Baseball After Trayvon
I didn’t want to go. Don’t get me wrong; I’d looked very forward to coming to this Sunday’s game against the Gwinnett Braves. I looked forward to taking my son with me, who since our family trip to Panama two weeks ago has declared that he wants to be a baseball player when he grows up and lamented the fact that I didn’t take his tee-ball set with us to Central America. He is two. His eyes are bright. He is the future. Since Saturday night, his mother and I have hugged him more than usual and thought about things that all parents of Black males think about and have thought about since before the time of W.E.B. DuBois. In my family, it was called “the talk” and it had nothing to do with the birds and the bees but everything to do with how one must handle oneself after realizing what James Baldwin referred to as “the great shock” that comes at the age of five or six when Black children find that in a world of Gary Coopers, they are the Indians.
I didn’t want to come to the ballpark because I didn’t know how I would feel. The night before in Sanford, Florida, an all-female, basically all-white jury found George Zimmerman not guilty of murder or even manslaughter in the killing of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed Black teenager walking home to his father’s house in the rain while eating a bag of Skittles. Going to a baseball game in the wake of that verdict just felt wrong, like a betrayal. Even the sky had let Trayvon down. There should have been thunderstorms and rain to protest what was decided about the value of a young Black man’s life in Sanford. The sun was bright and shining, however, the air pristine.
I didn’t want to go to the game because my thinking was not rational. I was angry at white America across the board. Not because a white person in Durham had anything to do with the verdict in Sanford. Millions of white people think the verdict is bogus. Many are rallying and protesting. I was angry because those white parents in the stands at the Bulls game would never have to have the conversation with their sons that I will have to have with mine. That of all the worries these parents have for their sons, none will include their sons being killed as a result of being profiled because of the color of their skin. When these parents give their sons the lecture on what it means to be a new driver at sixteen, that lecture will not come with a lengthy appendix section on how to respond when you are pulled over by police so that none of your actions can be interpreted as threatening, so that you don’t end up as a victim of one of those “isolated incidents” that only seem to happen to Black people.
And I was mad at Black people too, sick of all the talk about Black on Black crime and how Black people need to talk to our youth and get involved. These things are true but have absolutely nothing to do with Trayvon being killed. They have nothing to do with it taking forty-four days and massive protests just to have George Zimmerman arrested. I can mentor a kid twenty hours a week and bring him with me to church twice on Sunday; that still won’t protect him if he’s walking in a neighborhood where someone like Zimmerman has determined he shouldn’t be. To me, it buys into this whole notion of what could Trayvon have done differently, instead of why was his life in danger and eventually taken for walking home from the store. A young white woman held a sign at a post-verdict rally that read, “Only in America can a dead black boy go on trial for his own murder.” Only in America…
I was mad at baseball, too. Baseball has rules that govern it. There may be bad calls made, but a ball is a ball and a strike is a strike. If you are running down the baseline and the infielder misses the tag, you are safe, period. If you hit a fly ball and the fielder drops it, it’s not an out. These rules are the same for both teams and all players. We are taught that our country is much like baseball, but that hasn’t been my experience. The same rules do not apply to everyone equally. If I had a dollar for every time my grandfather told me, “A Black man got to be twice as good to get half as far,” I’d be a wealthy man. If I had a dollar for the numerous situations I’ve seen play out along those lines, I’d be Bill Gates. So suffice it to say, I didn’t feel like being around something that had parameters, regulations, fair play — not on a day after a verdict had come down that left me feeling as if I’d been hit in the stomach with a sledgehammer. For me, who threw the first punch, who was on top, who was screaming on the tape are all irrelevant. If Zimmerman had not made an assumption about Trayvon, left his car, and followed him with a loaded gun when he was instructed to stay in the car by the 911 dispatcher, then Trayvon would be alive. I didn’t feel a baseball game could ease my mind or alleviate that tension. But my wife said to me, “Going to the game is about protecting normalcy — for you, for me, for our family.”
On Sunday, if one has the time and the means, it is nice to take one’s family to the ballpark. It is nice to yell and cheer and eat hotdogs and feel the sun warm on one’s face. That’s why we went to the game. We wanted to protect normalcy. Being Black in America has always been about dualism, to feel a part of and apart from simultaneously, to have extra to do, to contend with, for one’s own survival. After we enjoyed a great day at the ballpark, we joined the protest against the verdict that was happening in front of the jail, just around the corner from the stadium. Unfortunately, fighting for equal justice, respect for our lives and our value as human beings also seems to be a part of what is normal in the lives of African-Americans.