My desire to gather and keep close every scrap of information does indeed know bounds. I have not listened to the 911 calls made by the ear witnesses to the Trayvon Martin murder for the same reason I have never actually seen Boyz N the Hood. They feel too close. Boyz N the Hood debuted about a week after I gave birth to my only son on a Tuesday and lost my only brother to murder on a Thursday. I didn’t need to experience the casual disregard for young Black male life vicariously on the screen, in the realities of new single motherhood and recently bereaved sisterhood it was the frame around my life. It has been the frame around my life. It is the frame around my life.
My son will be 21 this year. He is a college student. He has been on the Dean’s List. He is brilliant and clever and thoughtful. He is the funniest person I know. I am afraid for him every day. He has been stopped and frisked- I am sure more times than I am aware of because he knows this fact of his life upsets me. From babyhood he has been in situations where he is the only Black male. I used to think this was only dangerous to his self identity. I am reminded it can be hazardous to his very existence. He routinely defies abysmally low and suffocatingly narrow expectations. Expectations so limited they infuriated me when they came from strangers and teachers and anyone else who was surprised by his brilliance and beauty. As he grew, these low expectations angered him as well when he recognized the hate planted just behind the nothing expected for and from him. Still no expectations he has encountered frighten me nearly so much as those I know fester in the minds of the George Zimmermans of the world.
Today I am calling the name of Trayvon Martin. In his face I see my son. I see my late brother. I see my cousins and my students and friends. I do not see criminality, or find sinister intentions lurking. He was so normal and so sweet faced. He was a good son and brother. He wasn’t somebody else’s or a throw away. He was our own. This picture carries in it the seed of the particular outrage that Trayvon’s murder has unleashed because he is clearly a boy and clearly not a bad boy. It is an image that calls into high resolution the reality that we are still invisible, unable to be perceived in our plain humanity by so many casual bigots. I have studied this image and am over and over again brought back to Gwendolyn Brooks’ words, “nothing but a plain black boy,” I weep for Trayvon Martin and for his family. They know like I know all the greatness in the universe resides in the hearts, souls and beings of “plain black boys.”
Trayvon Martin, rest in power. Rest in peace. We remember. We call your name.