Another dead black child, another childless mother and another scared white man who feared for his life at the hands of an underage and unarmed black teenager. The only difference this time is that unlike the last case involving a dead black child and a scared white man who took a life, the latest scared white man who felt he had no choice but to fire a gun into a carload of teenagers will most likely die in a cold prison cell. Yet even that knowledge is no comfort or victory to the parents of Jordan Davis as their son’s killer is going to prison not for killing their son but for attempting to kill their son’s friends who were in the car with Jordan. The jury in the Michael Dunn trial was deadlocked on whether Dunn committed murder in a case that was sensationalized by media outlets as the “Loud Music Murder Trial” instead of the white supremacy trial which would have been far more fitting. Whiteness as rightness and its many manifestations is what allows a 40 something year old white man to see an underage kid and perceive him as a threat worthy enough of immediate and violent death.
Last night as I mulled the verdict over in my head, I found myself thinking of run-ins I have had in recent years with local white teens. Run-in’s that serve as a regular reminder that no matter what we say and attempt to believe when it comes to race in America things are neither equal nor fair. Behaviors that are normalized in white youth are criminalized in Black youth.
A decade ago when our family bought our house, there were few kids/teens on the block, over the years the demographics have changed with the yard space between my house and my neighbor’s becoming a de facto hangout space for the preteens and teens who live in the area. This situation was worsened last year when our neighbors across the way, a pair of twenty something brothers put up a collapsible basketball hoop on the side of their house which faces the front of my house. It meant for weeks and months enduring white teenagers treating the area like a public park, complete with loud, braggadocios behavior, sometimes late into the night. It meant sometimes pulling into my driveway watching said white teens sitting on my porch, noshing while watching a ball game and side eyeing me as if I were an unwanted guest on my own property. The situation eventually came to a head after one long afternoon when I couldn’t take it anymore and was ready to just smash their heads into the backboard of that damn basketball hoop.
Yet a funny thing happened as I marched down the stairs and crossed the street and peered into the faces of the young men who all stood at least six feet tall. I looked into their faces and saw the faces of kids, teenagers on the cusp, straddling the line of almost adults and not quite kids anymore. A space where mistakes can easily be made, a place where forgiveness and understanding is required if we acknowledge the humanity of others; a place where boundaries of youthful pride and arrogance are pushed to the full limits and adults help to guide them to respectfully test the limits. In the end, it seems the kids never realized that they had been annoying me and my family and I recognized that ours is a culture that provides few safe public spaces for teens.
To see others as fully human requires putting aside all preconceived notions. It requires a willingness to be vulnerable, as a 40 year old Black woman walking into a circle of white teens, I can say that as pissed off as I was, I was also scared. What if they hurt me and/or my house for daring to speak up? But when we deny the humanity of others, we end up taking the lives of others and for what?
Every time a verdict is read in one of these stories, we are saddened and stunned. Tears flows, words are written, words are spoken yet the injustices keep on happening because for the vast majority of people we don’t see people who aren’t like us in the same light that we see people who are like us. I often wonder what would happen if the data showed that young white men were being profiled. What if every year going back 20+ years there were well known cases of young white men being killed for reaching for their wallets, going out to get a snack, etc.? What if every white mother knew of someone who had buried a son before the age of 25?
The sad and tragically short life of Jordan Davis is another chapter in America’s sordid racial history, the chapter that we now pretend doesn’t exist. There will be more Jordan’s and Trayvon’s as long as the only people fired up and affected hail from black/brown communities. While none of us alive today created the institution of racism, the fact remains that whites are her beneficiaries and that black and brown bodies are disproportionally affected by racism. It means that whites who had nothing to do with creating systemic racism will need to actively work to dismantle it but that requires a willingness to be raw, vulnerable and messy. It means seeing and truly believing that my son is as good as your son. Until then all the faux crocodile tears won’t stop the next George or Michael from taking a precious life.