I Am Suspicious
“But the color of a Negro’s skin makes him easily recognizable, makes him suspect, converts him into a defenseless target.”
So wrote Richard Wright in “Black Boy,” a story that, although written in the context of growing up in the miasma of 1920s racism, isn’t all that different from the world today. Think about it. Despite everything we’ve gained, and all of the formal advances that our forefathers fought so hard to grasp, many arms of the blatant racism that choked our race and held us under the yoke of slavery still exist. The most important thing is that we simply cannot escape the irrational fear and suspicion that so much of this country (and indeed, the world) has for us. Despite the fact that it was our race that was hunted and bought and sold like animals by them; despite the fact that we had to remain vigilant of even whistling or spitting in the wrong place, lest we be lynched; despite the fact that for most of our race’s history in this country, and under the right flimsy legal excuses today, we could be killed with impunity like dogs; it has always been the other people here who clutch their purses and lock their doors when we pass.
And such is the case of Trayvon Martin. A kid who despite looking like no more than, well, a kid, was labeled as “suspicious”, which set into motion the tragic chain of events that ended in his death. The man who killed him, George Zimmerman, will in all likelihood face no repercussions beyond the knowledge that his so-called vigilance ended with the death of a boy and the destruction of a family.
Why was Trayvon considered “suspicious”? Perhaps he broke one of the cardinal rules of being a Black boy. Perhaps he was seen running with items in his hand after dark (clearly meaning he was stealing). Perhaps he wore a hoodie like in the above picture (clearly meaning he was a thug). Perhaps he was loitering or moving too slow at night (a few things that you can actually be accosted and searched for by the police). And best of all, perhaps even after following all the silly rules that we are told to follow in order to NOT draw suspicion to ourselves, it wasn’t enough. Perhaps (and most likely), Trayvon Martin was just guilty of the one thing that he can never be exonerated from: of being a Black boy in a neighborhood and a world that does not trust Black boys and makes them into the defenseless targets that Wright so describes. George Zimmerman served as his jury, judge, and executioner, and since he won’t be appearing in a court room soon, we’ll probably never know which of these offenses caused him to be so afraid and wary of a 140 lb. boy that he followed him — even after police told him not to — and eventually shot him.
But such is the life of the Black male in these here United States. Being a Black boy you are taught that the key to success is to live so inoffensively and so quietly that perhaps the world will forget and forgive the loudness of your skin color. Little Black boys are taught to white wash everything, because we know that we can never white wash our skin. The restrictions are enormous. We know we can’t run in some areas lest we look “suspicious”, but we know that we also can’t walk too slow or loiter. We can’t come off as too “threatening” around white women lest the police be called on us. While we watch other kids play in unfettered bliss, we know that we are drilled with military discipline. And it makes sense, given that we are born of a mother (this country) that does not want us (although she needs us) and besieges us every day from our birth. We are drilled like soldiers because that’s what life is for us — a war against the “other” that is Blackness and the skin that a good number of White folks fear and a smaller (but still significant) number openly hate. We are taught to live under a silly system of rules because that’s how we survive, and that’s how we’ve always survived. And we’re better at survival than anyone.
But what happens when you follow all the rules? When you are as inoffensive as possible and polite and do your best to not fit some stereotype? What happens when folks like me get on elevators in nice suits with nice jobs and white women STILL clutch their purses around us? How do we act when a good portion of this country still holds the President, one of the most innocuous and inoffensive people on this planet, in suspicion simply on account of his Blackness and otherness? What hope do the rest of us have to live without knowing we are always being watched and are always one loose cannon away from being blown off the face of this planet with not even a trial to show for it? We are the ones being targeted and who receive the shaft of justice everyday, yet it is others who are hyper-vigilant about us. It just seems…backwards to me.
But enough editorializing. How can we learn from this and if we can’t bring George Zimmerman to justice (and even if we can), how can we make sure that this doesn’t continue to happen? How can we fight back against a world that refuses to see us as anything else, despite all we do to appease it? I don’t know, but I say we embrace what made young Trayvon “suspicious” in the first place and stop trying to be quiet so that our skin may not seem so loud. We should get loud and be angry and make America deal with the fact that we won’t accept being shot down like pigs in this land that we helped build just because some folks feel uncomfortable with us around. For Trayvon at least, we should recognize the fullness of who we are and not try to hide it. I know that I am suspicious. We know that we are suspicious. And the only real way we can get people to stop seeing us this way is by being loud and calling out their inconsistency and fear at every turn. I don’t know how make this happen concretely, but I do know that with some of the folks that read this blog and some of our friends, we can make a start. Let’s do it for Trayvon.
My name is fivefifths and #IAmSuspicious. Are you?