Last night I saw Fruitvale Station at the Grand Lake Theater in Oakland. We heard about the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial just minutes before getting in line.
It is hard to communicate just how poignant the film was on a night like last night. And it somehow feels pretentious to even use that word as a white woman on a night like last night.
In Ryan Coogler’s incredible film, I saw a flawed Black man in Oscar Grant. He was struggling due to the exact same system of oppression as that which would kill him. The film paints a vivid picture of Oscar as complicated and flawed and a young man trying to leave his youthful mistakes behind.
Yet not a single one of those realities of who Oscar was means his life should have any less value, nor his soul less possible to be the victim of a hate-motivated murder. The Oscar I saw was also a man who we are told daily by Fox News and COPS and police and people who some of us have voted into office and racists on twitter and just too many people is scary. Dangerous.
Just two hours before the film started, George Zimmerman was declared not guilty. Not just not guilty of murder, but not guilty of anything. He stalked and followed, against direct orders from police, chased and murdered a Black child. Trayvon Martin.
Then followed a trial which put more effort into judging Trayvon, a teenage boy, as a criminal and more effort into judging his close friend on the witness stand and she described how she heard the moments before Trayon’s death. More effort into discounting the credibility of youth of color than judging the man who was driven by hate and fear to murder.
I can only imagine that Trayvon was, like Oscar, flawed and complicated. What teenage boy isn’t?
But it feels unimaginable to blame him for his own death. Yet that is how white supremacy works. For centuries we have normalized whiteness while over-valuing whiteness so that all that is ‘other’ is suspect.
I have never heard a theater so silent as the one last night. Silent other than sobs. I heard mothers wailing because they know too intimately how easy it could be to be Oscar’s mother or Trayvon’s mother on a night like last night.
And as I heard those cries, I thought about how I will never truly understand. And as much as I want to understand and I desperately want to undo racism and as much as I believe I have learned so much, I will never truly know what it feels like to not be white and live with white supremacy.
I couldn’t help last night to reflect on the words of Miss Ella Josephine Baker, spoken nearly fifty years ago: “Until the killing of black men, black mothers’ sons, becomes as important to the rest of the country as the killing of a white mother’s son. We who believe in freedom cannot rest until this happens.”
So today I’m asking myself, what will I do?
Sharing outrage on social media and venting will only do so much. As nomy lamm wrote, “It’s not just about what you do with your mind. It’s what you do with your hands, what you do with your time.”
I intend to be one of those who continues to believe in freedom. And I invite you, especially fellow white folks, to not rest until it comes. Not just by talking the talk but by taking concrete actions in our lives to unlearn white supremacy and dismantle racism.
Some of my commitments are that I’ll push myself to have conversations, kind but serious conversations, with the white folks around me about the reality of white supremacy and white privilege. And not just with those who already agree with me that this shit is twisted.
I will continue to support the leadership and efforts of groups like the Dream Defenders and Color of Change who are working to shift the future for young folks of color. And stand in solidarity with people of color building on a long history of resistance and struggle as movements against racism forge on.
I will go stand with my community this afternoon at the gathering planned in protest of the verdict.
I will continue to respond to the calls to action from the California Prisoner’s Hunger Strike.
I will continue to educate myself. To read and learn and watch and listen whenever I have opportunities to understand more about the legacy of racism and the ways it impacts people and families and communities.
And I’ll continue to seek opportunities to work with (and support the leadership of) other white folks who are committed to undoing racism on art, and education, and organizing until more white people see dismantling white supremacy as their work than not.
If you are outraged about the verdict, what will you do?