For Zora Neale Hurston – who preserved for all the world the speech, character, color, dignity, beauty, customs, folkways, and dreams of the radically autonomous black community of Eatonville, FL in which she grew up during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Eatonville is located 12 miles south of Sanford.
For Adrienne Rich – who knew that there’s no such thing as poetry without justice
We tell your story
We keep telling your story
We know what happened to you
The whole world knows what happened
Anyone who wants to know knows
If you don’t know
You don’t want to know
How many voices would it take to convince you?
How many voices from across the world does it take to equal the power of a handful of white men who control the justice—i.e., just-us—system in Florida?
How many black men have to be killed in this country before we do something about it?
By now, everyone’s heard the story.
Yet some still claim not to know.
They don’t want to rush to judgment.
They want to give Zimmerman the benefit of the doubt.
They want to be judicious and prudent.
They want to hesitate before turning too quickly to punish.
They are so judicious in fact that they don’t even want to investigate.
When is this same caution ever extended to the prosecution of black men?
It’s not just caution.
We all know it.
Caution alone is not enough to keep you from hearing what is there for all to hear.
It is not your caution that makes you choose what to hear and what not to hear.
It is not your caution that tells you to give more weight to the imagined stories and tales of the perpetrator and his allies than to the evidence.
It’s white supremacy.
That’s what you need to deal with.
That’s what we all need to deal with.
We need to start by looking it in the eye and calling it what it is.
No amount of evidence can prove anything to an audience intent upon refusing to listen.
What else do you need to hear?
After hearing Zimmerman call Trayvon a “fucking coon”
After hearing Trayvon’s cries for help
After hearing the shot
After hearing Trayvon’s cries extinguished
What is there not to know?
We are a visual culture.
We don’t believe what we hear.
We want to see everything for ourselves.
If you didn’t see it, then it didn’t happen.
This is how we excuse ourselves.
We limit what we know to what we see, what can be seen.
We try to ignore what we hear.
Once you start hearing, you can’t stop.
If you listen long enough, you start to hear things that you couldn’t see before.
You start hearing the stories of the generations of black men who loved this country, fought for this country, only to be killed by this country.
You can’t see what you don’t want to believe.
You choose to close your eyes.
You choose not to see.
Not a hair was harmed on Zimmerman’s head.
It doesn’t matter what he says.
It doesn’t matter what anyone says.
The pictures show it.
All you have to do is see for yourself.
Stop talking for a minute.
From what you hear
You know that if you opened your eyes
You wouldn’t like what you saw
You know that if you opened your eyes
You’d see yourself
Your own guilt
Your own complicity
Your own whiteness
Staring back at you
You can’t indict Zimmerman
Without indicting yourself
So you choose to indict no one
You choose to let murder go unpunished
You choose to sweep murder under the rug
You choose to forget it ever happened
You want everything to go back to normal
You think this is normal
The sad thing is: this is all too normal.
The sad thing is: today in this country black men are killed for nothing all the time.
The sad thing is: killing black men is our national business.
It’s our not-so-secret secret business.
It’s the all-too-common everyday business that goes on in the schools, the courts, the prisons, the boardrooms, the offices, the Capitols, the hospitals, the military, the think tanks, the cable news channels, the movies, the video games, the churches.
It’s the drug war—whites use and sell drugs at the same rates as blacks, but it’s blacks who get disproportionately thrown in prison for it (which, in turn, justifies: housing and employment discrimination, the denial of financial aid for college, and in many states including Florida, losing the right to vote for the rest of one’s life).
It’s the fact that the unemployment rate for black men is twice what it is for white men—which was also the case when the economy was “good” and, in all likelihood, will continue to be the case if the economy ever recovers (but don’t hold your breath waiting for that).
It’s the fact that blacks make up 12 percent of the US population but were the victims of 70 percent of all hate crimes in 2010.
It’s the fact that there was 1 black senator in 1870 (out of 74) and there’s zero today (out of 100)—and we call that progress.
This is our country. Sometimes we acknowledge that this is its past. We refuse to see that this is also its present. Until we do so, this will be its future.
All this violence can’t just stay hidden.
It has to go somewhere.
It wants to go everywhere.
And so, in the end, it comes to the streets.
It comes to the suburbs.
It comes for you.
It claims a place in your mind.
It tells you what to believe, who to trust, who to fear.
It keeps you from knowing anything about yourself.
It keeps you from knowing your neighbors.
It keeps you from knowing the truth.
We gave Zimmerman his program.
We knew he was crazy.
We made him that way.
We don’t give jobs to crazy people.
We let them roam the streets, as long as they’re white.
We let them freely harass people, as long as the people being harassed aren’t white.
Zimmerman wasn’t just tolerated, he was encouraged.
We let him think of what he was doing as a civic duty.
We felt comfortable with him around.
We let him carry a gun.
We chose to excuse the inexcusable.
Chalk #justice4Trayvon in every suburb in America
Because this white supremacist bullshit has got to stop
Because the sidewalks are our billboards
Because the truth isn’t true until you do something about it
Because it’s time