Reclaiming Our Way promoting the well-being of African American children & families


Ta-Nehisi Coates @ The American Library in Paris – 17 July 2013

Here's a reflection on the Trayvon Martin tragedy by author, writer and blogger Ta-Nehisi Coates, over at The Atlantic.  In this discussion, Coates talks about the killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, and really tries to place this tragic incident within a broader historical context.

As he works through a very brief discussion of race, racism and white supremacy as official American public policy, he argues that these incidents - as tragic and unjust as they are - are predictable and to be expected.

Coates concludes that until this nation wrestles with this historical truth, and commits itself to meaningful reflection and change, we'll be hard-pressed to undo this pattern.  This is absolutely, however, this nation's fundamental challenge.

(Approximately 40 minutes)




Cornel West: Obama’s Response to Trayvon Martin Case Belies Failure to Challenge “New Jim Crow”

The video below features Cornel West taking issue with President Obama's remarks last Friday about the Trayvon Martin tragedy, as well as the not-guilty verdict reached in the George Zimmerman trial. The full transcript from this interview is available at Democracy Now.

Among the issues Cornel West raises...

  • The contradiction when the President identifies with Trayvon Martin as a Black male who has been racially profiled (with tragic consequences), but offering little in terms of leadership or a federal agenda that transforms this nation's criminal justice system... one which targets and criminalizes poor, Black and Brown brothers and sisters across the country.
  • The contradiction presented when the president decries racial profiling in the case of George Zimmerman while simultaneously celebrating and praising the work of New York's police chief Ray Kelly, who is actively affirming and justifying the use of 'Stop and Frisk' as the policing policy in New York City - a policy fundamentally profiling and targeting Black and Brown communities.
  • Forecasting an impending moral test for Black leadership in this country who have rallied behind the President at every turn, yet who may run up against a brick wall while pressing the federal government (via the Department of Justice) to push a civil rights case against George Zimmerman in the wake of his targeting and killing of Trayvon Martin.  West comments on the signals offered by the President that the federal government might have limited influence in this regard, an assertion West says is so far from the truth, and further highlights a lack of commitment to these issues on the president's part.
  • Also forecasting what he fears will be a lack of strong moral courage and critique of government by the establishment Black leadership class during the upcoming activities commemorating the 50th anniversary the 1963 March on Washington, and the disgrace this will bring to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and the many other leaders who challenged injustice in all of its forms and places.

I'd love to hear what you have to say about Cornel West's comments...




Michelle Alexander on the “Zimmerman Mindset”

Below is an excerpt from Democracy Now on Wednesday, July 17, 2013 (approximately 18 minutes).  In this excerpt, Michelle Alexander discusses the broader legal context of the tragic killing of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman, including the differential application of Stand Your Ground in Florida.

there has been an outpouring of anger and concern because of the actions of George Zimmerman, a private citizen who profiled a young boy and pursued him and tried to confront him, perhaps. But what George Zimmerman did is no different than what police officers do every day as a matter of standard operating procedure. We have tolerated this kind of police profiling and the stopping and frisking of young black and brown men. We have tolerated this kind of conduct for years and years, recognizing that it violates basic civil rights but allowing it to go on.

You know, the reality is, is that it is a crime for a private person to go up to another private person, armed with, you know, a loaded weapon, and confront them, stalk them, perhaps search all over their body to see what they may have on them. That is a crime. It’s an assault with a deadly weapon, aggravated battery or aggravated assault. But when a police officer does precisely the same thing, it’s called "stop and frisk."

And, as we know, stop-and-frisk policies are routine nationwide. In New York City alone, more than 600,000 people are stopped and frisked every year, overwhelmingly black and brown men, and nearly all are found to be innocent of any crime or infraction, and are harassed simply because they seem out of place, seem like they’re up to no good. The same kinds of stereotypes and hunches that George Zimmerman used when deciding that, you know, Trayvon Martin seemed like a threat in his neighborhood, law enforcement officers employ all the time.

