Almost everyone has heard the expression, “those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.” I say, those who forget their history are surprised when it repeats itself. When the verdict in the George Zimmerman case was announced the reactions were typical. Those who thought he was guilty were saddened or outraged by the verdict. Those who thought he was innocent were relieved and celebratory. I had neither reaction. The verdict was not a surprise to me. I live in the United States of America, aka the land of the free and the home of the brave. I expected the verdict to be just as it turned out.
Perhaps it was because I expected the verdict that I was not upset. I did not take to social media to voice outrage. I did not grab my son, who is a little black boy and hold him tighter. I did not become newly frightened about what it means to be black in America. In my mind, and in my world, the verdict was status quo. As a black girl growing up in Philadelphia I lived in a neighborhood where the white neighbors broke our windows, put dead mice on the porch and threw change at me while I walked to the corner store while they called me a whore and asked how much I charged. This was not long ago, this was in the 1980s and I lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, not Philadelphia, Mississippi.
I have walked into courtrooms as an attorney in my suit, carrying a briefcase and the latest book of court rules only to have a court clerk tell me that defendants sit behind the bar not in front of it. I then watched with amusement the uncomfortable and embarrassed reaction when I explained, I was an attorney in court to represent a client as I handed the clerk my business card. I have been followed around stores and been asked too many times, by too many people if I needed help. I have had discussions about race and what it means to be a black person in America with my children, my teenie bopper daughter, my pre-teen son and even my young twin daughters on more than one occasion. It is routine. These conversations don’t happen just when there is a special news event, they happen all the time. The reasons these conversations happen all the time is because my children are black all the time, not just on special occasions.
The life of a black boy being seen as something it is okay to waste or destroy is not a new phenomenon in America. It is not unusual for someone to say that they were afraid of a black boy so they had to shoot him, had to kill him. It is not unusual for a black boy to die for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Police officers shoot little black boys. White men shoot little black boys. Black men shoot little black boys. Little black boys shoot little black boys. In some circles and to some people the life of a little black boy is not worth much.
In my world, I have a son who is a little black boy. He is precious to me. My husband and I were married 13 years before we had our little black boy. In my little black boy’s world black men have jobs, support their families, own businesses, go to church and are assets to their communities. That is the world my little black boy lives in, that is the example he lives with. It is hard for him to understand that he is not special and precious to all the world as he is to his mother and father. But, it is a lesson he had to learn at an early age. He had to be taught how his behavior is not just his, but a reflection on a larger world. My little black boy had to be taught how to talk to police, how to carry himself in certain stores, how to protect himself in a world that doesn’t think little black boys are precious.
So, when the Zimmerman verdict came down, I was not surprised. I was not outraged. I was not even upset. I was none of these things because I am a student of history and I know that those who forget history are surprised when it repeats. I remember my history. After all, this is America, my people helped build it and I know my way around.
13 thoughts on “Those Who Forget History are Surprised When It Repeats”
This was beautifully written & very compelling. I am a white 20-somethings gal & have only in the last 5-6 years begun to explore what race means in America today. I grew up surrounded by people (mostly white people) who genuinely thought race doesn’t matter anymore, that people are always treated equally today. Slowly in my young adult life, I began to see that isn’t true. I was in a unique academic setting for a few months where people from different races discussed the implications of being white or black or latino in today’s world, specifically in Chicago. Then, I taught at a predominately black high school on the south side of Chicago and it was just another part of a slow eye-opening journey to the reality of as you put it, being a little black boy in America today. The way you worded the experience of having to teach him what that means almost brings me to tears. As you commented above – preparing them to live in the world that exists. Lord help us to make progress in this generation!
Christine, I think you got the exact technical name fo the situation, it sucks. It is hard discussing these things with my children, but they need to be prepared to live in the world. I want them to have the coping skills they need to make it and to succeed. I cannot prepare them for a dream world. I can only prepare them to live in the world that exists.
Like so many others, I was more crushed than outraged. More disappointed than surprised. This was a really great post Janeane so thank you for sharing and being so transparent. While I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood, I never experienced hate to that extent. So while I know that history repeats itself, I just can’t grasp the fact of explaining to my little black boy all that you have explained to yours. Two words: it sucks.
I wasn’t surprised by the verdict either. Something must be done. Yelling about it and not doing anything about doesn’t help anyone. Thank you for sharing your point of view with us.
Very thoughtful piece… thank you. I was not surprised by the verdict either, yet still affected at the injustice of the justice. I love your mantra that little black boys are precious. Indeed they are.
Thank you for sharing this. As you said, given this country’s history, I am outraged, but not surprised. I pray that change comes one day.
Also I am so shocked reading about your horrible experiences growing up. You are an amazing person and I hope when your and my children grow up this will be a much better world
Thank you so much for your post. I am still processing the verdict. It came as a shock to me and a precious young man died so needlessly. It is a shock that in 2013 when we have a black president that something like this could still happen. I keep thinking of MLK’s words – I pray for a day when a man will not be judged by the color of his skin but by the content of his character. We are still so far away from that. Janeane, I am not surprised reading what you wrote about the court clerk’s assumption. Also, just a few days ago I was at a baby’s clothing store in the mall, and the stupid attendant asked me if I needed help multiple times and followed me around the store. I was so furious that I stomped out the store. 2013 – like you said history repeats itself. Also certain assumptions never change.
Thank you for the post. Your story is sooooo sad and so true.
Oh Janeane, This is a post that I will save and I will share with my children. It is a post I will read over and over and over again. To say thank you to you seems completely ridiculous–I can only say I am glad I read this. I am not so glad that you know your way around and I pray for a day all children are valued–all of them. It is my deepest wish.
Thank you for this post – I have been sharing it with everyone.
While I feel empathy for Trayvon Martin’s mother, I am just not surprised by this verdict and I see attacks on little black boys all the time. This is not new for me. I want a solution that goes beyond this one incident and protects all our little boys so they can become men.
Thank you. I do not plan on speaking of this, but acting proactively. I just do not know what that is yet. Thank for for acting proactively too. 🙂
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