Trayvon Martin in Obama’s America: Searching for Action when this Moment has Passed

In 2008, when Barack Obama was first elected as the President of the United States, I remember feeling like I was floating. I was shocked and excited. I cried. I screamed. My mind fluttered with so many thoughts, I couldn’t think thoroughly. I was happy to have been wrong all along; Americans were ready for a Black president. I felt privileged to see this victory, and to experience it during a young time in my adulthood. For days, I kept saying, “Now I can tell my future children that they can truly be whatever they want to be—even the President of the United States!” I knew that that moment in Berkeley—huddled up in a small bar booth with friends and strangers who would later become friends-for-the-night—would forever be clearly sketched into my memory. My country had left an impression on me. My country had surprised me, and made me proud.

image by Shepard Fairey

After President Obama’s election, there were whispers turned to strong-voiced acclamations that, ta-da, we now live in a post-racial America. I knew this not to be true. Each day, as I drove to my job at an elementary school in East Oakland—where my Black and brown students struggle to stay afloat because of lack of basic necessities at home and at school— I cursed every journalist who wrote such lies.

Five years later, and a new moment, which I know, in the future, will serve as a vivid memory, is created. In this future memory, I am across the Bay Bridge, walking the streets of San Francisco. Again, I am with friends, and it’s the evening I say farewell to my 28th year, welcoming my last year of my twenties. In between laughs and excitement for the evening, I hear about the acquittal of George Zimmerman—the adult murderer of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, who was a Black boy. I am angry and distraught. I muffle my scream with my hand, but I feel as though I’ve been punched in the stomach. I will cry later… privately. I ground my body, but my stomach continues to flutter. I can’t think thoroughly. I’m devastated to be proven right. Regardless of how much I understand the societal systems that promote and maintain racism, one never gets used to being told their life, and the lives of people who look like them, have no value in their country’s judicial system. We lack white-skin privilege, automatically marking us as suspicious, at the very least.

I struggle with talking about what has happened. My emotions are too much to articulate these last few days. My husband and I can barely discuss it together, and we really don’t have to… this verdict tells us what we already know.

I write—mostly in my journal, now on my blog— because I know the unhealthy effects of holding anger, and writing is my outlet. I write about my students, my nephew, my future children. I try to make sense with how I’ll juxtapose the news that they can be President, but they can’t walk out the house with hoodies on their head, they must be home before the street lights come on, and they can’t ever take irresponsible photos of themselves, even though that’s a part of growing up.

I am tired and feel helpless.

My own country, once again, has left an impression on me. It didn’t surprise me this time, but I wish for that moment, 5 years ago, when I began to see a glimpse of hope in the American people—that moment when I felt like I had American citizenship. I’m grateful that I’m leaving the country for a few days; the US of A and I need some space. I am not proud of how we look right now.

As I struggle through my emotions, I think about next steps. Many of my friends are peacefully marching, petitions have been signed, artists are creating, some of us are writing. Many of us are in mourning, and I’m proud that we are giving ourselves this time to be angry and sad. To shout and to cry. Historically, we’ve been told not to feel, because our emotions have threatened the status quo, but we’re doing what we need in this moment—this is progress for us.

But what happens when this moment passes? How do we fight so that there are no more Trayvon Martins, Oscar Grants, Emmit Tills? How do we honor the nameless Black women who have experienced similar injustices, but, for some reason, get no attention? How do I speak to my students –4th graders—whose wide-eyes know what’s going on, and who are watching us for how to heal? I am looking for answers. I am looking for a productive, healthy way to process these feelings, and support change. I want my community to heal; I want to heal. Our feelings cannot become silenced when this moment passes; they cannot be in vain.

Trayvon Martin’s life must not be in vain.

Poster collaboration by Dignidad Rebelde’s Jesus and Melanie and Studio Mazatal’s Santiago. All three are Justseed co-op members.
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Race on Madison Avenue: Season 6 is My Dream Deferred

My plan was to write a part 2 and 3 to this piece that I began in the beginning of season 6 of MAD MEN. I didn’t, and I’m not sorry, and this is why…

    When season 6 of MAD MEN began I was thrilled! Ecstatic! Anxious! Overjoyed!  And when I realized this season didn’t start in the 70s as I had mistakenly predicted, but, rather, in 1968, I was like, “Heeyyyyy!” as if a DJ  had played my favorite song, because in US history, 1968 is the hook that made me proud to be African-American.

