Michael Brown’s Death Reopened My Eyes to My Privileges as a Black Woman

black female privilege

Sometimes you have to subscribe to a different set of rules when co-existing alongside black men.

By Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele

This article was published at The Root on August 20, 2014.

I didn’t fully understand the privileges that I enjoy as a black female in America until a recent incident, punctuated by the shooting death of Michael Brown, made it all the more clear.

Yep, you read that right—I’m touting my privileges as a black female, not my woes, which are typically what are written about and expressed.

I’ll start with the incident: Long story short—my black male friend and I were having drinks at a restaurant when I got into a pretty saucy exchange with an older, drunken man about the venue’s music. In an inebriated, four-minute slur of sorts, he stuttered on and on and desperately tried to prove some insignificant point. Boy, did I feel chastised and harangued—but more importantly, I was annoyed.

My friend waited longer than I liked to tell the guy to essentially stop speaking to us. “Enough,” my friend said, but in my opinion, that “enough” was several minutes too late. Plus, his delivery lacked the scorn I felt this drunken man deserved.

My friend explained to me his rule of thumb: that I should have ended the conversation with the stranger the minute it became antagonistic. He also said that his potential involvement—particularly as a black man—might not have ended peacefully or justly. He suggested that in the future, I should try to look the other way if a person who isn’t in a clear state of mind tries to speak with me. As luck would have it, the drunken man returned, and after ignoring him, I was able to see that my friend’s advice worked.

That wasn’t the first time I realized that black men in this country have had to learn to navigate these waters much differently from how I’ve had to as a black woman. Black men live by a different set of rules that at times fly in the face of how I tend to live my life.

By nature, I am never opposed to ruffling a few feathers in the name of fairness and doing what’s right. I speak up for myself—at times emphatically. Injustice makes my insides churn, and I’ve spoken up many a time when I felt that a police officer was being overzealous or condescending or exerting power out of pure ego and not necessity. (Much as I imagine Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis and Michael Brown did—to varying degrees—when they were approached by white civilians or confronted by white law enforcement.)

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Your Black Son: What He Needs to Know about the Zimmerman Acquittal

'Negro boys on Easter morning.' Southside, Chicago, Illinois.  1941 (Russell Lee/Library of Congress)

‘Negro boys on Easter morning.’ Southside, Chicago, Illinois. 1941 (Russell Lee/Library of Congress)

The ‘not guilty’ verdict creates an opportunity to school—and at times, remind—your black sons about history, race, morality and everything in between.

By Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele

Editor’s Note: A lengthier version of this article that includes guidance from child psychologists was published at The Root on July 21, 2013.

It’s the question on several parents’ mind: What do I tell my black son about George Zimmerman’s acquittal? Whatever feels right – but here are some guidelines to steer you in the right direction.

The Law Does Not Always Factor In Morality

Son, this is not a referendum on the value of your life. The judicial system is complex and verdicts do not necessarily reflect the moral consensus on any given issue. One of the jurors in the Zimmerman murder trial–Juror B37—initially wanted to write a book about her experiences (she’s not anymore) and in a  dated statement released by her former literary agent, she referenced the dissonance she experienced during the trial as she weighed the evidence, writing that “despite one’s personal viewpoints, it is [important] to follow the letter of the law.”

A few of Juror B37’s peer jurors released a statement distancing themselves from some of  her viewpoints, which demonstrates the diversity that exists among white people, a diversity of opinion that you should be familiar with.

And so while the jurors may have believed they could not convict Zimmerman based on the evidence, they mourned the life of Trayvon Martin, deeply, and probably wished Zimmerman had stayed in his car, per the 9-1-1 dispatcher’s orders. There are a lot of folks working hard to change the laws so that boys who look like you aren’t carelessly gunned down under the false pretense of self-defense.

Remember Your History Lesson about Blacks in America

Like Nelson Mandela said, people are not born to hate, therefore, people are not born to hate boys that look like you. It’s a learned affectation. History helps explain this.  Boys with your complexion are feared because black people were brought to this country to work as nonpaid laborers and were perceived—even back then, without any valid reason for perceiving your chocolate complexion to be nefarious—as subhuman. Unfortunately the government gradually carried out an intricate and intentional plan—via legislation and social norms—to disenfranchise black men. This ensured that black boys didn’t receive a good education and hence a good job, quality housing, and proper representation.  In television and in movies, and in the news, anti-black content flooded the airwaves—both intentionally and at times inadvertently—to sully the collective black male self-esteem and made black men believe in the inferiority these customs tried to place upon them. Unfortunately, those practices took its toll – black men paled underneath these conditions and the negative perception of black boys emerged and persevered. But no worries – all that is unraveling. The civil rights movement of the 1960s reversed a lot of the extant legislation that stifled black men, and people of all walks of life, including lawyers, legislators, teachers, writers, actors,   singers, and activists are doing everything they can to restore the perception of the black man to its rightful manner.

You are a good person, so you are already aiding in this effort.

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How ‘A Time to Kill’ Could Have Helped Zimmerman Prosecutors

Trial prosecutors insisting the case wasn’t about race possibly cost them a ‘guilty’ verdict.

Screenshot from A Time to Kill (R); Tracy Martin and Lead Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda (L)

Screenshot from A Time to Kill (L); Tracy Martin and Lead Prosecutor Bernie de la Rionda (R)

By Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele

During the post-verdict press conference, Bernie de la Rionda, the lead prosecutor in the George Zimmerman second-degree murder trial, describes how the prosecution hinged their case on the following question: Who was following who?

It seems de la Rionda hoped the all-female jury would hone in on that point as they deliberated the fate of Zimmerman. The strategy apparently did not work given the ‘not guilty’ verdict. Fielding questions in a room full of reporters, de la Rionda—trying to wrap his head around his team’s shoulda-coulda-woulda’s—maintained that this very detail—of whether Trayvon Martin was being pursued—is what “the case boils down to.” Florida State Attorney Angela Corey (and special prosecutor to the case) maintained time and time again during the post-verdict press conference that “this case is not about race.” That sentiment was soon echoed, almost verbatim, by one of the trial’s assistant prosecutors, John Guy.

Legal experts and lay trial-watchers expressed concern about the way the state tried the case, yet this revelation—that the trial’s three prosecutors, all of whom are white men, centered their case on trying to paint Zimmerman as a predator—is arguably the a ha moment for understanding why the prosecution lost.

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The Flip-Flop Strategy Used to Discredit Rachel Jeantel

Rachel Jeantel and Defense Attorney Don West.

Rachel Jeantel and Defense Attorney Don West.

By Diana Ozemebhoya Eromosele

On Thursday, Rachel Jeantel told George Zimmerman’s defense attorney Don West that she has “a low voice.” She also has a lisp and a unique dialect. Social media commentary about Jeantel’s two-day testimony range from sentiments that she is inarticulate, to those who push back against that assessment and use constructs like race, economic status and gender to explain the vitriol directed at the 19-year-old high-school senior.

But no one is poking holes or parsing the defense’s strategy to discredit Rachel Jeantel from a legal basis – which is paramount in determining whether or not the jury will believe the argument Don West was making about Trayvon Martin’s motives while he was speaking on the phone with Rachel.

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