By Robert Samuels
I was strapping on a pair of bright red suspenders for a ’20s flapper party when “George Zimmerman: Not Guilty” flashed on my television screen.
This haze immediately came upon me. At once, so many parts of my identity — a New Yorker, a 28-year-old, a journalist, an all-around good guy — felt stripped away. All I was left with was this reductive feeling that made me feel sadness no different from any other black man in America.
I was shocked by my shock. I spent my emerging adulthood in Florida and was familiar with the state’s broad self-defense laws. Expecting Zimmerman’s acquittal in the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last week, I half-jokingly said to a friend: “Do you have your first question lined up to facilitate the upcoming national conversation on race?”
I realized just how haughty this question was when the verdict echoed from my television to my cellphone to my Twitter feed. Forget the national conversation. I needed one with myself.
How appropriate that I found myself dressed up at a ’20s party, escapist and pure fun in its fantasy. In the morning, I returned to the present. I found myself with a line from “Strange Fruit,” the Abel Meeropol poem about black men being lynched. The description of the trees from which they hung was immortalized when Billie Holiday sang the line: “Blood on the leaves and blood at the root.”
I was haunted by how profound the metaphor was. There was the gruesomeness of overt racism that anyone could see. And beneath, there’s this systemic problem that prevents fully flowered equality. This is the dualism that compels black moms and dads to teach their boys that American justice, for them, comes with an asterisk.