“The fundamental danger of an acquittal is not more riots, it is more George Zimmermans.” -Jay Smooth
The end of my last relationship began with a conversation about tantrums. I was the reason, this person said, that my daughter’s episodes were so frequent. I should do more to shut down misbehavior, she said, or my daughter would become a spoiled adult that thinks herself the sun of the universe. I imagine that the unsolicited advice came from heirloom knowledge, passed from generation to generation, that black children could not afford to shine in a country that murders light.
If a tantrum is a tornado, the center is the “I.” I matter, a toddler says in the only way she can. I exist. I have needs. I am hungry. I am tired. I am overwhelmed. I am autonomous. I worry that if I quell my daughter’s tantrum with fear, she will lose contact with her very core. She will learn to “wear the mask that grins and lies,” to deny her truths for fear of punishment. She will become thoroughly African American.
Lately, people with microphones have been trying to prevent tantrums. Talking heads intentionally dangle the LA riots like the warning of a thick-strapped leather belt. CNN hosts have been “worrying” about Black people’s reactions to the Zimmerman verdict as if we have the collective cerebral cortex of a toddler, as if we are unable to reason, as if every riot is a tantrum rather than intentional mutiny.
A funny thing happens on the way to American nationalism: White protests become revolution while Black protests become tantrums. They praise Boston’s Sons of Liberty for destroying their own tea and criticize the second-class citizens of L.A. for destroying their own neighborhoods. When President George W. Bush went on a God-ordained, missile mission after his friends betrayed him on September 11th, they raised flags and sang “The Star Spangled Banner” with more gusto and less irony than Whitney Houston. When Nat Turner went on his own God-ordained mission, they cried madness and made his body strange fruit.
The problem with treating Black adults like children is that we are a country that deplores its children. Children are punished for poverty in school. Children are fed to private prisons in droves. Children can be accosted in rooms full of witnesses who nod their approval. Children are considered unreliable witnesses to their own molestation, as if pretending to be violated is as fulfilling as pretending to be a princess. Children can be gunned down for carrying skittles and their murderers can be acquitted.
At the news of Zimmerman’s acquittal, even Black people started to tame the children. Hip Hop Zen master Russell Simmons called for peace. Beyonce sang about a breakup and a romantic angel. Jesse Jackson rhymed “self-construction” with “destruction,” then threw in “despair” to employ his knack for alliteration. Benjamin Crump praised Trayvon’s parents for “teaching people how to grieve appropriately and responsibly.” Then President Obama reminded us that we were a nation of laws, a statement that should make us all hold our breath, fall on the floor, and kick our legs as if we are possessed by the spirit of truth.
We speak too many names to rest on Obama’s reminder: Marissa Alexander, Kimani Gray, Kendrec McDade, Ervin Jefferson, Rekia Boyd, Oscar Grant, Amadou Diallo, Patrick Dorismond, Ousmane Zongo, Rodney King, Timothy Stansbury Jr., Sean Bell, Orlando Barlow, Victor Steen, Steven Eugene Washington, Aiyana Stanley Jones… We are a nation of laws. Like hell.
A lawyer turned a teenager’s posturing into a Willie Horton photo. Drunk on American racism, a jury of six mothers channeled Susan Smith, convinced of the imaginary threat to their own children. No, this is not a time for calm reflection, a time to trust a nation of laws. It is a time for wholly human tantrums, for rage, for grief, for incredulous wonder. It is time to cast shadows on a country that murders light.
I’m no expert; I just give big love to a child who is all sunshine and laughter. I listen when she speaks and I believe what she says. I am her orange moon, a reflection of the truth of her being. I see her; I will put my body on the line to make America follow suit.
“If I speak to you in anger, at least I have spoken to you: I have not put a gun to your head and shot you down in the street; I have not looked at your bleeding sister’s body and asked, “What did she do to deserve this?” Audre Lorde, “The Uses of Anger”
Asha French is a writer and mother living in Atlanta, GA.