I believe that Trayvon Martin’s life might well have been spared if many of us who care about racial justice had raised our voices much, much sooner and much, much more loudly about the routine stereotyping and profiling of young black men and boys. It is because we have tolerated these practices for so long that George Zimmerman felt emboldened, I believe, to act on a discriminatory mindset that night.


President Obama’s Remarks on the Trayvon Martin Tragedy

On Friday, President Obama weighed in once again on the killing of Trayvon Martin, and the 'not guilty' verdict reached by the jury in George Zimmerman's second-degree murder trial.

In his remarks, the President speaks more openly than we've heard him before about the history of race and the legacy of racism in this country (far more I would argue than the 2008 Philadelphia speech), and how that becomes the lens through which African Americans - and an assortment of other advocates for justice - view this tragedy.

Instead of a winding narrative summarizing my take on the President's remarks, I'd rather offer a guided tour of what I think are some of the highlights, in the President's own words...

You know, when Trayvon Martin was first shot I said that this could have been my son. Another way of saying that is Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago. And when you think about why, in the African American community at least, there's a lot of pain around what happened here, I think it's important to recognize that the African American community is looking at this issue through a set of experiences and a history that doesn't go away.

There are very few African American men in this country who haven't had the experience of being followed when they were shopping in a department store. That includes me. There are very few African American men who haven't had the experience of walking across the street and hearing the locks click on the doors of cars. That happens to me — at least before I was a senator. There are very few African Americans who haven't had the experience of getting on an elevator and a woman clutching her purse nervously and holding her breath until she had a chance to get off. That happens often.

And I don't want to exaggerate this, but those 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 African American community is also knowledgeable that there is a history of racial disparities in the application of our criminal laws — everything from the death penalty to enforcement of our drug laws. And that ends up having an impact in terms of how people interpret the case.

Now, this isn't to say that the African American community is naïve about the fact that African American young men are disproportionately involved in the criminal justice system; that they're disproportionately both victims and perpetrators of violence. It's not to make excuses for that fact — although black folks do interpret the reasons for that in a historical context. They understand that some of the violence that takes place in poor black neighborhoods around the country is born out of a very violent past in this country, and that the poverty and dysfunction that we see in those communities can be traced to a very difficult history.

And so the fact that sometimes that's unacknowledged adds to the frustration. And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.

Within these comments, which come early in his remarks, the President offers what could be interpreted as concluding statements from a Racism 101 course to help the larger American public understand the nature of the public divide in terms of reactions to this tragic killing and the resulting trial verdict.  What he also offers, which is noteworthy given his seeming reluctance to talk publicly about racial disparities, is an acknowledgement of the racism and bias embedded within the criminal justice system (including the juvenile justice system), and also that the history of racism in this country accounts for a great deal of the violence (multiple forms I would suggest) we see in some of our communities.

I say this is noteworthy because much of the President's commentary about African American community dynamics and challenges thus far has come in the form of (what I have perceived as) lecturing about the need for more personal responsibility among Black men and fathers.

Later in his remarks, President Obama offers reflections that many of us have talked about, but which I would imagine takes a great deal of courage for him to offer publicly given his office and track record...

And for those who resist that idea that we should think about something like these "stand your ground" laws, I'd just ask people to consider, if Trayvon Martin was of age and armed, could he have stood his ground on that sidewalk? And do we actually think that he would have been justified in shooting Mr. Zimmerman who had followed him in a car because he felt threatened?

After laying out some of the policy implications, and some of the steps the federal government and some states have worked to advance, he then goes on to signify some hope for the future...

And then, finally, I think it's going to be important for all of us to do some soul-searching. There has been talk about should we convene a conversation on race. I haven't seen that be particularly productive when politicians try to organize conversations. They end up being stilted and politicized, and folks are locked into the positions they already have. On the other hand, in families and churches and workplaces, there's the possibility that people are a little bit more honest, and at least you ask yourself your own questions about, am I wringing as much bias out of myself as I can? Am I judging people as much as I can, based on not the color of their skin, but the content of their character? That would, I think, be an appropriate exercise in the wake of this tragedy.

