An Elegy for Fairness: Jordan Davis, Defiance, and White Entitlement

jordan davis

This may not even be an essay. Already it feels more like an elegy—not just for Jordan Davis, or Trayvon Martin, or their parents, whose black sons’ lives have so little value in the eyes of the American justice system. This feels like an elegy for fairness: a lament read at the funeral of “right” and “good” and “humane.”

Because these things must be dead. I struggle to find proof that they’re living. George Zimmerman invades our daily consciousness, his arrogance taking up more and more space as the likes of CNN, who apparently know no shame, offer him an interview to tell “his side of the story.” I know what story he’ll tell: it’s the same story that Michael Dunn has been telling. The one where an adult man can claim to have been afraid of a 17-year old kid and everyone will nod sagely and understand because that kid was black. We know that the reverse of this would be seen as silly. What if an adult black man had shot and killed a 17-year old white boy for playing his rock music too loud, claiming it made him afraid? Everyone would smirk. Black men are tough, the racist narrative goes. Tough. “Thugs.” What does a black man have to be afraid of?

Everything, I would say. Everything. Just read the headlines.

A black man need not only fear a car accident, like any other human being, but he must also fear being shot while asking for help, as we saw with Jonathan Ferrell. The same goes for black women—the family of Renisha McBride will tell you.

Elegies have been written for these families, their lost children. But I am writing an elegy for fairness, for what their deaths mean, because they mean more than funerals. They mean more than black veils and sad songs. Their deaths mean our death, a collective slow withering of the soul. We are a country where a man can be convicted of the lives he attempted to take, but not the one he did take. We are a country where a man can shoot ten rounds into a car of teenagers, then go home, order pizza, take a nap—and face no justice. And in this we are dying. In this our humanity crumbles. We made these laws. We enforce these laws.

And with these laws, we tell black children that white men can murder them for any reason at all. The mythical laws of respectability do not apply. A black child can have one parent or two. A black child can wear a hoodie or a blouse. A black child can have trouble with the law or no history of arrest. Living in this country, I have learned the equation, seen the common denominator: blackness, and only that, is what links these victims together. It is not the music, or the hat, or the pants, or the name. It is the skin, and the emotions it incites.

I say “emotions” instead of “fear” intentionally, for it was not fear that caused Michael Dunn to get out of his car and fire his gun ten times. It was anger.

“You’re not going to talk to me that way!” Dunn yelled at Jordan Davis and his friends, according to witness testimony. And with those words, America’s racism rears up in my vision: a white man demanding that black youths respect and obey him. When they would not—for they were under no obligation to do so—he tried to kill them. He did kill one. “You’re not going to talk to me that way” reminds me acutely of America’s not so distant past, in which black Americans were warned to never “sass” a white person. “Don’t talk back,” as if every white man everywhere is an authority figure based on the sheer fact of his whiteness. Mr. Dunn can talk all he wants about imaginary guns he thought he saw that never appeared, but the fact of the matter is this: Michael Dunn was angry, and in his anger—his anger at being defied—he took a life.

Michael Dunn and George Zimmerman, aside from being murderers, have something else in common: a terrifying sense of entitlement that tells them black boys like Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis are interlopers. Strangers. Outsiders. Others. The Michael Dunns of the world believe that black boys’ music, their clothes, their language, their skin, do not belong, and are subject to white dictation at any time. It’s their inherited white supremacy that tells them black boys “are not going to talk to [them] that way.” It’s been often said, and I will say it again: this mentality is distinctly similar to Jim Crow and apartheid laws, where free black people were still expected to comply with and obey white expectations at any given time. Noncompliance meant death. Means death. Now. For noncompliance meant the death of both Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis.

We are a nation that kills black boys. We are a nation where being black—and nothing more; your blackness alone—is an act of defiance. What if Jordan Davis had turned his music down and said “Yes, sir” the way the Michael Dunns of the world fantasize? Would it have changed his fate? Perhaps. But it also would have contributed to the belief of a man that his whiteness means authority; that his whiteness means obey; that his whiteness means be silent, don’t speak, you are an Other. Jordan Davis is dead because he would not comply. His parents weep because he would not comply. And the worst part is, he didn’t have to. Jordan Davis, a black youth, did not have to comply with the wishes of a white man. The jury would not convict Dunn on the count of murder because somewhere in their minds they believed that Davis violated the unspoken rule of white supremacy and black inferiority.

