When was the first time, I realized I was black? Maybe it was Pre-K when Eric asked if I could wash the dirt off of my hand and I realized that he was talking about my skin. Or in 3rd grade, when Jennie asked why my hair didn’t grow straight and long and if I needed a ponytail holder at all? Or maybe, junior high and early high school, when I realized that no matter how beautiful I was, or how great a friend I was or good in sports or popular, no guy in my predominantly white school was going to ask me to the dance or take me home as “the girlfriend.”
But that was high school. Lessons in blackness came when I moved to Atlanta. Lessons were learned driving behind Confederate flag bumper stickers. I’ve been called a nigger for cutting someone off. Pulled over for an Obama bumper sticker (it was ripped off my car). Yes, I had many lessons about what it means to be black in America but I still wasn’t prepared for the Trayvon Martin verdict.
I know that black men are disproportionately stopped and frisked, are made to feel guilty everyday for being alive. I listened attentively to my father’s thanks that he never had sons, my uncles teaching my cousins never to run down the street, to always be polite to police officers even when the officers were disrespectful. Hell, even my boyfriend taught me the black-man-protocol when police stop you in your car. Yet, I was really naïve. I stomped for Obama and I admit— I wanted to believe that with a black President that black lives would have value.
Confession time, I hate hoodies. I think they epitomize the downward spiral of fashion in America. But everyone wears hoodies; teenagers wear hoodies and if I had a brother (going off my cousins’ lack of fashion sense) he would wear hoodies. When a boy, not a man, is followed and killed after buying skittles there is something truly wrong with this country. I am not arguing the merits of this case or even the “Stand your Ground” law, I’m arguing for children’s rights.
I’m angry because an adult in a car should not follow a child. No child, who feels threatened, and most likely is trying to defend himself in a potentially skewed sense of machismo, should be attacked. No child should have to defend his life after death. Every teenager should have the opportunity and the freedom to be a child. To make stupid choices; take drugs, pretend to be a rapper, because he’s a child. A conversation with a friend should not be used to demonize his life as if his death was acceptable because he used a slur against George Zimmerman. These are teachable moments and illustrate the lessons in childhood and young adulthood that all children should have.
So yes, my real lesson in blackness was Trayvon Martin. I learned that even today, the lives of my black brothers don’t matter. When I was growing up, we used to watch Eyes on the Prize every February and smile thinking that was so long ago and it could never happen again. Looks like my kids will be watching another chapter of Eyes on the Prize and watch Trayvon as I watched Emmett Till but hopefully, we will do something so that it truly never happens again.
In 2013, I learned that I will be angry. I will not be naïve and I will hold all children in my life extra tightly, because it [black children are victims of violent history?] here and history is unfortunately repeating itself.
By Nicole G. Epps