Thursday, March 22, 2012

Trayvon Martin

Today I met with my 4th grade poetry students in Providence.

One group took turns reading their poems from the anthology the Writers-in-the-Schools program put together, while eating the strawberries and jellybeans I brought.

Black boys in that group: A.C., A.I., V.T.

My other group worked hard to write some new poems for their book, since many of them had misplaced or thrown out their writing notebooks "because it was full". (They also chased around a lot and bothered each other.) Their books, strawberries and jellybeans are coming next week; I'm taking a break from typing up their poems to write this.

Black boys in that group: D.L., B.W.

I want you to do at least two things today. Both are easy in the sense that you just have to click on something and then read and/or type. Sign this petition at calling for the prosecution of George Zimmerman. And read this open letter by Ajani Husbands at Urban Cusp: "The Bullet Next Time: An Open Letter to my Unborn, Black Son." The petition-signing is relatively easy -- I just did it. Reading Husbands's letter is harder, but not as hard, of course, as living what it's about.

Racialicious has a pretty good roundup of some of the things other people are saying and writing about this and the pattern of often-lethal, always-destructive racial profiling it's part of, from news reporting to personal essays like the one linked above to events in protest of the police department's handling of George Zimmerman and in support of Trayvon Martin's family.

Husbands writes, "Your greatest achievements will be fluff for your eulogy." My 4th grade students are 9 or 10; I'm 33. I do not want to live to read, in the obituaries of A.C., A.I., V.T., D.L. or B.W., "He was so funny, so smart, so insightful." I do not want to read, "He had so much energy" or "He had such a great imagination" or "He loved to write poetry."


  1. Thank you for taking the time to read my article on Urban Cusp. I truly appreciate the support. I am curious to know if the students in your poetry class already have a racialized view of the world. In 4th grade, I did not. Completely oblivious.

    1. I'm honored that you wrote to me! I actually taught your article in two of the college classes I teach. For me, that essay made the difference between knowing ABOUT and knowing -- it tore away a layer of skin. I want to keep that layer off because I think it's when we know and feel desperation as real that we are most likely to act.

      With the 4th graders, I think that some of them do and some of them don't. In terms of seeing it structurally -- as a giant hand whose grip they're in -- I would say mostly not. They're very aware of class, and I think that some of them have a sense of how race is tied into that. On the other hand, the two kids around that age that I know best (siblings of a friend) talk about race and racialize themselves and others; the older one, who's now 13, plays with it a lot, talking like the "white girls on TV", often specifically when her older siblings are bossing her around -- which I don't want to read too too much into, but she does seem to recognize it as a power code.