I keep a window open in my browser. It is the site for one of my favorite
radio stations. The station is out of Italy. I am always surprised by their
selections. This morning, the ﬁrst song I heard was “Happy” by Pharrell
Williams. You have to be some kind of miserable if that song does not ﬁll
you with a mesmerizing joy. I will be rooting for that song to win the Oscar
You see, America has been everything but “happy”. News report after news
report of mass or solitary shootings. From one moment to the next, we
don’t know what horror will unfold before our eyes. At times, I check out of
my Facebook and Twitter feed because I can’t take the onslaught of
disruptive news. I like to remind myself that, in my life, I laugh every day. I
have tremendous joy and good friendships and a quirky and loving family. It
is easy to get lost in the abyss of bad news.
It has taken me some time to write about Jordan Davis. Honestly, my piece
on Trayvon Martin (http://www.digtanya.com/) applies to Jordan Davis. So, I
didn’t want to say anything additional. Those words stand. I watched as Ta-
Nehisi Coates did the heavy lifting. He typed through the pain. The upset.
The sadness. I watched the news reports after the verdict was reached. I
knew we would be here again. And, I was grateful that some of the jurors
fought for Jordan Davis. If they didn’t, Dunn would have walked. I saw
signs of forward movement. However, the signs are overshadowed by the
loss of life.
I followed the TV coverage. Panels talking to White folks. The constant
“racesplaining” that goes on is not productive. It doesn’t change anything.
Black folks, again, talking to White people about why their children are
afraid. Black folks explaining that their children are human- even if they
listen to rap. I stare at the screen thinking, what we need, right now, from all
of you who have mustered the energy to sit in that seat on national
television- I need y’all to tell those of us watching and hurting- how we are
to survive this shit. Stop talking to the White folks who don’t get it. Clearly, if
you are not heartbroken over the death of a child, there is no need to talk to
you. You’re not salvageable. Speak to the people who need comfort in
these moments. Imagine that. If Don Lemon or Joy Reid or Dr. Gardere
turned to the camera and said, “Black folks, I know, once again, we are in
deep pain over this. I want you to know, you’re not alone. I want to tell the
Black children who are watching, this is not normal. This is not about a ﬁght
or loud music. This is about our history. And, we survive it. We learn from it
and we ﬁnd strength from our families, from our friends, from our
communities. I know you hurt. We hurt. And, we are working very hard to
change this and make America a safe place for you.”
I think about the boys who were in the vehicle with Jordan Davis as he
choked on his own blood. Those boys, similar to Rachel Jeantel, will carry
his death with them for the rest of their lives. Just like the children who
survived the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting. Just like the people who
survived the Aurora, Colorado theater shooting. Trauma does not know
color and needs to be tended to or it will fester and grow and break you.
When President Obama was elected in 2008, my Sociologist friend said,
“get ready for the violence that will be visited upon Black people.” I listen to
her. She is one of the most brilliant people I know. And, yet, no words could
have prepared me for the loss of these Black boys in this way. Skittles and
music?! Ultimately, I attribute the murderer’s actions to insanity. However,
as I listen to these White men (yes, I read Zimmerman as White, albeit
wannabe White) label themselves victims, I hear their rage. Their rage at
their station in life. Their facing the catastrophe that is their lives and
lashing out on the defenseless. Zimmerman had just had an argument with
his wife. Dunn had just left the wedding of a son that he hadn’t seen in 5
years. He and his ﬁancee were drinking as if there was no tomorrow.
Maybe, for them, there wasn’t one.
These White men walk around carrying a gun in their imagination. And, in
their minds, the gun is aimed at them by Black children. They move around
waiting to place that imaginary gun in the hands of Black youth. They are
lying in wait, looking for a reason to unleash the pain of their crippled lives
onto children. White men are walking around America shooting up the
places where we congregate, where we gather as community; movie
theaters, elementary schools and vehicles with our friends.
I would suggest, in the future, as we grapple with these issues in the
media, that we begin to deconstruct White male rage. But, more
importantly, I would suggest that we tend to the pain and anguish of the
survivors. I don’t want to hear another person on television try to explain
that Black children are human. Explain, to us, how these White guys are
human. That’s the real trick. They have, literally, been stripped of any
evidence of humanity. Deconstruct that. Deconstruct these walking horror
shows. But ﬁrst, acknowledge the pain and trauma of the survivors. Speak
to the pain of the children in the vehicle with Jordan Davis. Speak to their
pain as survivors, as victims of trauma. If the media emphasizes the pain of
these boys, AS CHILDREN, surviving a trauma, then people like Dunn will
be forced to experience Black children with empathy. If Anderson Cooper
had a Town Hall on “Black Youth: Survivors of Trauma.” Similar to how he
interviews students who survived Columbine or the survivors of the
Gabrielle Gifford shooting, afford this opportunity to Black youth! Let them
tell their stories of trauma and survival. Black children cry. Black children
have dreams. Black children are magical and wonderful like all kids.
Change the narrative in the media and you will change perception. Link
Black children’s suffering to all suffering. That hasn’t happened, yet. That’s
the next frontier.
And, what does Pharrell’s “Happy” have to do with all of this? I blast
“Happy” when I listen to it. Just like Jordan Davis and his friends were
blasting whatever music they connected with in that moment. It’s music, it
moves your soul and you want it loud enough to ﬁlter into the corridors of
your being. I re-imagine Jordan Davis and his friends blasting “Happy”.
Because, that’s what they were, hanging out together. 17, all of life ahead
of them. Pharrell broke through the onslaught of trauma that is placed on
the Black male body. He shifted the paradigm. He took Blackness out of its
current conﬁguration of downtrodden, enslaved, moping, angry and
criminalized. He pierced that veil and showed another layer of Black
identity. He sang the emotion I experience most when I am with family,
friends, colleagues – happiness. That’s what life is about; the connection,
the sense of community. I’m thankful that Pharrell let the world in on our
joy. Yes, in spite of America’s offerings, Black folks still walk in joy. And, if
Pharrell wins the Oscar, I will think about Jordan Davis and the countless
others who lost their lives when, moments before, they were, simply, happy.
If you didn’t watch the trial, there is one thing you need to know- When
asked what mood Jordan was in the night he was murdered, his friends all
agreed, his mood was “happy”.
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