And let me just leave you with a final thought that, as difficult and challenging as this whole episode has been for a lot of people, I don't want us to lose sight that things are getting better. Each successive generation seems to be making progress in changing attitudes when it comes to race. It doesn't mean we're in a post-racial society. It doesn't mean that racism is eliminated. But when I talk to Malia and Sasha, and I listen to their friends and I seem them interact, they're better than we are — they're better than we were — on these issues. And that's true in every community that I've visited all across the country.

While the President's remarks are modest in the greater scheme of public figures, scholars, educators and others who have talked at length about the plight of - and solutions for - Black men and boys in this country, they are still noteworthy (perhaps even courageous) given his own track record, and that of other Presidents.

Along these lines, Harvard law professor Charles Ogletree, who has likely known President Obama far longer than most of the President's advisers, and indeed longer than most of the journalists and other talking heads and media pundits we find commenting on the President, argues just that point...

It was the most refreshing, startling and amazing comment I've ever heard him make in the 25 years I've known him on the issue of race; very poignant, very personal and very much, I think, a rallying cry for African-Americans and a point of contention for those who really resent the fact that he's bringing race into this equation.

Ogletree's brief interview is worth listening to (approximately 5 minutes), and places the President's remarks within the larger context of the Presidency, and also within the context of President Obama's leadership and advocacy when it comes to the experiences of other groups within this country.  Here is the brief audio, with the transcript also available online.



It's worth watching the President's remarks in their entirety (approximately 18 minutes) to best understand how challenging these comments appeared to be for him, as well as how thoughtful and deliberate he appears to be in his choice of words.  The transcript of his remarks are also available online.




100 Young Black Activists Respond to George Zimmerman Verdict

During a meeting in Chicago this past weekend, the Black Youth Project pulled together a statement in response to the George Zimmerman trial verdict announced Saturday night.  The following is a brief excerpt from that statement.  A video of the full statement follows.

Instead of a moment of silence, we raise our voices together. As Audre Lorde said, “our silence will NOT PROTECT US.” We are young leaders standing on the shoulders of our ancestors, carrying the historical trauma embedded in a legal system that will NOT PROTECT US. We are the legacy of Black resilience that compels us to fight for our lives.

We continue to call out Black Love, Black Power and Black is Beautiful in the face of continued devaluation of Black life. We affirm a love of ALL Black life, no matter if we are in hoodies or business suits, incarcerated or in boardrooms, on welfare or in the WNBA, on the corner or in the White House. We declare the fundamental value, beauty and power of ALL Black people. The poet Claude McKay once said, “Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave…we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack. Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!”


Ready the full statement at the Black Youth Project...



On the George Zimmerman Verdict…

The days of white supremacy are numbered.

Be angry and stay vigilant, but don't let it turn to despair or depression.

Victory remains on the side of those who persevere.  Our history - the history of African people - in this country and throughout the world is a case in point.

My 12-year old daughter is angry about the verdict, but also not surprised.  After yelling about why it didn't make sense... In her own words, she acknowledged that this is consistent with the kind of treatment we have experienced in this country throughout history.  She named names and gave examples.  She then acknowledged in her own words why we have to keep fighting.

To be upset by this injustice is natural.  But being surprised by this verdict is essentially acknowledging that one slipped for a second and thought somehow we had overcome.  Sure, you might want to believe that because it makes living in a racist society more bearable... but wanting something to be true doesn't make it true.

We have to stay at it.  The struggle takes place in state houses, in the halls of Congress, city councils, schools, in our churches, our recreation centers, on our street corners, at our dinner tables, etc.  There is no one answer.  Read, study, and engage in all of those places you can have influence.  Push everyone you know to do the same.

We can't just go to work, come home and raise our own individual families.  And please don’t try and shield your children from the truth.  They need to know the truth so that they can be prepared for what this society continues to dish out.  Not to do so is setting them up, and our community, for failure.

We all have to engage more.  Our ancestors made it possible for us to be here, and we have to press on for our future generations.

The struggle continues.