All this week, leading up to the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on January 20th, we’ll be featuring some of the best writing from the Bread for the Journey blog that references or is inspired by Dr. King’s witness. We’ll feature one article each morning. Today’s reflection is from Rev. Bryan Massingale. This post originally appeared July 19, 2013.
The Blues: a feeling of frustration and sorrow in the face of harsh reality; a refusal to surrender despite deep pain.
“The blues” describes my reaction to the “not guilty” verdict in the death of Trayvon Martin. I cannot be dispassionate about this matter. For I know what it feels like to be a black man in America, regardless of the impassioned denials of so many that race had nothing to do with this case.
I, too, have been profiled by police officers, followed by campus safety patrols and stalked by mall security guards for doing nothing more than walking to my office, shopping for clothes, or enjoying an evening stroll—for just minding my own business. Once, while walking on a busy and well-lit street at night, I was abruptly stopped by the police, rudely questioned and roughly searched, under the suspicion that I was the perpetrator of a robbery—only to later discover that the only characteristic I shared with the actual criminal was the pigmentation of our skin, he being much younger, shorter, and heavier than I. This happened despite my being a priest, a university professor, and a respected member of the community (or so I would have thought). The police offered no apology. Nor, to be honest, did I really expect one. Living with such terror and indignity is to be expected.
You don’t have to wear a hoodie or sagging pants to be perceived as a threat. The very presence of a black man in any space that violates the expectations of those in authority can constitute sufficient probable cause for suspicion and danger.
This is why the verdict of “not guilty” has touched a deep well of resentment, sadness, and horror in many African American men (and in those who love us). For I not only know that if I had a son he could look like Trayvon; I know that I could be Trayvon…