Fight With Us Too, Damnit (Educators and Jordan Davis)

Jose VilsonEducation, Jose, Race26 Comments


When the Michael Dunn verdict came down, I fully expected him to get off on all counts. The Trayvon Martin case only created two pathways for future cases like these: either America – specifically Florida – would learn and do better for the next trial or it would give carte blanche to any white person to take the life of a young person of color on the basis of “threat.” The latter happened, and, while it hurt, I’ve long been desensitized to the tragedies, a condition created by the environment where I was raised.

For people of color, there was and never has been “the good ol’ days.”

As the constant observer, I just decided to peruse through my timeline, checking to see if, like the Zimmerman Martin trial, popular educators would quicker discuss listicles and Google Glass than the lynching of children of color. Sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. Very few educators talked about it, and so I flipped:

The minute this tweet hit 20 retweets, a few educators got defensive, replying back, “Did you see my timelines?” A few others unfollowed. A few others still decided that retweeting was enough.

I laughed. Why people had such a visceral reaction is beyond me. I just wondered, aloud, why educators so active on Twitter when it comes to issues of educational technology, teacher evaluation, the Gates Foundation, anti-testing, lists that they did or didn’t get on, education conferences they attended, or what so-and-so said and how they replied so bravely, couldn’t dedicate a few tweets to discuss this tragedy.

Because Jordan Davis could have been one of our students, but we’re so mum on things, it makes us look willfully ignorant OR tone-deaf. It may be a beautiful day for some of you, but for those of us who have to live with this, we can’t just hug it out. There is this dimension of tragedy that’s rather hard to ignore on its own face, but the added dimension of race makes people feel unfuzzy, and they’d rather revel in anti-establishment talk and feel warm in that pocket forever. Talking about race makes white folks feel sad, they’ll say.

The temporary sadness of understanding white privilege as a white person is nothing compared to the existential melancholy of understanding racial oppression as a person of color.

So, to that end, in moments like these, I’ve learned that I don’t always to do the speaking up. Plenty of folks, allies in this work, can speak to it, a level raise from the last few years of “Vilson, what’s your opinion on this?” Even with my infinite patience, I don’t feel like explaining race all the way because, as it turns out, I don’t want to have to explain my humanity to you. I don’t have to hold court and put myself on trial every time a racial incident happens. I may have some part to play, but I’m not on trial.

But Jordan was. Trayvon was. Renisha is.

In some respects, maybe I shouldn’t care if you don’t speak about Jordan Davis. Just know that another flare-up happens, when Arne Duncan says something to upset teachers, when a local protest against the Broad Foundation occurs, when Apple steals your students’ data for their own profit, or when you ask me to respond when a person of color says something profoundly anti-child, I’ll remember.

Jordan Davis is my son. Jordan Davis is me. And you didn’t fight with me.


p.s. – This was inspired also by Melinda Anderson, Kelly Wickman, and Jennifer Lawson. Yes, that Jennifer Lawson. Thanks, ladies.

image c/o

Comments 26

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  1. Well said. I saw the verdict and wept. I wrote only one tweet. Pretty sure it was something like “my heart breaks right now.” I was angry. Really angry. I understand why people take a few hours before going public. I really do.

    However, the silence lasted days.

  2. For a number of reasons that I won’t go into, I didn’t tweet about this. I like to wait and digest a situation like this before I spout off (which shows more care and delicacy with this subject than I perhaps give to others). I didn’t know as much about this case as Trayvon’s killing, so I feel like I’m catching up, but I like to listen and think when evil crap like this happens. I saw some good tweets and status updates in my timeline (including yours). Sometimes you need to provide backup, but sometimes the lead singer needs no accompaniment. I don’t know which of these this situation was, but I’m sorry I wasn’t a good ally.

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      Alice, you’re usually good about this stuff. I can’t fault you on this. I’m just disappointed at those who willfully ignore this sort of stuff on a CONSISTENT basis. It’s not even right …

    2. Good Evening Mr. Vilson,

      I will be concise with my response. Your article is certainly eye-opening and provokes a lot of thought. As a person of color, however, you treat yourself as a perpetual victim incapable of oppressing others. While black people and other people of color in this country have been denied freedoms that many other Americans possessed before you, it seems you forget world history as well as current injustices brought about by your own people.

