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what is it about this skin?

So many times when people ask me why I would prefer to stay abroad as opposed to living in the states, I cite race as a factor. I recognize that I have had a privileged upbringing, as compared to many Americans. My class privilege minimized my visualization of racism. My gender privilege largely protected me from the vile actions of police departments across America, though the Miami PD did pull a gun on me in my friend’s hallway one day.

Knowing that people in the United States are mistreated or live less than stellar lives simply because we share a skin tone that still seems to be despised by many, makes me uncomfortable. As a black woman, I am safer than my male counterparts. As a first generation American, I share the privilege of not being one of “them”, simply because of my last name and close ties to the continent, or so THEY tell me, and treat me.

On February 26th, Trayvon Martin was murdered in central Florida. I did not hear about it until mid-March. Kony 2012 was posted on March 5th, I heard about it two days later. What does this tell us about American society? Why does it matter?

On the one hand, it is clear that the life of a black man in America lacks value. A white man is allowed to, without the guise of a police badge, gun down a 17 year-old child, without reason, after being told to not to pursue him. He was brought in for questioning and released. He is still walking the streets. While the acquittal of the police officers involved in the murders of Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell and countless others left the community feeling angry and questioning the justice system, the crimes were committed by police officers and somehow, that badge offered some rationale as to why they had a gun and were aiming it at “suspects”. But how can we move forward from this incident knowing that now, even without a badge, white men are free to hunt black men?

On the other hand, can we learn lessons from the viral sensation that was produced by Invisible Children? What can Kony 2012 teach us in all of this? Do we need to find a white man to prop his blond haired cherub like son in front of a camera and point to a picture of a white man and tell him that he is bad? Should we mobilize an army of white college kids to fight for the rights of black men in America? Perhaps this is the angle that Al Sharpton has been missing all along.

And where is Obama’s commentary on all of this? When I tell people why I do not care for Obama, it largely hinges on his silence in the massacre of black men in this country, his country, largely at the hands of law enforcement, and now at the hands of a vigilante. He stood up for Henry Louis Gates, a tenured Harvard professor who arguably has his own platforms on which to speak. When asked about the incident in an interview, Obama commented on it. He even went so far as to invite Gates and the police officer involved to the White House for a beer. Now what is Obama doing for all of the black men who have no voice? What is he doing for a dead 17 year old boy and the others that will suffer the same fate? Those who do not have a platform? Yes, he is the President of the United States of America, but he is still a black man in America and he knows what that means. WE all know what that means. If he had sons would he be more vocal? What can we read from his silence? Is he too afraid to state the unstated in such a public way? Is he unwilling to sacrifice votes in the upcoming election in order to stand up for the unjustified death of a child?

Where is Oprah’s statement, powerful black voice that she is? She spoke out to support Kony 2012, but not George Zimmerman 2012! Will she help to make him famous? What do we take from this? If our own people in the most powerful positions, with direct access to media and the ability to influence audiences and the public en masse are too afraid to state the obvious, where can we go from here? There is no post-racial America. We are not there yet.

So I ask, what is it about this skin? Why has history been so cruel to us, merely because the sun has blessed us with its kiss. Why does this skin strike fear into the hearts of the ignorant? Why is it that I must constantly be aware of my blackness? I am NOT a minority, though they want me to think so. My people, my African people make up over one billion of the world’s population. But somehow, they have made us feel so small. They have made us the enemy.  Those red, white and blue borders have narrowed the minds of all trapped within. Leaving THEM to some how be in fear of US. And yes, it is indeed them versus us because that is the system that THEY have created for us.

This Post Has 2 Comments
  1. I agree with you Jessica. From the information I have read about this tragedy it truly seems like Trayvon Martin was killed because he was "not supposed to be in this neighborhood." I have no way of knowing how it feels to be a young African-American man but I know our society is not post-racial in so many ways. We might be able to elect leaders without letting ethnicity pre-determine the outcome but in real-life day-to-day events stereotypes and out and out racism still shape the lives of so many of our fellow Americans.

    I am also deeply concerned about individuals moving around in public with loaded firearms. NOBODY under any circumstances should have a loaded firearm with them in public. In my opinion unless you are hunting in the forest the only thing a loaded gun in public can be used for is to shoot a person, which nobody should ever be prepared to do. A loaded gun for "self defense" is not an explanation. Who wakes up in the morning and says, I better load my gun today because I might need to shoot someone in self-denfese?

    Hope you are doing well in Rome! I miss our conversations.

    -Bill B.

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