This is part of the series, Your Voice on Racism. Do you have a story to share? We need to hear it! Consider submitting it here!
It was July 13, 2013 as most of the country was watching and waiting for the verdict against George Zimmerman, the man who shot 17 year old Trayvon Martin for just walking in his neighborhood. I remember that day like it was yesterday, as I sat on my couch watching the trial hoping and praying justice would be served. The state rested their case and the jury left to deliberate. As I sat there, I had so many emotions as I replayed the scenes over and over in my mind thinking how that could have been my son.
As the jury returned with the verdict NOT GUILTY, I instantly felt sick to my stomach. The weight of those words made me physically ill, as I immediately reached for my phone to call my oldest son to see if he was okay. The fear that gripped my heart at that moment as I thought about my son, who was only 20 years old at the time and in the military. I needed to hear my son’s voice, I needed to hear him say he was okay as I needed to be reassured, he was safe. I wanted him to know that I loved him and how important he was. I had to reiterate and warn him of the dangers when it comes to the police and what he should do if he ever gets stopped. The constant reminder a mother and father must give to their black sons/daughters as they walk out the door.
“The talk,” what most, if not all black parents give their sons and daughters to equip them from the dangers of those “bad apples” in law enforcement. It is making sure if they get stopped by the police, how they must always keep their hands on the steering wheel while looking straight ahead unless the officer gives them permission to move their hands. It is making sure they enunciate their words to avoid sounding too threatening while responding with a “yes sir” or “no sir” in order to continue to defuse the situation. So many fears we impose upon our children, like invisible cloaks in trying to camouflage them from the harsh realities of black life in America.
One year later, another teenager by the name of Laquan McDonald was shot 16 times in the back as he walked away from Chicago police. Laquan had mental health issues and was in a state of full-blown psychosis, which prevented him from following commands by the police. This was another sucker punch to the black community, and it felt like it was open season on brown and black men, women, and children. For some communities, the police are here to protect and serve, for others, it is a constant terrorization with a criminalized suspicion for just having black skin.
As a mother who raised two black sons in a multicultural neighborhood and who had a rainbow coalition of friends, racism was never really an issue for them. I, on the other hand, had encountered racism and knew it all too well. I come from a Caucasian mother and an African American father who never protected or educated me on the evils of racism. I was raised in Southeast San Diego whom some would consider “the hood”. My first encounter with racism was when I was in preschool as my white mother walked me into class and one of the kids said, “Eww, you have a white mom!” As I tried to process that moment in my five-year-old mind, I remember thinking to myself, “I do?” I was so puzzled by what the little girl said and from that day forward I walked ahead of my mom because I was so embarrassed that I had a white mother.
As we transitioned from the hood after third grade to a mostly white neighborhood, I was excited to start my first day of school. As I walked towards my classroom, I was welcomed with a jeer from a freckled face kid named Rusty Farnam, “Oh great another nigger!” I immediately retreated to that five-year-old girl who felt the sting of words before which gave way to feelings of worthlessness. While I slowly walked to line up for class, I could feel each kid looking at me as I passed by. It was those encounters and many others as I became an adult, that I promised myself I will never let this happen to my kids.
So, as we watched the brutal murder of George Floyd, a flood of suppressed feelings rose up like a tsunami, feelings of anger, rage, despair, and pure exhaustion from watching scenes like this over and over with no justice in sight. The officer who took an oath to protect and serve, now became the judge, jury, and executioner. The sickening sounds of death that are all too familiar within the black and brown community finally reached a fever pitch that became an ear splitting sound which could no longer be ignored. So here we are, this melting pot of generations, ethnicities and creeds marching together all over the world screaming for change and equality. Lifting one voice shouting BLACK LIVES MATTER and until they do, in the words of the late and great Dr. Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
This was written by Dionnia K. Johnson in June 20th, 2020, a mother of two boys in San Diego.
ADD YOUR VOICE ON RACISM HERE
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