      I am not sure if you have ever studied Liberia. It was founded by African Americans, people like yourself, in the early 1800’s. From there, the troubles began. Essentially, a group of about ten thousand settlers kept roughly half a million indigenous Africans at bay. Realizing that the ocean and coastline were vital geographical points for trading and commerce, settlements were created along the coast. The main settlement, Monrovia, still exists today. Indigenous Africans from the Grebo and Kru tribes were not allowed to live there. In fact, hundreds of thousands were forcibly removed and slaughtered over the next hundred years.

      Until Samuel Doe assassinated William Tubman Tolbert in 1980, life as an indigenous Liberian was similar to apartheid in South Africa. Maybe worse. The League of Nations found evidence that slavery was practiced by Americo-Liberians until the 1920’s. For your people, i.e. African Americans, however, these were “the good-ol days”. Although you thought it didn’t exist, it did, albeit at the expense of a million Africans whose simple crime was not giving your people land that didn’t belong to you to begin with . In fact, had it not been for foreign intervention from France and England, Liberia would’ve continued to expand and oppress. Isn’t life grand?

      The wealth accumulated by Americo-Liberians, i.e. African Americans, during over a century of human rights abuses is astonishing. Joseph Jenkins Roberts was right about the coastline. It was a gateway to world trade and filled with abundant resources like iron and timber.The economy flourished during the later part of the 19th century.

      During the early 1900’s, Monrovia was filled with large plantation homes and prosperous open air markets. Oh there was a Constitution. But it only applied and you could only vote if you understood English. Sound familiar to U.S. voting laws and literacy tests? That’s because it is. In fact, voter suppression still exists. While all full citizens of this country can now vote, due to a law passed in 1906, this is misleading. Why? Because when the new law was passed, a provision in the law stated the only people eligible to become full citizens must be black.

      Liberia’s capital city, Monrovia, was once a thriving commercial center and shipping port during the 1900’s. In fact, it served as a strategical midway point for the U.S. Navy during World War 2. During its heyday, Monrovia attracted many immigrants from Lebanon who opened shops, factories and other businesses. More recently, immigrants from India and China also arrived and remain vital parts of the countries agricultural and timber business. Despite being entrepreneurs who offered jobs and bolstered the country’s economy, they have never been granted full citizenship status. For these citizens, they are denied the right to participate in the democratic process as well as a voice in society simply because of the color of their skin. For Lebanese-Liberians, this oppression goes back several generations. In fact, the voting laws were passed to spite them in 1906.

      That’s enough of a history lesson for today. You are probably asking yourself, how does this relate to the shooting of an unarmed black individual like Jordan Davis? Actually, I’ll take it back even further. I’m from New York and so are you. Let’s use Sean Bell instead. Remember him? I do. The point of my diatribe is that after studying Liberia and it’s history I no longer view African Americans as perpetual victims of racism and disenfranchisement. That’s because Americo-Liberians, i.e. African Americans, have done what American colonists did when America was being settled. They slaughtered thousands of native peoples, hoarded resources for their own gain and continue to maintain power and oppress people through the use of voting laws that smack of human rights violations.

      The fact that Jordan Davis was shot is tragic. It does not, however, merit a worldwide cause for concern or even a nationwide one in my opinion. What does, however, are past and present atrocities in Liberia created and perpetuated by African Americans. Over the last few decades, there have been perhaps a little over a dozen questionable police shootings that have garnered national and sometimes global attention. But that pales in comparison to how many Liberians have been disenfranchised because of racist voting laws and what amounts to a caste system in society.

      Where are the rallies for equality and justice in Liberia? Why haven’t our black leaders addressed this international crisis? They seem more than willing to comment on the Middle East and Israel so I know they care about what happens abroad. What about hip-hop artists who are politically minded such as Lawrence Krisna Parker, aka KRS-One? The reason why the issue is never discussed or addressed is because at some point, fault must be admitted. I know there is always a discussion about reparations here in America. The question I have is not necessarily if Liberians are due reparations. Rather, how much for almost 200 years of genocide, exploitation and oppression?

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        With all due respect, you said you’d be concise. I wonder if you know what “concise” means.

