I woke up yesterday morning with a very heavy heart. Yes, we know Trayvon isn’t the only victim of unjust laws, and we know that our judicial system is not entirely free of classism and racism. We know this, yet what are we doing to stop it? Unfortunately, it is the victims of these injustices that are the least well educated on the subject.
I thought about how I would feel if it had been my brother or one of my little cousins; about how devastating a loss it would be to me and my family. I couldn’t imagine.
It made me recall my own encounters with racism growing up in the small, rural area of Hammond, La. I went to predominately white schools; and by “predominately” I mean there were maybe three or four black students in the entire school. Placed there by my mother who felt that for her children to ever get a chance in this world, we had to be infused into white culture, we had to know how to survive in a white world. So, she infused in us with an education of black empowerment; however, because we lived in Hammond we were unable to attend predominately black schools.
I’m not exaggerating when I say that at school my brother and I were victims of racism every day. And let me tell you, the racial slurs were really creative. We were always on the defensive because we knew it wasn’t right. Yet, when we told our teachers or the authorities about it no action was ever taken against the children responsible. The culture of racism in the schools we attended seemed to be an accepted part of the system. Classism and racism are apart of our judicial system. No one argues this.
I remember one day outside my school, Champ Cooper in Robert, Louisiana. I remember a boy of Hispanic descent (but identified himself as white) calling me a “nigger”. I teared up with anger, and went to the teacher on duty. He approached the boy and asked him what he’d said to me. The boy said, “I called her a nigger, but in the dictionary nigger just means stupid. I was calling her stupid.” The teacher dismissed the boy saying, “Well don’t call her stupid again, now go play.” I was furious but the just teacher told me, “I can’t punish a student for calling you stupid, can I? Now I said go play.” Yet, my friend, a young white girl, stood up for me. She too knew this was not right.
What do we do when the people that are supposed to protect us from injustices do nothing?
My cousin told me about the time he was driving to his senior high school prom. His friend, who was driving the car behind him, was pulled over by a police officer. He asked the officer why he was being pulled over and was told it was because he’d committed a littering offence when he threw a toothpick out of the car window at his last stop. My cousin’s friend – dressed for the prom in his white tuxedo – was then ordered out of the car and made to lie face down on the ground with his hands behind his back.
What do you do when the “boys in blue” are against you too?
My brother had it worse than I did. As a black male with a natural impulse to “defend and protect” he was always conflicted by the experiences we faced. How do you stay alive and keep your pride? When do you defend and protect? What do you do when you have to defend and protect yourself against those who are supposed to defend and protect you?
To what extent is it acceptable? What should you do when those who are supposed to protect you against such acts of hate do nothing?
As children, faced by these questions every day, we became adults who were very aware of our place in society, and very aware of how people saw us. We knew that the odds were stacked against us from birth.
Eventually, we stopped telling our mother about the racism we experienced. We just became vocal crusaders for the disadvantaged. Disadvantage crosses over racial lines and extends to anyone who is helpless – I felt the same sense of outrage about the Casey Anthony verdict as I do about the verdict in the Trayvon case.
You see I don’t know if this situation is different for someone who has experienced racism, and has seen classism, and has faced sexism. Is it different?
When it comes to the law, we are not ignorant and naïve; on the contrary, we are constantly fighting for justice in a world where the law is being used to rip that very justice from us.
Being spurred into outrage from time to time by a high-profile case that the rest of the world is outraged by will have little impact on the next “Trayvon” tragedy. We have to be outraged every day by the injustices that are occurring in our own communities. If each of us were more aware of the scale of the injustice in our own cities, how much more powerful we would be. Most people don’t know their true power to bring about change. By staying updated on your state laws and getting involved in local elections we can do something about these situations before they become headline news, and before it’s too late. Don’t give up until you’ve done everything in your power; and remember, you do have the power.
My heart goes out to Trayvon and to the millions who, for whatever reason, face injustices every day. This is about a public outcry that transcends race, class and religion. This is about right and wrong, about a flawed judicial system and above all, this is about change.
“We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.” – Dr. MLK, Jr.
Until next time….