I’m certain there are droves of white people who were both saddened and outraged over the Michael Dunn mistrial verdict which fell short of convicting Dunn of murder charges for the shooting death of teenager, Jordan Davis. Yet this past week, their presence on social media told a different story.
As you know, Dunn was the white man who fired shots into the SUV Jordan and his friends, all black teenage boys, were sitting in at a, (surprise!), Florida gas station. There had been a brief dispute amongst the teens and Dunn, who felt their music was playing too loudly. Jordan Davis, 17, died from the gunshot wounds inflicted by Dunn.
I always notice who is talking about what when it comes to race. After the Dunn verdict, on Facebook and on twitter, I saw that many people of color were paying tribute to Jordan, and expressing their outrage over the verdict, and the very fact that the lives of young black men don’t seem to matter in this country. Some white people were doing that too, but not nearly as many.
The next morning, a friend of mine on Facebook (and in real life:), poet Christopher Johnson, who is known for not mincing words, spoke out on his own “noticing.” He noticed that black people were posting about Jordan and Dunn, but white folks were posting about the snowfall. Christopher who recently shared a powerful poem on Facebook about his fear as a black man of being taken by violence while simply walking down the street, and not being able to watch his daughter grow up, wondered if we even cared at all.
On twitter, since I am following many people of color who are interested in the topic of race, (see I Was On Black Twitter And U.O.E.N.O.) the divide was even sharper. People of color were tweeting about Jordan Davis and Dunn, and damning the Stand Your Ground law, and white people were tweeting about a favorite book or the Olympics.
What does this say about us? About white people? Does it show we don’t care? Or is it we don’t express our feelings about trial outcomes on social media? Are we afraid to broach it because we are worried about racial tension? Or do we feel a posting on facebook doesn’t do any good? Another friend on FB, a man of color, posted after the verdict a warning about..”all the “psuedo cyber-activists”…who would now share their outrage here on the page, but seemingly questioned how that would effect change.
I myself responded to Christopher’s post, saying that I clearly noticed what he noticed–the racial divide between posting about the Dunn verdict vs. how many inches of snow we got. I stated I didn’t consider myself political or an activist, even though with my blog Wendy Jane’s Soul Shake, I suppose I am becoming somewhat of an activist, or at least advocate for awareness on race relations, racism and privilege.
I went on to say though that this was a matter of humanity and that for me personally, when I post something on Facebook, and I have, about Trayvon Martin, Troy Davis, and Jordan Davis, I hedge on getting too vocal, because I feel at the same time, well, I’m not doing anything out in the community–I haven’t attended a march, or I haven’t written a letter to the proper politicians to get rid of the Stand Your Ground law. And, so I don’t want my words to be hollow. But, yes, I hope with all my heart that white people acknowledge the fact that yet another young black man has lost his life for no reason at all, and his murderer has not been brought to justice. I hope that we pay tribute. That we care. That we talk about it. That we want to work to break down the systems of racism and racial injustice that were not afforded to Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, and Jonathan Ferrell, and their families. I know I need to do more on that end.
At this point in my post, I took a break and went out to breakfast with my friend Karina Wood, and our daughters–a good wrap up to school vacation week. I’ve always admired Karina for her willingness to be vocal and speak up on matters on education and politics, and to call out our local politicians and school officials via social media and town meetings, and ask for clarity, transparency and change when things don’t seem right to her.
Midway through breakfast Karina exclaimed, “I was so astounded, and think it’s so awful about that guy not getting convicted for that shooting in Florida.”
And, it’s not like I said to myself, Yay! aha, see, here is a white person talking about Jordan Davis and Michael Dunn. It is important to us, but I did seize upon the moment to open up the discussion. I asked Karina if she had seen Christopher’s post on Facebook. She had. This is how I remember our conversation.
“I saw that, and I did feel bad. I felt like he was speaking to me. I was one of those people talking about the snow,” she began. “But, usually I keep up with the news every day, but I hadn’t this past week, and so after his post, I looked it up, and was angry about the outcome.”
“Did you feel guilty about what Christopher said?” I asked. And then I shared with her my take about some people not wanting to post things that are political, or think or talk about these events on social media.
“I did at first,” Karina replied. “I often do post about things I believe in and want to support, and I missed this one (on the day of the verdict)…I was thinking how black people must be feeling–that they’re NOT surprised by this. That you want to be surprised that something like this unbelievable verdict happened, but the fact that it keeps happening, you’re not surprised anymore.”
She added, “I think we do need to say something, do need to show that we care and it matters.”
I appreciated the conversion with Karina, and her suggestions to me to write letters to the editors of local newspapers, and politicians denouncing the verdict and the Stand Your Ground law, when I spoke about not knowing how to take action.
Maybe the space in which you speak up is not on social media. And that is fine. But, I hope we are all paying attention. I hope that we all care. And, I hope that, as a nation of diverse people, none of us remain silent. As Dr. King once urged us all, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”