Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Strange Fruit

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the roots
Black bodies swinging in the Southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.”

The lives of black folks are hanging in the balance,
Between intrigue and fear,
Violence and tokenization,
Curiosity and suspicion,
Between being the face of crime and being completely ignored,
Between living and dying.
Contrary to popular belief,
racism in the United States has not ended,
We are not living in a post-racial society,
Things are not better, they are different.
Progress has been made,
But in an old dog system that is finding
New and improved ways to get away with old tricks,
Black lives will keep hanging in the balance.

Children may be growing up in an age in which
They don’t believe it is impossible
for a black man to be the president of the US,
But they will still grow up with
history books that tell them that
The Civil Rights Movement was the beginning
of the decline of racism in America,
And the election of Barack Obama
was the final checkpoint.
They’ll learn that Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday is less
a celebration of his life and radical work
Than it is a day off of school
Seasoned with blissful ignorance
about his politics and ideologies
Beyond “I Have a Dream,”
Because making a holiday and
renaming schools and streets in his honor
Is more important than knowing who he really was.

If racism is over and MLK’s dreams have come true,
How are black folks are still getting
Hired less, paid less,
and being trusted less than white folks?
What amount of ignorance and complacency does it take
To make comfort and fear
adequate justification for the continuation of
What the Civil Rights Movement
and Obama’s election supposedly fixed?

This post-racial society that we allegedly live in is the
Same society that tells little brown boys and girls that,
Even in pretend,
Disney fairytales aren’t made for kids like them,
Where they’re told that they
look so much nicer when their hair is straight,
Told how surprisingly articulate
or not like the others they are,
And are expected to be the voice of
all black folks everywhere in their classrooms,
Where any position or profession they assume will be preceded by their race,
“black doctor,” “black coworker,” “black friend,”
And every criminal and inmate
will be assumed to be black before being revealed,
Often by the same people that cry colorblindness,
Where they’ll be asked where they are from
more often than
They will be asked who they are,
what they do, and what they think,
Or, in many cases,
brilliant black youth are being written off and not
Really being taught by anyone,
Being told that knowledge is power and then
given no access to acquire it.
If getting a good education
requires having money,
And having a lot of money
requires having a job that pays well,
And having a job that pays well
generally requires getting a good education,
What surprises people about dropout, unemployment, crime, and prison rates
In poor communities of color?
How can you obtain access to
resources to opportunities that you’ve
Never been told existed for you?
Few people climb gearless up
mountains they’ve never heard of,
Especially if the tallest thing they’ve been shown
is the view out of their front doors.

Being told that we have to be the
change we wish to see in the world
Seems impossible in a place
Where fear of what could be personally lost
Outweighs the empathy that wants others to gain,
And where people from the communities
That need change the most
Are being incarcerated, discarded, and silenced
because their brown skin
makes them look an awful lot like
the next accused criminal the police are searching for.
From prison, you can’t pay or vote your way into a better world.

While the police are fully engaged in a stop and frisk,
Shoot now, think later competition,
People are continuing to master the turn away,
Cry while watching or reading about it,
Post it to Facebook and forget it ever happened
Approach to responding to civil injustices,
And if they can’t be moved because
This stuff doesn’t happen to folks like them,
If they can’t imagine that black youth on their screens
Shot to death by the people that are
supposed to protect them
Being their friends, siblings, cousins, or children,
I unfruitfully wish that they’d be moved by the humanness,
By the fact that that dead young person
is a loving, loved human being
That is trying to make it through just like everyone else.
Please, tell the families and friends
of all of the strange fruit showing up
In prison, in the media,
At bus stations, on the dark walk home,
or those not being acknowledged at all,
That racism no longer exists.

There are so many young people of color
Who will never be given the opportunity or option
To tell their stories and recite their creations
In a place just like this in front of a crowd just like yall,
because they are trapped in poverty, prison, or graves,
All products of a perfectly functioning,
Perfectly destructive system,
Where murder and self-defense have different parameters
depending on the color of the skin of those involved,
and where, if I didn’t know better,
I’d be positive that the same people
commenting in online forums
That the young men dying like
Trayvon Martin and Oscar Grant
Deserve what came to them,
And wishing their Facebook friends a
“Happy Dead Nigger Day” on Martin Luther King Day
are the same people who gathered in mass to watch
neighborhood lynchings and
Pay ten cents apiece for links of the ropes
That hung innocent men in the streets decades ago.
But they are different people
Living generations apart, in the same mindset of
“if you aren’t white, you aren’t human,
If you aren’t white, you don’t deserve to live”
That, the more things change,
the more they remain the same.

I can only be wary of those who only condemn the past
And believe it is independent of the present,
Who say that they can’t be penalized
Because of the actions of their ancestors,
Who refuse to be held accountable for
Perpetuating and growing comfortable
In an unjust system.
If we don’t think about the past,
we won’t talk about the past,
And then we’ll repeat it, remix it, and
Call it progress.
Things don’t change because of time,
Things change because of people,

As long as we live in a place where people will defend their favorite celebrity,
Before they will lend a speck of empathy to those who are
being oppressed and murdered around them,
the same people who will benefit most
if history repeats itself
will keep telling black folks to ‘get over it,’
and will help maintain the barriers that confine us,
calling what we fight for and what we are angry about
‘fighting hate with hate’ or ‘reverse racism.’
The questions that people don’t want the answers to
Are the ones that need to be asked.
Why aren’t  you angry?
Why was that joke so funny to you?
Do we really live in a post-racial society?

We can’t fear the past,
We can’t ignore it.
We must learn together,
Grow together,
Love together,
And change together.
We can have and reach our dreams,
Lift every voice and sing,
Knowing that
Our lives are worth far more than the places
We’ve been left hanging, and
We shall overcome long before we will forget.

“Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the leaves to drop,

Here is a strange and bitter crop.”

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