“If They Take You In The Morning, They Will Be Coming For Us That Night”

Jordan Davis is Dead. But not murdered?

I wish I had something more to say about the fact that Michael Dunn was not convicted for killing a black boy. Except I said it after George Zimmerman was not convicted of killing a black boy. Except the parents of black boys already know this. Except the parents of black boys have long said this, and they have been answered with mockery.

Jordan Davis had a mother and a father. It did not save him. Trayvon Martin had a mother and a father. They could not save him. My son has a father and mother. We cannot protect him from our country, which is our aegis and our assailant. We cannot protect our children because racism in America is not merely a belief system but a heritage, and the inability of black parents to protect their children is an ancient tradition.

Ta-Neshi Coates/”On the Killing of Jordan Davis by Michael Dunn”

James Baldwin (photo credit ReciteThis.com)

One might have hoped that, by this hour, the very sight of chains on black flesh, or the very sight of chains, would be so intolerable a sight for the American people, and so unbearable a memory, that they would themselves spontaneously rise up and strike off the manacles. But, no, they appear to glory in their chains; now, more than ever, they appear to measure their safety in chains and corpses.

The American triumph—in which the American tragedy has always been implicit—was to make black people despise themselves. When I was little I despised myself, I did not know any better. And this meant, albeit unconsciously, or against my will, or in great pain, that I also despised my father. And my mother. And my brothers. And my sisters. Black people were killing each other every Saturday night out on Lenox Avenue, when I was growing up; and no one explained to them, or to me, that it was intended that they should; that they were penned where they were, like animals, in order that they should consider themselves no better than animals. Everything supported this sense of reality, nothing denied it: and so one was ready, when it came time to go to work, to be treated as a slave. So one was ready, when human terrors came, to bow before a white God and beg Jesus for salvation—this same white God who was unable to raise a finger to do so little as to help you pay your rent, unable to be awakened in time to help you save your child!

Angela Davis

Angela Davis

We know that we, the blacks, and not only we, the blacks, have been, and are, the victims of a system whose only fuel is greed, whose only god is profit. We know that the fruits of this system have been ignorance, despair, and death, and we know that the system is doomed because the world can no longer afford it—if, indeed, it ever could have. And we know that, for the perpetuation of this system, we have all been mercilessly brutalized, and have been told nothing but lies, lies about ourselves and our kinsmen and our past, and about love, life, and death, so that both soul and body have been bound in hell.

Some of us, white and black, know how great a price has already been paid to bring into existence a new consciousness, a new people, an unprecedented nation. If we know, and do nothing, we are worse than the murderers hired in our name.

If we know, then we must fight for your life as though it were our own—which it is—and render impassable with our bodies the corridor to the gas chamber. For, if they take you in the morning, they will be coming for us that night.

An Open Letter to My Sister, Miss Angela Davis by James Baldwin/November 19, 1970

This innocent country set you down in a ghetto in which, in fact, it intended that you should perish. Let me spell out precisely what I mean by that for the heart of the matter is here and the crux of my dispute with my country. You were born where you were born and faced the future that you faced because you were black and for no other reason. The limits to your ambition were thus expected to be settled. You were born into a society which spelled out with brutal clarity and in as many ways as possible that you were a worthless human being. You were not expected to aspire to excellence. You were expected to make peace with mediocrity. Wherever you have turned, James, in your short time on this earth, you have been told where you could go and what you could do and how you could do it, where you could live and whom you could marry.

Please try to be clear, dear James, through the storm which rages about your youthful head today, about the reality which lies behind the words “acceptance” and “integration.” There is no reason for you to try to become like white men and there is no basis whatever for their impertinent assumption that they must accept you. The really terrible thing, old buddy, is that you must accept them, and I mean that very seriously. You must accept them and accept them with love, for these innocent people have no other hope. They are in effect still trapped in a history which they do not understand and until they understand it, they cannot be released from it. They have had to believe for many years, and for innumerable reasons, that black men are inferior to white men.

Many of them indeed know better, but as you will discover, people find it very difficult to act on what they know. To act is to be committed and to be committed is to be in danger. In this case the danger in the minds and hearts of most white Americans is the loss of their identity. Try to imagine how you would feel if you woke up one morning to find the sun shivering and all the stars aflame. You would be frightened because it is out of the order of nature. Any upheaval in the universe is terrifying because it so profoundly attacks one’s sense of one’s own reality. Well, the black man has functioned in the white man’s world as a fixed star, as an immovable pillar, and as he moves out of his place, heaven and earth are shaken to their foundations.

A Letter to My Nephew by James Baldwin/ December 1962

James Baldwin. Right then. Still right now.

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7 thoughts on ““If They Take You In The Morning, They Will Be Coming For Us That Night”

  1. Ta-Neshi Coates is, I think, the most perceptive social observer writing today. And his cordiality to his commenters is amazing. It’s a minor miracle that the Atlantic continues to give him a platform, says the cynic in me.

    You might be interested in Paul Campos’ (a law professor at U of CO) take on the case at Salon. http://www.salon.com/2014/02/16/michael_dunns_sick_license_to_kill_hot_blooded_murder_of_jordan_davis_and_floridas_perverted_justice/

    • Thanks for the link, Chris. I’ll check it out. I agree with you about Mr. Coates. I used to read him waaaaay back in the day when he wrote for The Village Voice and he has done nothing but continue to improve as a essayist. You can draw a straight line from a James Baldwin to a Ta-Neshi Coates and I’m sure Coates would take that as a compliment.

  2. One of the analysts said it last night, I thought this was the best analysis of the verdicts. I paraphrase his comments below:

    Not Guilty of the successful Murder of an African American Male Child
    Not Guilty of the unsuccessful Murder of three African American Male Children

    For the failure to murder the remaining three, he will serve time.

    • How bizarre is it to know if you kill someone you can be found not guilty of murder, but if you try to kill three others and fail, you’re can be found guilty. