What It Feels Like to be Black in America


Seminole County, Florida ~ named for the Seminole people who once lived throughout the area. The term Seminole comes from the Creek word ‘semino le’, which means ‘runaway’ and the Spanish word cimarrón which means “runaway slave.” While the logo of the Florida State University Seminoles is that of a white man, Thomas Wright a longtime music professor at the school with a free lifetime pass to all athletic events, Seminole is the collective name given to the amalgamation/intermixing of various groups of native Americans and runaway- ex-enslaved Africans who settled in Florida in the early 18th century and fought three wars against the United States. The 1st Seminole War was from 1814 to 1819, the 2nd from 1835 to 1842, and the 3rd from 1855 to 1858. In 1817, future U.S. President Andrew Jackson, called the “Extermination President” for his savagery in profiling and annihilating the Native population, invaded then-Spanish Florida and defeated the Seminoles in the 1st war. And after defeating U.S. forces in early battles of the 2nd War, Seminole leader Chief Osceola was tricked, then captured on Oct. 20, 1837, when U.S. troops said they wanted a truce to talk peace. In 1946, Jackie Robinson, in Sanford at a Brooklyn Dodgers’ baseball training camp, couldn’t stay in a white-owned hotel with teammates and was forced to flee the town in the middle of the night to avoid being lynched by local whites opposed to desegregation of the team. Fast forward to Christmas 1952, in an atmosphere of race terror and state indifference, NAACP leader Harry T. Moore and his wife Harriette were killed when the Ku Klux Klan blew up their’ home on Christmas night. The closest hospital was 35 miles away in Sanford. There was a delay in getting the couple to the hospital and getting a black doctor to attend to them. They both died in Sanford. No one spent a day in jail for his or her murders. Today the racial makeup of the county is 82.41% White, 9.52% Black, 11.15% Hispanic, or Latino, 0.30% Native American 2.50% Asian, 0.04% Pacific Islander, 3.06% from other races, and 2.18% from two or more races. Out of a population of 54,000, about 57 percent of Sanford City residents are white and 31 percent are black.

A friend asked me if I’d been keeping up with the George Zimmerman trial. My immediate answer was, “Not really. Watching it was really angering me.” But then I admitted I was lying. I had hedged to temper my anger. I also didn’t want to try to explain to the white person on the other end of the phone how it feels being black in the USA these days.

Like many others, I believe that Zimmerman is a liar, a racist and a murderer (with the understanding that ‘murder’ is a legal term).

I believe that Zimmerman profiled Martin.

And I believe that Martin had every right, even a greater right, to fight for his life with all the strength he could muster. He lost the fight for his life because his killer had a gun, and Martin had only a can of Arizona iced tea and a bag of Skittles.

Yet if you didn’t know any better you’d think Trayvon Benjamin Martin was on trial, and George Zimmerman the victim.

After the five white, one Latina all female jury found Zimmerman not guilty it occurred to me that Martin has been subjected to worse treatment over the airwaves than Adam Lanza, the perpetrator of the Newtown killings.

I was disappointed with the verdict. I think my disappointment is related to the reason why blacks are so overwhelmingly in support of Barack Obama. Because, with all the unfairness that comes with living in an environment with pervasive racism and white skin entitlement, blacks still consciously and subconsciously desire white acceptance. To many blacks Obama represents that acceptance.  So, though my experience told me it was a done deal from the very start of the trial, I had hoped that a white judge, white prosecutors and for the most, a white jury would be just.

I make no apology for my bias against racist and racism. Oftentimes when I’m speaking to a crowd I’ll introduce myself as a father and a grandfather followed by “they can take your car, house, job, a spouse can kick you to the curb, but being a parent and grandparent is something they can’t take from you.” I was a young black boy at one time and I’ve raised black boys. I know what they face. I know that white supremacy does take us out at will.

When I was coming up, I would hear a young white man proclaim that “he’s free, white and 21,” and that meant the world was his. For black males the benchmark age is “35 and still alive.”

So in all honesty, I despise Zimmerman and every racist thing he and his supporters stand for. That’s the feeling I get by just seeing his image online or in the courtroom or even hearing his voice. I’ve seen too many victims of raw, racist power wielded by fools. No court proceeding or verdict is going to change that feeling in me or that reality for black males.

My friend, knowing me as well as she does, never took my “not really” seriously and pressed on until I told her that I had watched most of prosecution’s case, including Don West and Mark O’Mara’s cross-examination of prosecution witnesses. I watched most if not all of Martin’s mother and father, Sabrina Fulton and Tracy Martin, and his brother Jahvaris Fulton’s testimonies. I saw a good deal of the medical examiner, Dr. Shiping Bao, who conducted Martin’s autopsy. I watched Alexis Carter, the instructor who taught Zimmerman’s criminal litigation class and instructed him on Florida’s self-defense laws. And I watched prosecutors Richard Mantei, Bernie de la Rionda and John Guy. I saw very little of the defense’s case other than a couple of minutes of Zimmerman’s mother Gladys’s testimony and O’Mara’s closing. I didn’t waste time or emotional capital watching much of the defense. I saw some. But basically, I saw what I expected to see in their cross-examinations. To me, any witness they put up only served to bolster Zimmerman’s lies.

Even so, I went on to tell my friend how excruciating it was to hear the defense argue that Zimmerman, against the instructions of the police, initiated a pursuit of a stranger who was not committing a crime, and that Zimmerman had a greater right of self-defense than his victim.

That Martin’s fists and the concrete sidewalk were his “deadly weapons.”

That Martin was basically a “homicidal maniac.”

But for all Trayvon Martin knew Zimmerman could have been a Jeffrey Dahmer-type.

Yet many Zimmerman supporters will only ever see black boys and men as “dope smoking,” “gang-banging” “thugs” and “low-lifes” with no right to exist.

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