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Almost everyone has heard the expression, “those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.” I say, those who forget their history are surprised when it repeats itself. When the verdict in the George Zimmerman case was announced the reactions were typical. Those who thought he was guilty were saddened or outraged by the verdict. Those who thought he was innocent were relieved and celebratory. I had neither reaction. The verdict was not a surprise to me. I live in the United States of America, aka the land of the free and the home of the brave. I expected the verdict to be just as it turned out.
Perhaps it was because I expected the verdict that I was not upset. I did not take to social media to voice outrage. I did not grab my son, who is a little black boy and hold him tighter. I did not become newly frightened about what it means to be black in America. In my mind, and in my world, the verdict was status quo. As a black girl growing up in Philadelphia I lived in a neighborhood where the white neighbors broke our windows, put dead mice on the porch and threw change at me while I walked to the corner store while they called me a whore and asked how much I charged. This was not long ago, this was in the 1980s and I lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, not Philadelphia, Mississippi.
I have walked into courtrooms as an attorney in my suit, carrying a briefcase and the latest book of court rules only to have a court clerk tell me that defendants sit behind the bar not in front of it. I then watched with amusement the uncomfortable and embarrassed reaction when I explained, I was an attorney in court to represent a client as I handed the clerk my business card. I have been followed around stores and been asked too many times, by too many people if I needed help. I have had discussions about race and what it means to be a black person in America with my children, my teenie bopper daughter, my pre-teen son and even my young twin daughters on more than one occasion. It is routine. These conversations don’t happen just when there is a special news event, they happen all the time. The reasons these conversations happen all the time is because my children are black all the time, not just on special occasions.
The life of a black boy being seen as something it is okay to waste or destroy is not a new phenomenon in America. It is not unusual for someone to say that they were afraid of a black boy so they had to shoot him, had to kill him. It is not unusual for a black boy to die for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Police officers shoot little black boys. White men shoot little black boys. Black men shoot little black boys. Little black boys shoot little black boys. In some circles and to some people the life of a little black boy is not worth much.
In my world, I have a son who is a little black boy. He is precious to me. My husband and I were married 13 years before we had our little black boy. In my little black boy’s world black men have jobs, support their families, own businesses, go to church and are assets to their communities. That is the world my little black boy lives in, that is the example he lives with. It is hard for him to understand that he is not special and precious to all the world as he is to his mother and father. But, it is a lesson he had to learn at an early age. He had to be taught how his behavior is not just his, but a reflection on a larger world. My little black boy had to be taught how to talk to police, how to carry himself in certain stores, how to protect himself in a world that doesn’t think little black boys are precious.
So, when the Zimmerman verdict came down, I was not surprised. I was not outraged. I was not even upset. I was none of these things because I am a student of history and I know that those who forget history are surprised when it repeats. I remember my history. After all, this is America, my people helped build it and I know my way around.