Saw Jonathan Capehart today on Msnbc talking to Rev. Al Sharpton about the Trayvon Martin killing. I didn’t get to do a proper transcript of this, but I grabbed what I could.
Jonathan Capehart is (an amazing person) a columnist for the Washington Times, and I felt like this was an important conversation.
Rev. Al: This Trayvon Martin story has the whole country really focused on things that you and I just know naturally. We’re here where you grew up, one of the homes you grew up in, here on Meeker Ave in Newark New Jersey.
Capehart: We moved here when my mom remarried, I was 16 and so I moved from this suburban rural environment back to an urban environment, and the rules of living in an urban environment are different. I had to learn how to get from home to the bus stop; which busses to take to get to school, I’d leave the house and walk down this hill…
Rev. Al: So you learned these dont’s…
Capehart: These were lessons that were a little tough to hear at 16:
Don’t run in public lest someone find you suspicious.
Don’t run in public with anything in your hands lest someone think you stole something.
Don’t talk back to the police… now I understand that that is a universal rule. No one should talk back to the police, no matter who they are, but when you’re African American, it takes on a greater significance.
Rev. Al: You were warned about how the police may perceive you… how police may misconstrue who you are. (emphasis added because they were clearly implying “…let alone your neighbor”)
Capehart: Don’t give the police a reason to stop you. I was 16 when I moved to this neighborhood. I could have been Trayvon Martin. And even though this is 2012, the horror… the additional horror of the Trayvon Martin story is realizing that I still could be Trayvon Martin because of someone else’s suspicion.
Rev. Al: Thats why many of us are fighting so hard, for justice in this, and the arrest of Zimmerman, because I’ve been that 16 year old kid, I got daughters now. What do we tell our kids now? Don’t go to the store and get skittles? Don’t go to the store and buy ice tea? Don’t wear a hoodie?
Can’t remember if it was Al or Jonathan who said this last bit: We can put an African American in the White House and still can’t walk our kids in their own neighborhoods. The problem is not solved.
It’s nothing new for a lot of people. Growing up in the ghetto, passing for white and seeing the privilege that comes with that first hand, I assumed this was common knowledge at one point, that it wasn’t just obvious to me having lived where I did, but that it would be obvious to anyone because the difference is so glaring.
But I’ve found time and time again, every time we get to have a national conversation on race in this country, revelations like these seem shocking or exaggerated, which I can tell you this is nothing compared to the big picture. But I thought the way Rev. Al contextualized it at the end has revelatory potential, which I feel he is particularly adept at. I will never forget how Al Sharpton’s speech at the Democratic National Convention (in 2004 I think) connected so many dots for me mentally and facilitated this revelation about the meaning of generational wealth and privilege, and I find myself looking to him in times like these to break it down.
The important point here, in my opinion anyway, is that people of color have to raise their kids to accommodate the biases of others just to stay safe, just to stay alive. Racism isn’t a snicker here or an epithet there… it’s a dead child who clearly didn’t accommodate his murderer’s irrational paranoia enough to stay alive. It’s a police department and a D.A. who are doing their best to ensure this guy stays free with his gun. It’s an entire community that has to live with the actual constant threat that comes along with merely being perceived as one to the majority.
I ask myself, what am I going to tell my child someday if I have a scary, giant, brown 17 year old with a full beard that looks like bin Laden? I’ve been lecturing Fletcher for years about how careful he has to be since he grew up in suburbia and was never directly exposed to this, and I think he thought I was being paranoid until Trayvon Martin. This shit is real.