        Besides that, I’m from New York, too, and there’s a difference between being a victim and a survivor. Unfortunately, this is lost on you as you discuss American history. There’s a string of stuff people of color can talk about that’s affected them, yet we stand up, not because we’re “hurt” but because we come back stronger than ever.

        That’s concise. I wish you well with your rendition of Liberia.

        1. Concise means a contained argument that I provided you. Rather than berate me, please respond. How can you claim to be a survivor when you are asking for special treatment and claiming that you are still being victimized and oppressed by a white society? Survival implies you rose above that but according to your article, you haven’t. Still getting victimized by what Americans call white privilege. Let me compare.

          Japanese-Americans rose above discrimination after World War 2. Keep in mind they were interned in camps by whites. During this time, many of them suffered financial loss and their businesses went bankrupt while interned. It didn’t end after this either. Many continued to face discrimination after the war because some Americans still viewed them as the enemy. This probably did a number on the self-esteem and financial security of many Japanese Americans.

          A half century later, Japanese-Americans are among the most successful ethnic groups in the U.S. They survived this abuse by keeping their head down, working hard and trying to put the past behind them. They didn’t ask for special treatment or help from the government. Some discrimination may still exist but Japanese-Americans live with it and don’t let it define them. You still hear the occasional Asian joke but many Japanese Americans know if they fly off the handle, people will lose respect for them, causing economic loss or social shame. I think what Japanese-Americans figured out a while ago is that bigotry will always exist and that to combat this problem is futile, save for a catastrophic event like the Rwandan genocide. Their time is better spent contributing to the economy and trying to be respected by open-minded people rather than trying to punish or change close-minded ones. Some did receive reparations. But by this point, many did not need them because they were financially successful in their own right without government aid.

          African Americans, on the other hand, continue to struggle. This is even after civil rights laws, affirmative action, fair housing, education programs, minority business loans, black political leadership and diversity workshops. You know why the saga continues? It’s not because of Wu-Tang. It’s because the civil rights saga is a money maker. After King died, many black leaders realized they could make a living by claiming they are furthering the lives of black Americans. Professors like Michael Eric Dyson and Cornel West realized they could make academic careers out of it. Personally, I don’t think Dyson or West could use their combined brainpower to get past level 4 of Tetris. I also don’t think Sharpton or Jackson could argue their way out of a paper bag. I really consider civil rights a cottage industry among black leaders and intellectuals.

          You think guys like Jackson and Sharpton give a damn about some inner city kid who gets shot? No. These guys get paid a ton of money to show up and give speeches or consult with local governments to offer solutions on dealing with people of color. However, they’re never permanent because if problems go away, their income goes away. These guys, along with other “leaders” have figured out a foolproof way to work the system in their favor.

          Remember the Liberian-Lebanese I mentioned in my last article? They control a strong portion of the Liberian economy. Some estimate it at close to 50%. This is a group that comprises less than 10% of the population. They cannot vote in any elections. Yet somehow they are able to rise above this racist voting law by being economic leaders. Do they march? Demand justice? No. They just put their head down and continue to kick ass. That’s power.

          In conclusion, I hope that we can continue our dialogue. I know my first reply came across a little heavy-handed but I just view some of your viewpoints and ways to deal with bigotry as short-sighted. I may have been out of line at times and for that I apologize. I know it’s not right to equate you with what your ancestors did just like it’s not right to equate white people with slavery. I went to school with a number of Liberian refugees and after hearing their stories it made me realize that, from a worldwide point of view, Americans need to step back and compare themselves to the rest of the world rather than each other.

          You seem like an okay guy. I know your heart’s in the right place. I hope there’s no hard feelings. You’re a good writer and great advocate.

  3. My question to those folks is, are you not talking because it makes you mad or embarrassed, or is it because your uncomfortable? If it’s the later, then you have some ‘splainin’ to do.

    1. Here’s a difference I saw:

      Most of the posts on my blog get anywhere from 4,000-10,000 page views in the first couple of days. The post I wrote on this subject got 320 page views. I had people who auto-tweet my blog quit auto-tweeting. I wasn’t being a jerk about it and yet I had seven people who not only unfollowed me, but blocked me on Twitter.

      So, I think there are people who deliberately, purposely don’t want to see it.