    My excitement for the return of MAD MEN is partly because it’s the only show for which my husband and I share mutual investment. Our ritual of downloading each episode from our iTunes subscription (we’re cableless), preparing/ ordering food, decanting wine, and screaming “Oh no he di’int” while watching D. Draper act selfishly foolish, has become a most cherished ritual.

But this season…. Oh, this season….

Our screams at Draper turned into gasps, cutting of eyes, and straight-up pauses, mid-scene, as we, “What the fucked?!” our way through each soap operatic episode. In season 6, our frustrations turned from Draper’s character flaws to Matthew Weiner’s misuse of his artistic license, even provoking us to change our pronunciation of the creator’s surname. Call us juvenile, but I’m 5 seconds from calling someone Racist, or at least Bigot for short.

    My initial enthusiasm for the series’ second to last season was quickly derailed by the absurdity of certain lines, scenes, and jigaboo representations of Black folks (i.e. “the biggest, Blackest prostitute,” Grandma Ida and her fried chicken, and the background noise of Peggy’s dangerous/ black & brown neighborhood). My  will to write an open letter of mere inquiries to Weiner mid-season was replaced with an angry, unpublished letter I will keep in my personal archives. And my plan to write a season analysis was unapologetically neglected for me giving myself some space from this season’s kaleidoscope of madness.

This is “Grandma Ida.” She is one of the few Black characters we see in season 6. She robs the Draper household, by pretending she’s Don’s mother. The only redeeming piece of this scene is when Bobby excitedly says, “Does this mean we’re Negro?!” But, maybe even that’s problematic.

My distaste for this season isn’t solely for the irresponsible dealings with race politics. It’s also for the farce-like quality of drama moving through scenes of domestic stabbings, hunting accidents, and familial encounters in brothels. I’m also sitting with my own tiring of D.Draper’s addictions to sex, alcohol, and self-destruction—weeee get it… Don’s a hot mess.

    Before the season began, I  read Weiner and Jon Hamm say that in season 6, they were going to do things they’ve never done before. My optimistic self was hoping they’d, I dunno, have a fully developed Black character… and when my dreams went wild, I’d insert Latino and Asian characters- not caricatures- but characters, since, by 1968, these racial groups had also been inhabiting NYC for a hot second —I know, I’m radical. A sadly mistaken radical. The twists and turns of season 6 had nothing to do with the war against racism that was actually going on in 1968, but instead was simply continuous moments of “you gotta be kidding me” gore-drama.

What happened to the good ol’ days when an episode would end, and I knew that understanding what was really going on, meant unpacking scenes, and making connections between past seasons? The MAD MEN of subtle drama that forced the viewer to look within their own [family’s] darkness and flaws seems to be replaced with in-your-face tragedy that is distracting, and has never served my taste.
Maybe I’m being too dramatic.
I’ll admit I’m taking some of Weiner’s artistic choices personally… How can I not, when most scenes that have characters representing Black folks was utter nonsense?
But, I’m not done with MAD MEN. My husband and I both have invested too much time, memories, and rituals to throw the series away. My hope is that in the future, when I come across the few beings who have not enveloped themselves in Draper-darkness, I’ll say something like, “You haaave to watch MAD MEN! Season 6 is the wicked stepchild of the other seasons, but thankfully, for season 7, Weiner and Co. got themselves together, and even hired some people of color to write responsible scenes featuring p.o.c’s (insert smiley face).”

But, until then, I’ll treat MAD MEN like I do my racist relatives— with a cutting eye and sharp tongue, but still an appreciation for what’s good. What did I find good about this season? I appreciated how Weiner and Co. dealt with Don in the season finale (not going to give ‘it’ away for  readers who aren’t done with the season). The last few scenes of the finale reminded me of the good ol’ days… when a MAD moment felt like it came out of nowhere (without necessarily having blood and tits in your face), but when you reflect on past episodes, and consider past seasons, you realize the writers were actually holding your hand to this moment of D.Draper-destiny.

From one of the final scenes of season 6… Finding out his D.Draper-Destiny.