Ta-Nehisi Coates interviews the mother of Jordan Davis. For the interview, he brings along his own son, 13 years old and black and pretty much in the same unsettling reality that Jordan and Trayvon lived (and died).
Last Thursday, I took my son to meet Lucia McBath, because he is 13, about the age when a black boy begins to directly understand what his country thinks of him. His parents cannot save him. His parents cannot save both his person and his humanity. At 13, I learned that whole streets were prohibited to me, that ways of speaking, walking, and laughing made me a target. That is because within the relative peace of America, great violence—institutional, interpersonal, existential—marks the black experience. The progeny of the plundered were all around me in West Baltimore—were, in fact, me. No one was amused. If I were to carve out some peace myself, I could not be amused either. I think I lost some of myself out there, some of the softness that was rightfully mine, to a set of behavioral codes for addressing the block. I think these talks that we have with our sons—how to address the police, how not to be intimidating to white people, how to live among the singularly plundered—kill certain parts of them which are as wonderful as anything. I think the very tools which allow us to walk through the world, crush our wings and dash the dream of flight.
I am white. I grew up getting The Talk on how to behave with girls and how to obey the traffic laws and how to avoid drunken fights and that was it. I was never lectured to be afraid of being hunted by my own neighbors or other adults the way Ta-Nehisi and his son had to be lectured.
I told her that I was stunned by her grace after the verdict. I told her the verdict greatly angered me. I told her that the idea that someone on that jury thought it plausible there was a gun in the car baffled me. I told her it was appalling to consider the upshot of the verdict—had Michael Dunn simply stopped shooting and only fired the shots that killed Jordan Davis, he might be free today.
She said, "It baffles our mind too. Don’t think that we aren’t angry. Don’t think that I am not angry. Forgiving Michael Dunn doesn't negate what I’m feeling and my anger. And I am allowed to feel that way. But more than that I have a responsibility to God to walk the path He's laid. In spite of my anger, and my fear that we won’t get the verdict that we want, I am still called by the God I serve to walk this out."
What happened to Jordan Davis wasn't Jordan's fault. It's not Jordan's fault Michael Dunn was carrying his gun, it's not Jordan's fault that Dunn couldn't control his own anger when he called on Jordan's friends to turn down that loud music, it wasn't Jordan who pulled a trigger it was an angry man with a gun and a crazy broken law giving him license to open fire. There are kids playing loud music everywhere. They are driving in their parents' cars up and down these roads with the windows down and laying out a bass that shakes the surrounding car windows. Some of them are white. I don't see anyone at the gas stations shouting at them to turn the damn music down.
She stood. It was time to go. I am not objective. I gave her a hug. I told her I wanted the world to see her, and to see Jordan. She said she thinks I want the world to see "him." She was nodding to my son. She added, "And him representing all of us." He was sitting there just as I have taught him—listening, not talking.
Now she addressed him, "You exist," she told him. "You matter. You have value. You have every right to wear your hoodie, to play your music as loud as you want. You have every right to be you. And no one should deter you from being you. You have to be you. And you can never be afraid of being you."
She gave my son a hug and then went upstairs to pack.
The only difference between me at 13 and Ta-Nehisi's son at 13 is the color of our skin. That and maybe whatever geek thing he's into that I'm not. The only difference between me and Trayvon Martin at 17 was the skin color, and that he preferred Skittles over M&Ms. The only difference between me and Jordan Davis was the skin. And that I had Led Zeppelin blasting at top volume instead of Beyonce.
I didn't have to live with the fear of some angry adult blasting away at me because of who I was.
What the hell is wrong with us as a nation that we let fear dictate what we do? That we let our anger get the better of us? That we have some people who think themselves privileged enough to sell that fear and anger to get away with it?