I looked deep into the whites of averted eyes on Saturday night and saw cowering souls, fearful that I’d heard the news they’d heard. Customers asked of me, “Brother, did you hear…?” “Man, when will they stop…?” “Why?” “Why?” “Why?” Store policy alone halted my words–halted my deluge of explanations as to why, at this time, the country in which I live is where and what it is. I was soon sent to the freezer to retrieve pallets of ice, and without gloves, the cold blistered and flayed my fingers. I stood silently as the chilled air whipped my newly formed cuts, and incensed, I asked myself if I’d ever experienced such degradation as this; if ever I’d sat so angrily, so downtrodden, and so hurt while being forced to wear a smile. Then, I remembered Friday. I remembered Friday, the day before that, the day before that, the day before that, the day before that, the day before that, the day before that, the day before that, the day before that, the day before that, the day before that, and many days before that, for such is the reality of being Black in the beloved United States of America. The acquittal of George Zimmerman brings into question America’s valuation of Black life—particularly, Black male life—and so I have spent the large part of the last few days trying to reconcile the value my country has assigned to my life with the value my family, mentors, and close friends have assigned to my life. There is a formidable gap, I’ve found, between, “nothing” and “priceless”. For all the African American community has offered America—a teat at which its children could suckle, scarred hands to harvest its crop, artistry, both physical and conceptual, to fill its cultural void, and even a gorgeous mansion to house its President; all this, the African American community has granted to the United States of America, and in return, the community has been given a shoddy legal system with machinations seemingly designed to bring about its demise.
When Trayvon Martin left his home on February 26th, 2012, he knew not that the little money in his pocket was just enough to sponsor his death. When Trayvon Martin left his home on the night of February 26th, 2012, he did so with the sole purpose of making a purchase amounting to just under two dollars. The American legal system, in George Zimmerman’s acquittal, however, determined that a two-dollar grocery run by an African American male warrants concern, so long as a defiant vigilante determines so. Skittles and Arizona-brand juice come out to a total of $1.84, and I fear that July 13th, 2013, will be etched in stone as the day the American justice system told me my life isn’t worth even that. In response to this fear, and in response to the low valuation given me as Black man in America, I’ve trekked to assess the true worth of African American males. Here is my appraisal:
I am an African American male, having endured the searing heat of the American crucible. I am the funk you feel—the clothes you wear—the leader you follow. I am Hip-Hop; I am Rock; I am Country; I am Blues; I am Jazz; I am Martin, Malcolm, Marcus, Medgar, and Muhammad. I am W.E.B. and Carter G. I am the soul. I am the soul. I am the soul, and as the soul, I find myself worth—at minimum—America’s respect. That is my appraisal.
I find myself today playing the leading role in a Shakespearean tragedy—a love story into which I was thrust from birth, and a story in which I want no part. It is the story of a scorned, foolish lover whose heart, emblazoned with passion, is broken over, and over, and over again. On the night of July 13th, America, I wanted so badly to put my hands on you. I wanted so badly for you to feel me–for you to feel the might of these hands raining upon you. But I love you, America. At least, I think I love you, America, and so instead, I kissed you so softly–so passionately–so foolishly–upon those lips of yours, almost certain to be jilted again.