It is 1am, there are four of us driving from my last show. What would have been a jolly mood is tainted by a heaviness that has laid siege to the conversation in the car. One voice is speaking softly on the phone. The conversation he is having puts ice in my veins. It seems so unreal and I helplessly drown in destitution. I try to shift and rearrange my reality to accommodate this new feature his conversation is introducing into my everyday, but it seems so unreal. The voice is that of a father and on the other end is his 12 year old son. The son is scared. News that George Zimmerman was found innocent of stalking and killing a 17 year old has just dropped a mere 2 hours ago. The father is counseling his son and reinforcing the beauty of his blackness. At 12 years of age the son has already experienced enough racism to feel scared and helpless at these news. The father keeps contradicting himself, “Keep your head to the ground and focus on your studies, don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself, comply with the law, but don’t allow anyone to make you feel small”. The father is planning to move to Costa Rica with his family, where his sons will grow up away from the cloud of racial profiling that hangs over the black man in America. I remember during President Obama’s visit to South Africa there were a lot of complaints about his men stopping and frisking black men for security purposes. Nzinga Qunta said of this travesty, “We’re not in the US. Please get your people to stop randomly harassing black men. We don’t do that here. @USembPretoria”.
Imagine having to tell your 12 year old son that the colour of his skin is a battleground. That his masculinity cements his oppression. My son is now 8. He is beautiful and has an innocent charm that I want to preserve for as long as I possibly can. My son is aware that he is brown with nappy hair and that not all the kids look like him. Beyond that he sees no other differences. In the playground you are judged based on other criteria, race is not a factor.
I am sure I will have to have a conversation about racism with him at some point, but it won’t be because he experiences overt institutional racism, but because we live in a racialised society still. It won’t be because the colour of his skin poses a mortal danger to his life, but because the colour of his skin might prevent him getting that job. When racism is upheld by the state it gives freedom to the evil to perpetrate unspeakable atrocities without much fear of consequences.
The conversation the father was having with his son is haunting me. I had to ask if it really was that bad because it seemed ridiculous to me. I wanted to stop him and say people do not talk like that anymore. That the conversation belonged in the 30’s and in the times of lynchings. That the black and proud chant was no longer needed as the black man was now free to create his own destiny. Then I remembered Trayvon Martin, dead at 17 because he walked to the shops while black. I remembered that a few hours ago his killer was freed to roam the streets. He stalked and killed a 17 year old teenager and was unanimously found not guilty.
I cannot bring myself to accept that America, a beacon of people democracy, allows such to happen within its borders. Put aside criminalizing black men, criminalizing black children serves as more than just a human rights violation, it is an abortion of justice whose implications are far reaching into the future. Had Trayvon been white…I do not even have to finish this sentence.
I asked a friend if in his 30 years of existence in America he has ever been racially profiled. He said yes, but mentioned only one incident. This gave me hope. Thing is, Americans are fighters, they take nothing lying down. Every inch of freedom black Americans gained was hard fought. I know that they will fight for Trayvon till the end because it is their children’s lives at stake if they do not. They will petition, raise funds, march, whatever they can do, because evil reigns supreme when good people do nothing. There is a lesson for South Africa in all of this.
Article first published in Sowetan, 17 July 2013.