When rapper Lil Wayne used offensive lyrics that included the name of Emmett Till, it sparked a conversation about whether or not much of this generation actually knew him or why or how he died.
Now, this generation has an Emmett Till of its own, Trayvon Martin. The circumstances of their murders have some eerie similarities and the fact that one happened in 1955 and the other almost 60 years later in 2012 makes it more significant.
The more I see and learn over the years, the more I’ve come to believe that some things will never change, no matter how much progress we make or who’s in the White House. That post-racial America conversation that everyone wanted to have makes less sense than ever. I’d be foolish to say we’re in the same spot that we were in the 1950s as African Americans, but I’d also be foolish to pretend like we’re any where close to not needing all of the laws that have been put in place to protect our civil rights.
The Stand Your Ground self-defense law in Florida is responsible for putting a gun in the hands of a man who wasn’t fit to handle an altercation with a young black man because of his pre-conceived fears—or maybe even hatred.
Emmett Till’s murderers felt that the 14-year-old had overstepped his bounds when he allegedly flirted with a married white woman.
In both cases black boys’ perceived “boldness “resulted in their deaths. And both cases still make us wonder whether we should tell our sons that they don’t have the same rights or certainly the same leeway as boys with white skin. If Emmett Till had been white and had been flirting, he might have been reprimanded. If Trayvon had been white, George Zimmerman wouldn’t have questioned whether he belonged in that neighborhood.
A lot of people have been giving black boys and men this message for years. A member of my staff warns her 15–year-son almost every time he leaves the house to go the movies or the mall in their predominantly white community that he stands out the most and will likely be suspected of wrong doing, whether he’s guilty or not. Because he’s grown up in a world much like Trayvon Martin where he feels entitled to go anywhere he pleases, she isn’t sure whether he actually believes how easily he could become a victim.
I’ve been out of the country for the last several days and just returned this weekend. I love this nation and I’m glad to be home, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t be critical of it on dark days like these.
The Staple Singers recorded a civil rights classic in 1965 that made reference to Tallahatchie River, Mississippi, the place where Emmett Till’s dead body was discovered. Check out these lyrics:
“Found dead people in the forests, Tallahatchie River and lakes”, “Whole world is wondering, what’s wrong with the United States?”