When I attended the annual conference of the NNPA (National Newspaper Publishers Association) in June, this year, one of the speakers was actress and activist Sheryl Lee Ralph. She opened her speech with the words, “I AM AN ENDANGERED SPECIES.” One month later, on July 19, 2013, President Barack Obama told the world, in his own way and his own words, that he, too, was an endangered species, when he spoke about the tragedy of Trayvon Martin.
This was not the first time that President Obama had to acknowledge his blackness. On March 17, 2008 after conservatives tried to get President Obama to disown his, then pastor, Jeremiah Wright, Obama gave a speech on race in America. Then Senator Obama said, “I can no more disown him than I can disown the Black community.” In his impromptu speech on Friday, July 19th, President Obama once again reminded the world that he was a Black man in America and had suffered some of the same indignities that numerous Black men suffer.
New York Times writer Charles Blow reminded the readers of the Times that Black men have been burdened with the two-ness of being Black and American. Blow invoked the writings of Black Scholar W.E.B. Dubois in his writings in “The Souls of Black Folks” where Dubois writes of the strivings of Blacks, comparing being Black in America to “two un-reconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body.”
A seventeen year old child should not be burdened with problems related to the color of his skin, and yet Trayvon Martin, like almost all Black males in America, carry that burden from the day of their birth. This past week the world was reminded of the universality of that burden when the leader of the most powerful country in the world gave his testimony as to how he had been reminded of his blackness.
The war goes on today in every city where Black folks live and have to navigate the rules for and by white folks, as they try to stay true to their pride in the legacy of Blackness. For me, it goes on when I personally have had to fight citations by the Sheriff given to me at 2:00 a.m., in Altadena, for failing to make a turn signal while delivering the Journal. Result: over $1,000 in fines.
This week I am scheduled to begin a trial in a case where an African American mother called the police to stop a fight between her two sons. She was in her bed when she called the police. When the police arrived she was still in her house and the boys were entangled outside in the street. Earlier in the evening the family had celebrated the father’s birthday and this estranged mother had allegedly taken a drink, but she remained in her bed, in her house.
The police came, complete with helicopters and possibly ten to fifteen cops. They called the mother out of the house. She came out to her porch. Then they called her out to the walkway away from the porch. When she got to the walkway and still in her own yard, she was arrested for public intoxication.
She was not in a car. She was in her yard having complied with the officers’ request who called her to come out of her house and then off her porch. The police report states that when she was asked to answer questions related to her sons’ names, she “BITCHED UP.” Now this single mother is faced with a criminal charge. She was just recently able to get a job and now has to take off work and jeopardize her new job. She has to go through the expense of hiring a lawyer for her and for one son who was also arrested. This is money out of the family’s budget and potentially a loss of her new job. And for what?
I appreciate that the President did not disown his blackness and identified with Trayvon. I, too, identify with Trayvon, having been arrested for nothing as a senior at Pepperdine College and on behalf of my late brother who was beaten by the police in Palo Alto for being profiled for allegedly being in the wrong neighborhood where he lived. I’m asking, like the President, “How much longer do we need to teach our children the rules of the two-ness of being Black and American?
As a note: On being profiled, I heard a Black commentator say Black Americans need to fear and profile White men because they are the serial killers, they are the ones who plant bombs, they shoot up theaters, colleges and elementary schools, and they kill their kids and try to blame it on the mythical Black man. In reality, Whites kill more Whites than Blacks kill Blacks.