      1. wow! Educators can actually learn about the communities they serve by actually paying attention to these types of issues – it may help educators have a better relationship with diverse students bc you can see through their lens for a change – lets just keep it real shall we?

        We CAN be more proactive and move BEYOND TALKING and into ACTION(not just marching & singing “We Shall Overcome” ) we can exercise our God given right to LIVE & be educated and use our education to pass a “racial equity impact LAW that assesses potential legislative bills and/or policies BEFORE they become laws like Stand Your Ground, “Kash 4 Kids”(the judge that was paid legally to send our kids to juvenile facilities thus fostering the school 2 prison pipeline…

        Here is a blog I wrote when the verdict came down from the Trayvon Martin Trial because I knew, like many of us, that the Martin Verdict was going to give people a right to shoot Black boys first and ask questions later
        another article about Racial impact laws where CT lawmakers weigh in as well

  4. I have always believed that to be a true social justice activist, one has to be willing to look into the dark corners. Those dark corners may even be located in one’s on heart and mind. Which is what makes the work so difficult to do. I think, Alice, that the issue, despite what they’ve put out there publicly, forced them to confront what they didn’t really want to know and see, and it was painful. For a lot of folks, being a social justice advocate is cool, it’s hip, it’s where it’s at. Additionally, as more venues are created for people to access social justice training – much of which I have a problem with – folks are learning what to say. But, they’re not learning how to think critically and approach problems creatively.

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  6. I don’t have a tweeter account but my anger and rage at what happened to this child, our children, as Ms. Allen from Jersey calls them, our “brown babies”, is to the point beyond tweeting. I can’t tell you how upsetting to see this unreactive acceptance by those in the education field of the killing our youth based on “threats”. My classroom was made up of Trayvons, Jordons, and many wonderful, delightful “brown babies” and not one were they a threat. I quickly thought of Goetz’s (Subway Vigilante) verdict of not guilty in the mid-80’s and the message that resonated through out the city where a large population of Blacks lived. It was hunting season then and the hunting hasn’t stopped. I am beyond angry at the jurors for not learning the lesson behind the murder of Trayvon. Now history repeat itself and the lesson will be justice ONLY for those who are allegedly “threatened”.

    Who will protect our “brown babies” from further killings?

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  8. There are so many tragedies in this world. 50 people were blown up by bombs in Baghdad a few days ago. There are civil wars in Syria, South Sudan, and the Central African Republic. And on and on.

    If the rule was that no one can speak out on an issue unless they have already spoken out on all the other concurrent tragedies, then everyone would have to go silent.

    Compassion is not a zero sum game. If someone tweets #ResistTFA, that doesn’t mean they don’t care about Jordan Davis, or Syrian refugees starving to death, or any other tragedy.

    You are free to judge issues based on the track record of people who advocate for them. I prefer to judge issues on their merits. Should I have scanned your twitter history to see if you’ve tweeted about other issues I care about before agreeing with you that Jordan Davis is worth fighting for?

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  10. Lots of reasons I didnt tweet….
    major one was that I felt that if I tweeted, I would be a middle-aged, (formerly) middle class, white, woman hypocrite jumping on a bandwagon, and not doing any good, for Jordan, for other young people of colour, for highest good of all…. because in this case, tweeting words is not going to change things – only actions will…

    I was thinking (yet again) that I dont understand why its still like this here, has been for so long and looks like it will be for a lot longer… which led to what’s the point in offering (inwardly felt) outrage, when I’m not doing anything to change society and the system in this particular regard?…. which led to how can I change the system which is still so trapped in and tainted by the roots of this country’s colonisation/establishment, when I’m not a citizen here?… which led back to a sense of my outrage really being empty and, if it was expressed, possibly being ‘heard’ as self-serving, insincere, insensitive, insulting and intrusive…

  11. Great post, Jose. While the Jordan Davis trial was going on, even though it was televised, it seemed that few really even spoke about or mentioned what was going on and when the verdict came out, I found the conversations decrease even more. In an office where I am the only black person, it seemed that no one else even had a clue that this was going on and when they became aware, they surely didn’t want to discuss it with me. It’s beyond ridiculous and disheartening that this is still the state we’re in …

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