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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Sorry Touré, Young Black Boys Need A Different Talk About Trayvon Martin: Nine talking points about the potentially powerful condition of being Black*

*adapted from "How to Talk to Young Black Boys About Trayvon Martin: Eight talking points about the potentially fatal condition of being black" By Touré


1. It’s unlikely but possible that you could get killed today. Or any day. I’m sorry, but that’s the truth. I tell you that not to scare you but because knowing that could save your life. There are [law enforcement agents] who will look at you and see a villain or a criminal or something fearsome. It’s possible they may act on their prejudice and insecurity. Being Black could turn an ordinary situation into a life-or-death moment even if you’re doing nothing wrong.

2. If you encounter such a situation, you need to tell the law enforcement agent(s) who you are. Look in their eyes. Give them your full name and make sure they hear your last name. Tell them what school you go to, the neighborhood you live in, and a few of the community organizations that you’ve been participating in. Speak as calmly as you can. Don’t stop talking until you say those things. Your mission is to let those agents know that you belong to a community that loves you and that is prepared to stand their ground with you. 

3. There is nothing wrong with you. I love you. Your family loves you. Your community loves you. But, we cannot physically be with you at all times. Others will treat you differently when you are alone. They may try to control what you are doing or where you’re going. Stand your ground. Tell them who you are. The information you tell them will remind them that you are human.  It will let them know you are not alone. It will remind you that you are not standing your ground alone.

4. You do not have to live in constant fear. That’s a part of the beauty of being in this family and this community. Some things are worse than dying. Allowing fear to handcuff your entire life, when you’re doing nothing wrong, is one of them. There might be situations where you are afraid. You can’t be fully prepared for every situation that someone decides you are a criminal because you’re Black. You don’t have to be fearless. You do have to know how to make yourself fear less.  Living in constant fear is about thinking you are less human, less valuable, less worthy, less beautiful, less intelligent. You are none of those things. You will not fulfill your purpose by living that way.

5. You are a threat, but not for the reasons that will lead them to prejudge you. You are a threat because you are not an isolated citizen. They will have to deal with you, your family, and your community. The best way for them to know that is for you to tell them that. You do that by telling them who you are the way that I told you to. When you tell them your name, school, neighborhood, and those organizations, you will remember your value to the world. If you never forget that, they can’t damage your spirit. They can’t stop us from standing our ground with you. 

6. Be aware of your surroundings. Don’t give them an opportunity to make a mistake. Look at everyone who walks near you. You cannot read people if you do not look at them. Speak first and politely to everyone who walks near you. If they hear your humanity, they might change their minds and decide not to ignore your humanity. 

7. If you feel you are being profiled and followed or, worse, chased by someone with a vigilante streak, then you need to act. By calling the police. This is the time to make police work for you. Make them protect and serve you. I know there are times the police will be your enemies, but making them work for you could save your life.

8. What if it’s the police who are making you feel threatened? Well, then you need to do what I have trained you to do. Tell them who you are. I don’t mean resist. Your power is in your identity. Make sure they hear the names of the communities that stand with you. Follow all instructions. Know when it is the safest moment to tell them who you are. Keep your cool. Your goal is remind them that you are not alone, no matter how alone you may feel. We will hold them accountable later. In the moment, do what you’ve trained to do. Say sir. If they are behaving unjustly, their livelihoods and careers will be in danger later. Focus on you for now. If you survive, you will be able to tell a lawyer, your family, and your community what happened. If you don’t …

9. Never forget: I love you. Your family loves you. Your community loves you. They can’t damage your spirit. They can’t stop us from living for you. We will not rest until we hold them accountable. We are standing our ground with you.

These talking points address a complex situation and complex problems. Some of them have life and death consequences.  I sincerely reject the suggestion that Black Boys are being positioned to advance themselves or are being made safer, by telling them “the mission is to survive.” If the initial or main response to these situations - to these complex problems – is to remind Black boys and each other that this is “part of the burden of being Black,” many more will not survive, let alone live well. Black boys need to know they are not alone, even when alone, and people who seek to control the bodies of Black boys need to know that as well.

I was a little younger than Trayvon was at the time of his death, when an unknown man grabbed me from behind, put a gun in my back, and forced me into a dark, obscure alley. I was walking to a bus stop in a neighborhood that I didn’t live in, that I wasn’t familiar with, and that I visited only so that I could lift weights at the only gym that I could afford. My mission at the time was to get an athletic scholarship that would pay for college and allow me to play football. 

On this night in particular, I was being mugged, and I found myself by myself in an alley with a gun aimed at the back of my head. It is by the grace of God that I would eventually walk away unharmed, but my safe departure was not the result of a mistake. I knew I wasn’t alone in that alley, and I knew that because my 5’5’’ 125 lb-ish friend, Marcus, followed me into that alley. Literally. I could hear him following me because he was telling the mugger, “Relax. I got the money. I got the money.” Marcus didn’t have any money on him. He decided he wasn’t going to leave me alone. Soon after, we both stood, faced away from the mugger, with the gun aimed at our heads. The mugger ultimately left “empty handed” and we went home unharmed.

I believe it’s because neither of us felt isolated or alone, that we were able to think quickly, clearly, and relatively calmly in that alley. Marcus and I returned to that neighborhood and that same exact traveling route and routine, two days later; we did so together, and we did so because “the mission” was so much greater than to just “survive.”

I share this story because Marcus believed in my identity and my value to our community long before this incident ever occurred. Few believed in me more when I was growing up. 

Marcus refused to leave me by myself, as I knew he would long before we found ourselves in this situation, and he probably saved my life. He refused to let my attacker think that I was isolated or alone, and I was able to think in those moments when my life was being threatened.  Marcus stood his ground with me.

Marcus - and friends like him - has propelled me forward at every complex, and critical stage of my life. I am convinced: powerful, life-saving, and life-changing decisions are easier for one to make when one knows he isn’t alone. One can and will do things with his mind and body that isn’t limited to trying to “survive,” when one knows that people are willing to stand their ground with him. 

My experiences lead me to believe Black boys don’t need more talking points about the potentially fatal condition of being Black. I don’t think that makes them safer, nor do I believe that should be the takeaway from this recent tragedy.

With Trayvon Martin’s case, we have an opportunity to give Black boys different talking points, talking points they don’t hear enough or that are rarely believable.

This country is on the verge of significant change because of the potentially powerful condition of being Black. Many Black boys are witnessing their first movement where the nation appears to be rallying behind a Black child. If the question is, “What do we tell Black boys about Trayvon Martin?” the answer ought to be one that saves Black boys lives and that positions them to individually and collectively have greater control over their minds and bodies.

The main point - not talking point - Black boys need to take away from Trayvon Martin’s case? Black boys, you are not alone and we are standing our ground with you. My friend Marcus, and others, made sure I had no doubts that that was their commitment to me, and it saved my life.

More Black boys can be saved, if we make sure they know they are not alone. All we have to do is stand our ground with them. 


1 comment:

  1. I love this what you have written and as an African American male who has lived a little over 40 years, I've got way too many stories/experiences of my own as a result of being blessed with blackness. I even have a similar experience to yours except it was my buddy Craig who followed me and was able to change the situation and keep us both from getting beat down by some older white dudes who I would be bullied by on many occasions during my junior high school years. Those guys had nothing better to do and seemed as though they were in their early 20's picking on me, a young kid at the time...

    Anyway, I thank you again and I will probably read this several times over. I must say that the title is what caught my attention and I found myself trying to find more reference to Toure'. I was hoping for a little commentary on the silliness of yesterday's CNN battle of the wounded egos with Toure' and Piers. That was hard to watch so I had to turn it off. I'm very happy that I instead found something in your article that hits home as message that needs to be heard... God Bless...
    Anthony *