Thursday, July 18, 2013

Big Boi**
            ~for Trayvon Martin

The first time the dog ran free 
it searched the bushes for scraps of meat
perhaps a piece of fruit.
Not that he was hungry, he was simply
a dog.
Victory at the bend: the perfect loot
a rind of watermelon, a pork bone, still warm.

The second time the dog broke loose
he returned to this site of riches.
A man peered through the window
following his every move, noting 
how he growled at squirrels, still 
a dog.
Busy with the chicken bones and bread
he did not notice the man, or the noose.

The third time the dog jumped the gate
he wandered cautiously, left 
the neighborhood ending up 
at the corner store.
He walked home with half 
a hot dog,
mustard flecks on his paw. 
He was fulfilled.

And it was in that moment,
that a dog
eating
a hot dog
that the man called his name, 
called his name
and he turned:
the bullet killed him, instantly

**Big Boi is the name of the dog that threatened George Zimmerman and his wife, Shellie. It was Zimmerman's provocation for purchasing a gun and patrolling the neighborhood. Read more here. This poem was written during a Cave Canem Fellowship Retreat, June 2012.  

This past Sunday afternoon we - a group of colored folk - sat in a park listening to the white DJ - DJ foodstamps (yes, i said dj foodstamps) spin 1980s r & b. In contrast with the white folk around us- some who were hula hoop dancing or just being the white-girl-on-the-stage moving to her own internal "freedom song" we were crowded together around a blanket, talking about the incomprehensible, the unspeakable, the indigestible verdict . Zimmerman was acquitted - on ALL counts. How? Was not so much the question as was Again?  and "He wasn't even a cop?" C., said, "I can't even talk about it, because it hurts too much to think about my baby boys." She instead shared an anecdote about Jame Foxx. The one where he is a young man, younger than Trayvon Martin was, when he went to perform music at a party in a white home in Texas. His grandmother, who was a domestic, had prepared him: "when you are in the presence of white folk, you are nothing more than furniture." Jamie Foxx talks about this moment as a pivotal point in his life, as a moment in which he knew he had to "get out".  This was a necessary lesson. A lesson like watching my friend F., in 2008, show her black son that he was never to look white folk in the eyes.

While we sat in the park speaking through our horror, all around the United States people were marching in protest, but here we were- in our own form, taking space in a world that is - after Saturday - seeming that much less hospitable. The heads and tails of the hydra we know as racism are ever changing. They are vicious, and poisonous. And it is a Herculean task to cut off the heads. I have always sensed this, but have not felt it so clearly until now: until witnessing this moment. This "yet again" moment.

Did I mention that we were sitting in a park in Eugene, Oregon? And that there were two children of color amongst us. One is a little boy wearing a unicorn costume. The other is his older sister, who meticulously sewed, glued, and assembled her costume fashioned after a female superhero. While we spoke about the injustice shaking us to our bones, about our fears for our children, for our nieces and nephews, these two beautiful, innocent children played on the swings. The unicorn boy a protagonist in the superhero's cellphone video. Her baby brother always the biggest hero.

As we drew comparisons, we reflected on our collective memory of other brown-explicitly black- boys and men who had been beaten or executed by cops, the system, white supremacy. We stumbled on this list unexpectedly, searching for one name from the early 1990s that we all knew but could not recall. We shouted out is it "Sean" no. "Amadou" no. "Oscar" no. "Rodney" no. "James" no. "Patrick" no...Somewhere, the case of a Florida black woman who was given 20 years for firing warning shots.

The difference this time was that Zimmerman wasn't even a cop. He wasn't officially part of the system. The system had made him unofficially theirs.  As we were naming, listing, grasping - always first names like "Emmett" - I was recalling images from the photo book I had seen on an acquaintance's table just that morning. The book is called Black Power, Flower Power and it featured photos - juxtaposed images - of black folk in their communities during the 1960s Black power movement, next to images of white folk dancing, high, and laughing, their bodies fluidly entering the camera's gaze- Haight Ashbury or the parks just behind them. I looked around. Here we were - differently colored folk, intensely discussing the shooting of young black man while a white woman danced in a hoop just 50 yards from where we were sitting.

Where the f**k was I?  I took some deep breaths.  


As I entered Eugene, Oregon on Friday, after a 10-day cross country drive, I kept turning the radio dial in the car between different public radio stations. I like public radio, especially when I am driving. And, as we moved in and away from radio towers, I was on the search for the clearest station. In the end, I was listening to two completely different radio conversations. One conversation was about Zimmerman's trial. The second was about Eugene's Oregon Country Fair, started in 1968 by hippies and run by free spirits ever since. Here I was, living the juxtaposition. Eating my nails as the jury went in for deliberations, scratching my head as I listened to folks talk about the great music and dazzling creativity amongst the pine trees. The music was winding down. It turned out, we were the only folk left in the park. New folks had joined us. White folk. So now, the conversation had turned to summer trips and plans for the Fall. I held my heart.

I have had a political conscious my entire life. Don't ask me why or how. Since I was a little girl, I have been aware of injustice. And, as I have grown older, I have developed my analysis and have been challenged and pushed to go deeper, deeper and always deeper. My life's work has continuously centered around the question of what it means to be free. As someone who has experienced a lot of different forms of violence on a personal level, my life's work has also been about balancing cynicism with innocence. About finding beauty in a world that is beautiful, and which we tarnish. I don't want to be cynical. Maybe, I might like the hula hoop. And I would love to be a unicorn, innocent, all the time. But, there is a sense of urgency that pushes into my stomach. Like our small hero that day, the costume comes off, and the movie ends and we return to the reality that our children of color, with all their beauty and brilliance, are deeply vulnerable. They are growing up in an increasingly diverse society, in which the Hydra of White Supremacy has grown new heads. In which black boys cannot look at white folk in the eyes, and in which - at one point or another - our children may run the risk of being shot down with Skittles in their hands by someone who wins on a case of self-defense. A society in which the fabricated identity of "Hispanic" confuses people into thinking that racism is that obvious and complete.  

As I watched the superhero and the unicorn, as I listened to the desperation in all of our voices - all us colored folk in a field of white hippies (and some of us also hippies) far from a critical mass necessary to start our own protest - I struggled to conjure that which had seemingly fallen out of our grasp:Justice. Justice. Justice. Justice. Justice. Just...