President Obama said that if he had a son, then that son would look like Trayvon Martin.
We could say that about most black youth who have been victimized in their own neighborhoods and communities. Most of us don’t have to imagine someone like Martin, because he is the likeness of so many young black boys who are being assaulted and killed right in front of us.
They’re our sons, brothers, nephews, and neighbors. They’ve washed our cars, mowed our lawns, sold us candy, delivered our newspapers, and made us proud along the way. We’ve witnessed their development from toddlers to teenagers, only to have our hearts broken as they have fallen prey to the irresponsible actions of those who live reckless and heartless lives.
We care deeply about these kids, remember their smiles, can call them by name, and envision the fulfillment of their hopes and dreams. Yet, to a nation that is preoccupied with other matters, these young boys are the invisible ones. Even as it is increasingly difficult for teenage males to navigate their terrains at school and beyond, there is still not a sense of urgency when it comes to the life prospects for young black boys.
America is silent when it should be screaming the loudest. We should be offended and outraged when innocent, promising, and law-abiding youth are victimized, precisely because we have preached to them about getting an education, doing the right things, developing a solid work ethic, playing by the rules, obeying the laws, and respecting their elders.
Where’s the national outcry over the scores of black teenagers who are victimized daily as they walk home from school, ride public transportation, play in public parks, or attend school sporting events? What about all of the innocent black youth who are being wronged or persecuted everyday because they choose to abide by the rules or choose to mind their own business?
These young people live in our homes and neighborhoods, attend our churches, and work in our local grocery stores and eateries, yet, we fail to respond loudly as a nation and as communities when their young lives are threatened or taken away.
Perhaps the saddest reality in the aftermath of the Martin murder is the hypocrisy being revealed by Black America itself. I still can’t figure out why black civil rights leaders, black politicians, black radio and television hosts, and black public intellectuals don’t stay enraged and engaged as innocent black boys (and girls) are routinely persecuted in the very communities these leaders represent and advocate for?
It is as if black folks only care about black life when it has been taken by someone of another race. It is as if black folks only get excited about a black murder if there is broad mainstream media coverage of the incident. It feels like a sick form of dependence on the very institutions which have historically distorted certain realities about black life.
Black America needs to emerge from its stupor and take a stand concerning the sacredness of young black lives. Black youth deserve national and community leaders who will issue a clarion call to adequately respond to the risks and challenges that threaten the life prospects of young black kids in small towns and large cities, as well as rural, urban, and suburban communities.
We can’t afford to fall asleep until the next Trayvon Martin incident rears its ugly head. America as a whole and Black America in particular must rise above the emotional outbursts and start to do the hard and necessary work that can secure the hopes and dreams of young black children everywhere.