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Sunday, July 14, 2013

This is how it is.

[CROSSPOSTED AT No Shortage of Opinions]

I am tired, and I am angry. I am overwhelmed by the sense that nothing will stem the tides of violence against black bodies. I am afraid that no amount of hope or change or dialogue or legislation can undo centuries of dehumanization and disregard. I feel sad that the arc of history bends too slowly for so many. I feel powerless. But I do not feel surprised. The Zimmerman trial ended exactly the way I expected it to. I do not feel surprised, and that hollow feeling of "this is how it is"-ness really scares me.

Last night, I did something I'd avoided doing for almost a year and half: I allowed myself to see a picture of Trayvon Martin's dead body. It was attached to an article at Gawker, written by Adam Weinstein, entitled "This, Courtesty of MSNBC, is Trayvon Martin's Dead Body. Get Angry"--I'm not linking because the article is easy to find, and the picture is right up at the top. I didn't really want to see the picture, but I felt like I needed to. I needed to remind myself in the most visceral way possible that this is how it is. Beneath the rhetoric and abstract arguments of the trial and the public discourse, this - this dead black boy - is how it is. George Zimmerman follows, threatens, and fatally shoots an unarmed young man. He walks free, because he was "standing his ground." Elsewhere in Florida, Marissa Alexander fires shots to scare off a man who admits to beating her: she is denied the right to "stand her ground," and is sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Things have changed in America, and often for the better. But things have also remained the same.

Last night, I did something I haven't done in years: I cried because I was so angry that I couldn't express it any other way. I heard the verdict and it filled me with sadness and rage. I looked at the picture because I needed to let that out, and I knew that the reality of that image would give me permission to do so. Sometimes crying is cleansing -- a way to expel negative feelings and make room for positive ones. I don't know what I made room for last night. I know that, when I stopped crying, I still felt full. When I started writing this, last night, I felt too full to collect my thoughts in any coherent fashion. (I'm still not sure how coherent this is, but believe me when I say that it's an improvement.) I gave up on trying to let this out and turned instead to taking things in. I let myself get lost in the Facebook posts, Tweets, and text messages full of outrage and sadness and resignation. This sadness, this anger, is how it is. I found some comfort in knowing that I was not alone in those feelings, but it did little to help me settle my thoughts before bed. I thought I could do that by reading something frivolous, but what started out pleasantly escapist soon became too real. I was too full to handle themes of bullying, loneliness, and the emotional damage of being constantly told that you are less-than, so I gave up on that, and went back to my laptop, to see what I'd left open to read from the past few days. As it happened, I'd left open on my browser a transcript of Malala Yousafzai's address to the UN. Malala, who was also shot by a coward who feared the threat that her existence posed to his narrow-minded beliefs, was speaking to the UN on the importance of education. It is worth noting, though, that she ties her focus on women's rights and girls' education to wider ideals of justice, and the lack thereof. "Poverty, ignorance, injustice, racism and the deprivation of basic rights are the main problems faced by both men and women," Malala said. This is how it is. But Malala also reminded me that my initial sense of powerlessness and insurmountable sadness are not the final word.

So here I girl among many. I speak – not for myself, but for all girls and boys. I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard. Those who have fought for their rights:  
Their right to live in peace.  
Their right to be treated with dignity.  
Their right to equality of opportunity.  
Their right to be educated. 
--Malala Yousafzai

Yesterday, I was filled to capacity with sadness and anger. This morning, watching the video of Malala's speech, I was struck by her courage and her capacity for forgiveness. I remember, today, that my hope, though certainly shakeable, is not yet uprooted. Tomorrow, or maybe the next day, I will again find some comfort in the knowledge that what was shared on Saturday night was not just the understanding that this is how it is, but also the conviction that this is not how it should be. I will, again, find some comfort in the hope that it will not always be this way -- that though some of us may be silenced, others will speak out in the face of injustice.

Malala believes that illiteracy, poverty, and terrorism of all kinds can be fought -- that our situations are not hopeless, and that we are not powerless. I hope that I can learn from her example that this, also, is how it is.