they dress and how they talk and the way they walk and where they should go and be at night sometimes. We’ll have to talk to them about softened faces and comforting smiles, hands that are always in sight, movements that are never alarming. My husband and I will have to explain to our sons that they can never assume that a police officer is an actual friendly ally. My husband and I will have to explain to them that men with firearms aren’t necessarily good guys at all.
6 Becky Everymans will be responsible for that conversation.
6 Becky Everymans put open season signs on my sons’ backs.
Your children are precious today. They will be precious tomorrow. They will be precious long after my sons have shed their preciousness in the eyes of this society. If you are angry about the verdict that came down yesterday, you can do something more powerful that posting a Facebook comment or signing and petition. If you choose to teach your children about firearms, you can teach them not to be George Everyman. If you live in all-white communities or barely integrated communities, you can teach expose your children to the colorful world around them. You can treat people of color in service positions with dignity and respect, you can make your children shake the hands of professional people of color who they encounter in your community. You can choose to perpetually take them to integrated places to get them comfortable with the fact that people of color are everywhere and they are not violent and they have the right to life and love and learn and be. Even if you wonder if you are, yourself, a Tom or Becky Everyman, you can commit to making sure that your children aren’t. Your children can extend the longevity of the preciousness of my sons and the many Black and brown sons out there through the small acts of kindness, caring and humanity.
Open Season only lasts as long as we allow it to.
Open Season ends when we decide as a society that every little boy if precious. That their preciousness never fades.
Open Season ends when eyes, hearts and minds are open.