Other black children will die as long as white supremacy reigns, as it surely does, but what are the alternatives? How do parents of black children protect their babies? By telling them to be silent before white people? Don’t talk back to white people? Keep your music low. Keep your head down.

Surely not. To do so would mean stepping backward into Jim Crow. It would mean further sending the message of second-class citizenship, in which white children can live free from the burden of racism while black children grow up stunted and afraid. It’s not fair. And that’s why this is an elegy. Because fairness is dead.

Tagged , , , , , , , ,

20 thoughts on “An Elegy for Fairness: Jordan Davis, Defiance, and White Entitlement

  1. Thank you! Here’s an event that we started back in December, merging Poetry & Conversation centered on the topic of race:–conversation.html Our next event will be talking about these exact issues that you have raised. Thank you for being a voice that makes sense in all the chaos!

  2. Kp Lwsn says:

    Again, thank you for being the voice of reason. Beautifully written. I always appreciate your honesty. Kp

  3. I appreciate the fact that you recognize what’s going and speak on it.. The struggles of being black in America is real.. and the justice system isn’t making it easier. Thank you for being a voice

  4. my5string says:

    Once again, you hit on every important point in this matter. The world hasn’t changed, it just figured out how to hide behind the law, their law. Change is gonna come and this time “the revolution will be televised “…. Olivia, I waited, and you delivered as I knew you would😢

  5. […] ‘An Elegy for Fairness: Jordan Davis, Defiance, and White Entitlement‘ by Olivia A. […]

  6. TheOrangeMask says:

    Reblogged this on The Orange Mask.

  7. It is tragic that you even had to write this, but it’s necessary and you did it beautifully. The racism naysayers must either get with the program or sit down and shut up because something has to change. I just wrote a post about “The Talk” that black parents have with their sons, the fact that such a discussion is still warranted in 2014 is outrageous and heartbreaking. My point was that until “The Talk” is no longer necessary, racism is alive and festering. Thank you for writing this.

  8. what is sad about this is that you don’t seem to understand or know that from the second africans were brought here, “fairness” was never a part of our existence. never. so much so that millions of people in america celebrate george washington’s birthday today. a man who was a racist, a slave owner, a rapist and a murderer of native americans. this is the america i live in daily, have lived in everyday since i was born and african americans before me lived and died in. so when was fairness ever a part of our existence in the united states?

    it is deeply insulting to suggest something was mine when in fact, it never was.

  9. godtisx says:

    And fairness was already on ‘life support.’ Powerful piece…

  10. Sigh…..Well said my friend, as usual, well said…..

    “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.
    Dr. Martin Luther King

    In this world of dwindling resources, and habitable land, and invasive technology, and DNA applications, we could see racial prejudiced easily expanded to genetic prejudiced in our lifetime. Something to think about. The energy that is put into hate, murder oppression and greed would serve humanity better if we would channel it to the good of all, everywhere at all times. Doesn’t it make sense for us all to try in our daily lives.

    Please enjoy and meditate in this wonderful song for humanity by Michael Franks

  11. obatthernia says:

    Traditional Medicine

  12. […] An Elegy for Fairness: Jordan Davis, Defiance, and White Entitlement. […]

  13. glamourousgirl14 says:

    You are so right because freedom isn’t free for all.

  14. glamourousgirl14 says:

    And thank you for having the courage and mindset to speak on something is being overlooked and not addressed in the world we live in today.

  15. perrykj says:

    This was a beautifully written piece. It literally brings tears to my eyes when a young black male is killed in the name of white supremacy and entitlement and this country looks the other way as if he deserved it. This country needs to moved forward in the matter of having a more progressive attitude about black males instead of making them public enemy #1. May God keep the parents of both of these teens who were slain and the good Lord reigns on the just and the unjust.

Drop some knowledge

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: