Throughout history, critical national discussions have emerged that use black male bodies as a site of citizenship, race and moral discourse. Currently, Trayvon Martin like the long list of black men and boys that precede him, evokes an almost guttural immediacy to confront the insidious and crippling racial issues that are so ingrained in American notions of citizenship and unspoken social policies, that at times, when a black male is lynched, castrated, beaten beyond recognition or shot down like a rabid animal; it is a nasty reminder that we all stand with stained, bloodied hands.
What is it about the deeper and deepest hues of men and boys that make people clutch purses, lock doors, hold breaths with anxious anticipation, clench fists, posture with rigid backs and stiff walks, draw guns, shoot first and possibly ask questions later?
I’ve done it. We’ve all done it. Take stances of defense. Expect the confrontation. Make judgment and carry out sentencing in less than ten seconds. Perhaps that is the impetus that pushes us in these times. Our action and reaction are our penance that is asking forgiveness to the many nameless black male bodies we have condemned.
In the ugliest of truths that many will not say, if quite a few people were in Zimmerman’s situation, they too might have killed that priceless young man regardless of their racial orientation. Indeed, that is not in any way dismissive of Zimmerman’s actions that were undoubtedly infused with racial implications that criminalized Martin and shelved the idea of his boyhood in the tragic confrontation on February 26, 2012. Yet and still, the harshest fact is that in America, black males are valueless; thus unprotected.
On one hand, we are in an uproar for the high profile case of Martin. On the other, we are silent or at best, ambivalent in the cases of other black men who are dropping like flies around the country, especially in areas like Chicago, St. Louis and New Orleans. It is as if those scenarios are disconnected from Martin because there is an undertone that those types of males engaging in black-on-black gun clapping is expected for those types of communities; therefore, not our problem. Consequentially, those black male bodies are fodder for the statistics we shake our head about on Sunday mornings or as we read a news headline during coffee until it comes to our front door.
There is an anxiety, taboo, fear and hate surrounding black male bodies that is so intense that the POTUS has addressed his painful dealings with race and gender in two historical speeches, and is still met with disdain. Though President Obama’s platform is global, the daily discourse around black male bodies is as simple as watching who has the courage of sitting next to a black man on a packed rush hour bus or train; if anyone dares to be seated next to him at all.
It is a daily dance with humiliation that my father, brother, husband and friends have spoken about so frequently, that it seems to not even matter because revoking black males of their humanity has become the convenient order of the day. Their daily doings are somber experiences in which they balance the shrinking of one’s self as to not appear too threatening so that others can see their personhood; along with enduring the hits of being animalized, while posturing for the battle of an alpha ego that comes with the gendered roles of an American culture where über maleness is sculpted by aggression, violence, excessive capital and a domineering personality. It is like shadow boxing with two declarations, “I am a man” and “I man enough.” Resultantly, it is a mark on the soul that has morphed into an ill coping mechanism and has left fissures in the constitution of the nation.
As we fight for justice at the site of yet another black male body, we are compiling our lists of those black men and boys who were slain before. Sadly, we do this ritual about every ten years or so in America. We march, pray, cry, protest, talk and ultimately forget another sacrificial lamb that has absolved us of our sins.