When I was thirteen I was nervous around girls and the people who bullied me for being too quiet. At seventeen I was thinking about going to college for art, and saying goodbye to the father of my late dad. I was not worried about exercising agency in a social structure that demands different behavior based on the color of my skin, or else.
Earlier this month a Florida judge declared a mistrial over the killing of 17 year-old Jordan Davis. The person who shot him, Michael Dunn, white, had fired several rounds into a vehicle with Davis, black, and his friends after a disagreement over loud music.
There’s a lot more to this story, but none more achingly tragic than the fact that a son was murdered for talking while black in front of the wrong person. There is no better chronicler of this than Ta-Nehisi Coates, who took his 13 year-old son to speak with Davis’ mother.
Last Thursday, I took my son to meet Lucia McBath, because he is 13, about the age when a black boy begins to directly understand what his country thinks of him. His parents cannot save him. His parents cannot save both his person and his humanity. At 13, I learned that whole streets were prohibited to me, that ways of speaking, walking, and laughing made me a target. That is because within the relative peace of America, great violence—institutional, interpersonal, existential—marks the black experience. The progeny of the plundered were all around me in West Baltimore—were, in fact, me. No one was amused. If I were to carve out some peace myself, I could not be amused either. I think I lost some of myself out there, some of the softness that was rightfully mine, to a set of behavioral codes for addressing the block. I think these talks that we have with our sons—how to address the police, how not to be intimidating to white people, how to live among the singularly plundered—kill certain parts of them which are as wonderful as anything. I think the very tools which allow us to walk through the world, crush our wings and dash the dream of flight.
Jordan Davis was also given a series of talks, which McBath believes ultimately got him killed.
That’s the beginning. Read the rest.