Tell me what has become of my rights
Am I invisible because you ignore me?
Your proclamation promised me free liberty, now
I’m tired of bein’ the victim of shame
They’re throwing me in a class with a bad name
I can’t believe this is the land from which I came
You know I really do hate to say it
The government don’t wanna see
But if [Martin Luther] was livin’
He wouldn’t let this be.
Michael Jackson wrote released those words in 1996 in his hit song “They Don’t Care About Us”. And as the methodic beat of that drum played over and over in my head, those words permeated throughout my spirit as I continued to struggle with the death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin, gunned down steps away from his own home in Sanford, Florida weeks ago. Over the past weeks, the assasination of Trayvon Martin has dredged up lots of emotions for us. Pain. Anger. Hatred. Confusion. Unanswered questions abound. What if Trayvon was white? What if Zimmerman were Black and his victim white? Why hasn’t the police arrested and charged the assasin with murder? And while there are many versions of answers and examples and explanations, I am only left with more questions. And one in particular which will remain even after this is yesterdays news. What shall I tell my children who are Black?
My mom and dad, who I often mention in my blogs, were the penultimate educators. In everything there was a lesson. One of those was to read and internalize Dr. Margaret Burroughs poem, “What Shall I Tell My Children Who Are Black.” Growing up a Black child who attended predominantly White schools, it was imperative that I understood what it meant to be Black and how to survive and deal and live and thrive as a member of a society that was not built to support my ability or my greatness. And as I listen to the screams for help this young brother made as he was facing down the barrel of his killer’s gun, I can’t but think of how far we have come, but yet how far we have to go. What I shall I tell MY children who are Black? And since I still cannot wrap my brain around this royal mess, I decided to revise Dr. Burrough’s words in an effort to find my own, to deal with the carnage this tragedy has left strewn about my mind. We are all the mothers, fathers, sisters, and brothers of a Trayvon Martin.
What shall I tell my children who are Black,
Of what it means to STILL not be free of the chains that bind their survival to their skin color, What shall I tell my baby boys, the carriers of the nation’s wounds,
Of how strong they are, how revered they must be when every day
They are gunned down in the streets because of their hue, or intimidating presence, or their choice of outwear.
The media paints the faces of felonies as Black. The faces of welfare as Black. The faces of deadbeat fathers as Black. The faces of apathy as Black.
What shall I tell my Black babies raised in this white world,
A place where White men, police, and vigilante neighborhood watchmen, Vow to protect and serve while killing our children, where women still don’t get equal pay for equal work,
Where there are still few positive images of Black life and family on television, and where young Black men are still mistaken for loitering drug users, while standing in their own back yards.
What can I say then, to my Black daughter
When her boyfriend is gunned down in the street, or when her girlfriend is groomed into being a prostitute.
What will he think when I say, “Son, that could’ve been you.” How will I get him to understand that being good sometimes just isn’t enough?
What will I do to teach her that her life is more precious than gold and her body should not be traded for money, material things, or the promise of love?
What can I do to make him sensitive enough to have compassion for community yet strong enough to bear the burdens this world has inevitably placed on his shoulders?
How do I explain to my son that hoodies and evening walks to the store may get him killed? How do I tell him that if approached by a stranger, asking what he is doing, to just answer truthfully although he is well within his rights to ignore or respond back in whatever manner he sees fit? Because if he doesn’t, he may lose his life in that moment.
I have no choice but to tell my children who are Black,
That the paths they walk with be covered in the blood of Sean Bell and Oscar Grant, the pain of Tawana Brawley, and the tears and screams of Trayvon Martin. That even if they make the right choices and do the right things, it may not matter.
But I shall also tell them that they have the spirit of Myrlie & Medgar Evers, the brilliance of Charles Drew & Mae Jamison, and the righteous indignation of Sojourner Truth and their grandfather Cecil Daniels.
I must continue to fight for justice and progress and answers for myself and for them. I must arm them with the truth and the wisdom to know that the struggle for equality IS NOT OVER. That the struggle continues.
“Some things in life they just don’t wanna see, but if Martin Luther was living, he wouldn’t let this be….”–MJ.