Obama gave a 20 minute speech on Black people's response to the George Zimmerman verdict of "Not Guilty." These are my responses.
“The judge conducted the trial in a professional manner. The prosecution and the defense made their arguments. The juries were properly instructed.”
I am concerned with the idea of proper.
Nothing in the Zimmerman case has so far revealed itself to be cause for a mistrial. Everything was done “properly” – in other words: as it has always been done, in a tested and proven manner. For a moment this past week – past-Zimmerman, past-Marissa Alexander, past so many trials past and all trials not yet realized wherein all is done by the books yet justice remains spectral – I was convinced that what Black people have to face down in this country is a dearth of representation. But I am growing to wonder if it is representation that truly matters; I wonder if that is like saying, “If not for his hood, he’d still be alive.”
Black people in this country will never have the representation we need. We are up against too many centuries of racism, inculcated not only in our legal system, but our systems of education, our economies, geographies, linguistics, theologies, kin systems, health practices, everything. And does that fact not lay bare the reality that the Law – not the law of the multiverse, or the law of gods, but the Law of white heteropatriarchal capitalism (which has never not been used in the U.S. to create and un-create racial citizenship) – is a game that is won by those with access to capital (in the sense that winning means living)? Which means Black people will never win?
Black people will never win this game. Certainly not by legal means, because we will never be legal. The six non-Black judges made this tragically clear when they ruled that not-murdering is not an act of not killing but rather an act of killing a Black person.
I am concerned that Obama’s allusion to the professionalism of the courtroom ignores the issue: professionalism and proper conduct are precisely the problem. To paraphrase Philadelphia activist attorney Michael Coard: “If the law is illegitimate, we should not follow the law.”
“…sets of experiences inform how the African-American community interprets what happened one night in Florida. And it’s inescapable for people to bring those experiences to bear.”
The burden of proof of amnesia will always be on Black people. Proof of amnesia meaning proof that both history and present are understood as that which cannot be recalled. The burden of denying the surpassing disaster, in the words of Jalal Toufic. Which is to deny oneself.
There is no question about which sets of experiences – borne of a violent history and a compoundedly violent present – inform the white community’s ability to interpret a killer as a non-killer. The question is whether Black people, with all of our “experiences,” can live with white interpretations. The answer is inescapable, and the answer is no.
That is the Black burden.
I do not understand him when he uses this word.
“…demonstrations and vigils and protests… some of that stuff is just going to have to work its way through as long as it remains nonviolent. If I see any violence, then I will remind folks that that dishonors what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family.”
But, speaking in the positive (as one white woman recently implored of me) how would one honor what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family? Is what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family not what is also happening to every Black person, every person of color, and every white person on the planet? Is what happened to Trayvon Martin not directly linked to what happened to George Zimmerman; that is, the militarization of white supremacy, a cop-in-the-head that prevents one from seeing a way away from violence or from fear? Would not the over-determination of Black bodies as always already violent, or at the very least dead, or the overrepresentation of cops in any public or private space made by Black people – would not these incidences all be evidence of honoring what happened to Trayvon Martin and his family?
What is honor? Honor in what sense, or in whose? In the sense of “serving and protecting [NYPD],” or in the sense of “being there when you need us [OPD]” – or in the sense of being killed by a creepy stranger before one’s 18th birthday? In the sense of being killed while on a BART platform? In the sense of being killed while being a 13-year-old neighbor? How do we honor the sentiment of CeCe McDonald at her sentencing: “I’ve faced worse things than prison.” How is one to honor such a statement?
The violence of Black people is rarely easily distinguished from the violence of white people. There is no telling at what point a body becomes violent Legally, I mean – this is something I would like to ask the judge in Zimmerman’s trial. It seems that Trayvon’s body was violent by the fact of its presence. It was de facto violent. But it also seems that Zimmerman’s body was the unavoidable victim of violence, with no ability to be violent. Zimmerman’s body was, by the fact of its presence, the victim body. Legally, I mean. Is it ever possible for such a body to commit an act of violence? Who will be the victim?
Outside of the Law, I would argue that Zimmerman is violence; that his body and what his body does (on a street at night or in a courtroom in the daylight) is to hold the position of violence. Whether or not he can be judged as guilty of this is secondary to the fact that it is.
“They’re better than we are.” (re: the views of Sasha and Malia on racial inequality in U.S.)
When Obama says “they” and “we,” he is doing one of his favorite things, which is to use democratic euphemisms. What he really means by “they” is “young Black folk,” and what he means by “we” is his himself. What he means by “better” is “different,” so what he is getting at is a general distance he feels between himself and Black people who create culture (rather than attempt to recall it).
A friend had texted me: “I am watching Obama’s speech,” which I had not yet seen. I asked her, “What is he saying?” and she wrote back, “It seems like he’s explaining Black people to white people.” Unfortunately, that is his job. Even more unfortunately, he is perhaps the least qualified for that position. He who speaks of “the African American community” and its ties to “sets of experiences,” of the disproportionate representation of Black men in the U.S. justice system as evidence of their being “disproportionately… perpetrators of violence.” He, who in his own construction is “they” to our “we,” and who finally acknowledges that he feels different than us.
Does a president ever say when he feels alone? Is an admission of loneliness an honorable choice? Is it honorable to the death of every Black boy walking home at night, or to the emotional death of every Black mother or best friend, or to the psychic death of any Black person who chooses to rest instead of fight – is it honorable to all of these deaths to admit weariness? I wonder what Obama honors, and whom. I wonder who taught him that, and why.
I cannot say if Sasha and Malia are better than Barack Obama. If they are, he should let them be President. I wonder if his conviction in their superiority is actually a euphemism for his lonely terror that young Black people may be more creative, more fearless, and more angry than he and that this his fundamental difference from them might be his well of loneliness. I am not sure that this thing young people have – the ability to let rage course through us past the point of sadness and lodge so deeply into the place of love so as to become a world-making thing that thrives in love – I am not sure that this is “better” than his lonely bottomless well. But it is certainly freer.