It seems so obvious now.
I don’t want it all to be about race. I don’t. But I teach mostly Black young people who have told me things like:
1. My family calls me “white boy,” you know, because I’m the one who goes to college.
2. Slavery ended in, like, 1930 right? C’mon Ms. Scott, I can’t remember all these dates.
3. I can’t do _________ <– insert any work, challenging or not, here.
Today my Advanced Composition students and I compared Javon Johnson’s 2013 poem about a day with his nephew to James Baldwin’s 1963 letter to his nephew My Dungeon Shook from his collection The Fire Next Time. We were discussing the technique of letter writing.
When Johnson alludes to Oscar Grant, I tell them we cannot watch the YouTube video of Grant’s shooting because I am triggered. They don’t understand the term “triggered.” But one, a young man who’s told me he’s also a father, nods in understanding.
In this age of technology, one of my students gasps midway through my explanation–she’s accessed the video on her phone.
I am not a parent, but I am an elder to more than a few young people. We know that the rules of engagement; the strategies for survival that Baldwin and Johnson try to outline are flimsy at best.
(And lest we forget that while both Johnson and Baldwin speak of being black males in America, to be a black female is a no easy place to be either).
Okay maybe I’m not showing how obvious it is. Maybe it’s not obvious in the first place. Maybe not even your truth.
But as far as I’m concerned it will be about race as long as we have class divisions predicated by the legacy of African colonialism and especially by the legacy of U.S. slavery.
On the day that Trayvon Martin would be 19 years on this planet except that a vigilante saw his body–brown and tall–as a threat worth leaving the security of a locked and moving vehicle to avenge, it is about race. It is about the vigilante who murdered Martin walking free and on today that same vigilante being touted in news outlets as a “celebrity” seeking to box another “celebrity” to capitalize on his ill-earned notoriety.
It seems so obvious. And how appropriate that it’s on today we came to this lesson; snow days had made it other than my original plan. But here we are. (Here we are too many times–listen to the long list of names Johnson lists in his poem after all).
And the list is still growing as the value of the black body plummets to stereotype at best; threat at worst.
Today, February 5th, 19 years Trayvon Martin would’ve been on this planet were he not destined to become a symbol of a painful truth I’m waiting to see realized as just that. I’m waiting. But not holding my breath. I need that breath for them when they say, “‘a trigger’, Ms. Scott, what do you mean ‘a trigger’?”
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