Standing OUR Ground
I was working out of town when the not guilty verdict came down in the George Zimmerman trial. I wish I could say I was surprised, but I wasn’t. As a black woman, wife and mother of two sons, I know far too few people value black life in general and black male life in particular. More than 20 years ago, in the wake of the Bernie Goetz shooting of five unarmed black teenagers on a New York City subway, I wrote a piece for Glamour Magazine entitled: “It’s 10 o’Clock and I Wonder Where My Husband Is.” The essay reflected the cruel reality that black men and boys–people so many of us know as beloved sons, husbands, brothers and fathers–are, in the white world, simply suspects. The hundreds of vitriolic, racist letters Glamour received in the wake of my piece surprised them so much that I ended up writing a second article challenging readers to wake up to the reality of white privilege and the lived experience of black people.
More than 20 years later, little has changed; the murder of Trayvon Martin is proof of that. But that is not to say that nothing has changed. It did my heart good to see the numbers of people in the streets, protesting after the verdict. It did my heart good to see how many young white men and women were there, holding up signs speaking to the racism inherent in every part of this sad adventure in the Florida criminal justice system—a system replicated nearly everywhere in America. But what buoyed my heart most was a promise from the musical genius Stevie Wonder, who has vowed not to play in Florida until its Stand Your Ground law is repealed.
Why did this cheer me so much? Because after all these years, I am tired of worrying and tired of crying over lost black men and boys whose primary offense has been Living While Black. Appeals to conscience have proven to be limited; racists, after all, have no conscience they feel compelled to respect. What works, in current-day America, is currency—the money you get, or don’t get, in exchange for what you want. So I believe that in this money-hungry America, it’s time for people of conscience to advance a strategic boycott of Florida. It’s time for us to join Stevie Wonder, and stop giving our money to Florida until they give a damn about our children. We need to say good bye to Disney World and Universal Studios. We need to leave Key West behind us. There are many beautiful places in the United States where the Koch brothers have not yet seduced enough state legislators to pass Stand Your Ground laws. We should find those places, go to them, spend our money there—and we should stay out of Florida until its legislature repeals this hunting license for people of color.
In the last few days, I’ve been thinking about Ida B. Wells, the crusading African American journalist who brought America’s penchant for lynching to the attention of the world. She got her start in Memphis in 1892, when three of her friends, who owned a grocery store that successfully competed with white businesses, were murdered and their store burned to the ground while she was out of town. When Wells returned, she wrote an editorial in the Free Speech and Headlight, a weekly paper of which she was part owner. Part of what she said was this:
“There is, therefore, only one thing left to do; save our money and leave a town which will neither protect our lives and property, nor give us a fair trial in the courts, but takes us out and murders us in cold blood when accused by white persons.”
More than 6,000 African-Americans left Memphis in the wake of her editorial, and those that remained organized boycotts of white-owned businesses that went on for years. We are the heirs to those men, women and children who fought and died so that black life in America would have meaning. Today is Ida B. Wells’ birthday, and I can’t think of a better way to honor her than to starve Florida’s Stand Your Ground law into non-existence. What we learn from a strategic boycott in Florida could be the first step in resetting America’s clock to the 21st century instead of the 19th century. I’m tired of crying, and ready to Stand My Ground. What about you?Tweet