Friday, June 28, 2013

"Dar He." : How History Repeats Itself

Hi All! Happy Friday.  We survived another week, and dammit, this was a tough one.

Things around the blog have been heavy this week as I've been taking on issues like irresponsible use of social media and the unnecessary hurtful comments about Rachel Jeantel.  I did try to mix in some fun stuff, too.  Thanks to my girl Kim for blogging about her sweet pooch Sweet Pea. My hubby also surprised me with the sweetest heartfelt post about what he's learning from marriage. I wish I could just post about happiness and flowers and rainbows, but I feel compelled to post about what's in my heart and on my mind, and it's not always happy.

Given all of the important current events this week, my husband and I have been having some long, hard conversations about race, class, education, privilege, gay rights, beauty, sexism, and lots of other provocative and controversial issues. My husband, being the former history teacher that he is, surprised me again with another post! It's true that nothing is new under the sun, and here's his take on how history is repeating itself and how classism and racism sometimes cloud our judgement.

First a little something to get the atmosphere right for this blog post:

Here's the scenario:
A young Black boy visiting family went to a nearby store to get something to drink.  While he was out, he was murdered for no apparent reason. Because the murder seemed justified to those in power, the police in the town tried to sweep it under the rug. The story barely made a blip on the national news scene. The murderers believed the law was on their side and felt they were in the right.  In their minds, they were preserving justice, even it resulted in extreme measures to do it. Others speculated that another reason for the murder was to put that Black boy in his place - by any means necessary.

The murder looked like it would fade away; however, some news outlets not associated with mainstream media picked up the story. National organizations previously not knowing about the incident began to investigate the murder. Black people who felt that this was another example of how little value is placed on the lives of their youth began to mobilize. The mother of the boy, with the help of these news outlets and organizations, begam the push to find justice for her murdered boy. Eventually the murderers were brought to trial in what became national story centered on race. The trial surely spoke to the state of race relations in America…..

With what’s happening in the news, this sounds like a summary of the Trayvon Martin case, right? Sadly, the events above took place in 1955. The boy in question wasn’t Trayvon Martin.

It was Emmett Till
Emmit Till on the left. Trayvon Martin on the right. 
As a student of history, I am mad I didn’t make the connection earlier. It was all there.

Both cases have what appear to be unrepentant murderers:
Roy Bryant and JW Milam in the Till case
George Zimmerman in the Martin case
Both cases have mothers who sought/are seeking justice for their sons.
Mamie Till
Sybrina Fulton, Martin's mother
What finally made me make the connection was how some on the the Internet lambasted Rachel Jeantel as "ugly", "ignorant", "hood", and "ghetto". Much of the ridicule stems from her testimony as the star witness in the Martin case. For many, she is being used as a symbol of all that is wrong with our youth our failed education system. What I don’t hear many people call her over the past couple of days is……a hero.

Bridging this event to the past, I'd like to share a little about Mose Wright, Till’s Uncle who testified on behalf of the prosecution in the Emmit Till case.

He was poor uneducated Mississippi sharecropper not used to being in such big spotlight. At a time when looking at a White woman was enough to a Black boy murdered, Mose bravely took the witness stand. In his broken English infused with a heavy southern dialect, Mose recounted the evening when Emmett was taken from his home. When asked who took Emmett from his home, he stood up pointed towards Roy Bryant and J.W. Milam, and said “Dar He.” In that moment, Mose Wright was a hero in every sense of the word. He put his life on the line but did so because, ultimately, he wanted to do the right thing.

Rachel Jeantel took the witness stand on Wednesday to give her testimony in the Trayvon Martin case.  She did not want to testify and was still dealing with the loss of her friend. Being the last person to talk to him before he was shot put her in a bad emotional space. During her time on the stand, she wasn’t necessarily poised, spoke in broken English, and didn’t appear to be intelligent to some pundits and some people on social media. Rachel didn’t present very well and, to many, she appeared to do more harm than good for the prosecutions case.

Rachel's life probably isn’t in the same potential danger like Mose Wright. However, she testified in a case that will parallel modern cases around race like Rodney King or OJ Simpson. By testifying, their lives would/will never be the same. The difference between the two is one is being mocked (Jeantel) and the other is commended for his bravery (Wright).

An all White male jury eventually found Emmett Till’s assailants not guilty. Only time will tell what the outcome will be for this trial and what it says for race relations in this country. One outcome that I hope occurs is Rachel being given some measure of respect because what she did during the Trayvon Martin case was an act of a hero.

Until next time . . .