On her MSNBC show today, an emotional Melissa Harris-Perry said that America isn’t safe for African-American boys. Harris-Perry said, “We’re also going to have to grapple with what we say to our children, because what we must not forget is that Trayvon Martin was not an adult. He was a 17 year old. He was the child of Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin. He had just celebrated his seventeenth birthday. I will never forget the relief I felt, I’m a sexual assault survivor, and yet the relief I felt at my 20-week ultrasound when they told me it was a girl. And last night I thought, I live in a country that makes me wish my sons away, makes me wish that they don’t exist because it’s not safe.”
After the Zimmerman verdict last night, Harris-Perry tried to explain to the rest of America the unsafe feeling that comes with being African-American in this country:
She said, “We live in such a racially segregated country that trying to do the best thing for your kids, you think, ok, we’ll go live in the black neighborhood.We’ll live in a predominately African-American community. One of the things we know is that those communities are often plagued with crime that takes the lives of African-American children. It is the reality that most young black men, 17, 18 who die in this country from gunshot wounds, from violence die at the hands of other African-American men. So here you want to live in the community, but then you think maybe I can’t. So then maybe you move to a community like the one where Trayvon Martin’s father was living. Where you have the gated community. You feel safe letting your kid walk over at seven o’clock to the 7-11, and pick up some candy during the game. The idea that that community too is not safe, because they can be profiled and potentially victimized by violence by those who will see them as not belonging there. I don’t know that I can express, but I want to try that it begins to feel like there is no place that you can be, no choice that you can make, no home that you can buy, no place where you can put your kid in school where it is safe. And I think this is what Newtown families felt when their own beautiful little children who were sitting in their own elementary school were gunned down, and they said whoa, wait a second, what is happening in a country where you can’t be safe in an elementary school, but I think that is a feeling that is so familiar and brought home by this case for so many of us. That there is no safe place.”
What Harris-Perry was describing was something that many of the rest of us can’t understand. Most white Americans aren’t familiar with the constant unsafe feeling that is looming in the minds of African-American parents. All good parents worry about their children. What white people like myself may not understand are the feelings that come with living in a country that has a history of prejudice, discrimination and violence against you. Most of us don’t know what it’s like to be racially profiled. Many of us have no understanding of that constant sense of being unsafe. The killing of Trayvon Martin, and the case that followed tapped into that very feeling. It was every parent’s worst nightmare. Your child goes to the store, but never comes home again. It is a nightmare for all parents, but when you throw in the component of racial profiling, and this country’s history of criminalizing being black, the feelings take on a whole other depth and dimension.
There are probably many more African-Americans in this country who share Harris-Perry’s feelings today. The Zimmerman verdict was confirmation of what many Americans of all have always suspected. It is still an unspoken crime in the country to be black and be in the “wrong place at the wrong time.” You wouldn’t have known it from the trial, but Trayvon Martin was the victim in the case.
In moments of collective pain, some Americans may need help understanding. Melissa Harris-Perry has bravely opened up her own heart to provide insight into how it feels today to be African-American in America. Change comes from education and understanding, and Harris-Perry is providing a much needed dose of both in these difficult moments.