This series of posts from organizers and agitators in NYC and Philadelphia (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3), outline some of the limitations and potentials of the Million Hoodies marches conducted in the aftermath of the murder of Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Florida, on February 26 2012. A central theme in these analyses is a critique of attempts by the white left and middle-class activists of color to subordinate the autonomous struggles of people of color to the purview of bourgeois and reformist politics.
What of the Souls of Black Folk?
When Trayvon Martin Came to Philly #MillionHoodieMarch
If there be sorrow
let it be
for things undone
to these add one:
We were late responding to the death of Trayvon Martin. I am late writing this. All of the stress, sadness, anger and power to carry on are an art form in itself.
He died February 26, 2012. Maybe it was the shock of this young black boy being slaughtered right in the open. He died so violently at such a young age. I remember talking about it amongst friends and saying, “OMG, what is this world coming to! Black kids can’t leave their house in Philly because of the curfew and then they get shot up in Florida for going to the store!” But because of the late response that everyone had, it allowed time to dwell on what happened.
This is a continuation of lynching. This is a continuation of the destruction of black families that has been happening since slavery. A white Latino feeling the need to stalk a young black boy who looks “suspicious” and feeling he has the right to murder him is racism. It is inherently racialized because it is a part of the black experience. It should be presented that way because of the blatant racial violence done to Trayvon Martin, just on account of him being black.
The country was late responding to Trayvon Martin. 4 weeks go by. New York is the first to do it. But now Philly had the chance to mourn the death of Trayvon Martin. Before the march, the #millionhoodiemarch, had taken place, I was hoping for it to show that Philadelphia was physically mourning the death of Trayvon Martin and to address the tragedy behind Trayvon Martin being killed, for reasons like racism, white supremacy and police harassment. Interestingly enough, the #millionhoodiemarch was taking place on the same week of International Anti-Street Harassment Week, and that also was another reason behind Trayvon Martin’s death.
The march was beautiful. I had never seen so many black and brown people taking the streets, hoodies up, all there to show support for the Martin family. There was mothers, teenagers, babies, the old, and young people like myself. It was amazing, especially coming from an organizing background in which you see more white people in marches. There were people singing, screaming “all I had was a bag of skittles” and “I am Trayvon Martin,” mothers rolling their strollers or holding their babies hand. It was beautiful. I finally was in a march with people that looked like me and shared the same experience of being Black in America. Even better, the event was organized by Black people. So this led me to believe that it was a genuine event that was occurring, Black people taking the streets, angry and organizing around their pain.
When we reached Love Park, there was a PA system that was being set up for speakers to talk about the death of Trayvon Martin and its interconnectedness with the Black struggle. What I first heard coming off the PA system was about voter registration and supporting the president. Regardless of my political beliefs, I thought if they wanted to talk about that, fine, but it didn’t relate to the death of Trayvon Martin. A few women spoke of taking back our own black and brown communities, not needing law “enforcement” invading our communities, and how political figures that may look like you are no more likely to represent you than the abhorrent strangers that come into our communities.
What happened next shocked and devastated me. The women were cut short and rushed off the mic. A man came onto the mic and thanked everyone for coming out to the march and staying for the rally in Love Park. He then said, “Imagine if the person next to you, who looked just like you, had a gun…that is what happened to Trayvon Martin.” Actually that isn’t what happened to Trayvon Martin. Trayvon Martin was gunned down by a white man who did not recognize his humanity and killed him in cold blood. He then went on to say that black people needed to stop killing each other. This confused me, because Trayvon Martin’s case had to do with white supremacy, racism and the lack of response from law “enforcement” who are supposed to “serve & protect.” He went on to connect this to how Black mothers need to “not have 30 men running through their house” and then wonder why their “12 year old daughters are pregnant.” The assault on Black womanhood and motherhood continued with chastising Black women on how they shouldn’t have children with multiple men. And somehow, “sitting home, watching ‘Basketball Wives'” added to this immorality that Black Women and Mothers have adopted. What broke my heart more than anything else was not that it was a brotha saying this, but that it was sistas in the crowd clapping at what this man said.
What I was thinking while this was happening was: Were we wrong? Was I wrong? Was my Mother wrong for choosing to live the life she lived? For raising her babies the way she did? Am I wrong for praising her and thanking her for how she raised me on her own?
Emotions were running high and tension grew. My friend and I both were already angry about what was transpiring. Out of this anger, my friend called out the man and said, “You are spouting all of this self-hatred to all of these people, when you really should be talking about the real issue here, which is racism and white supremacy!” She was absolutely right, but the crowd did not think so and proceeded to boo my friend and tell her to leave. A man tried to tell my friend to “shut up.” He started to come towards her, and I told him to step back, that she was fine and what she said was correct.
I had no idea what was going on and what just happened. The crowd at Love Park just participated in tearing apart the realities of many Black women in America. Was this what the souls of Black Folk in Philly became? Sorrow and self-hatred that is propagated by white conservatives and supremacists and sold back to black and brown people to destroy our souls? What I had hoped for from the #MillionHoodieMarch in Philly was fulfilled in some areas, like seeing black and brown people taking the streets of Philadelphia and displaying their pain as well as their will to carry on through the tragedy of the death of Trayvon Martin. But what I did not expect was the blow to my existence as a black woman, the child of a single black mother, to be torn to shreds and demonized.
What I need from tragedies like this is anger: anger against the people who commit these crimes, anger against the system that forces us to live this way, anger against the history and the present that presents us as victims, when we are really warriors, from stolen lands that are persevering despite the anguish and pain we live with on a daily basis.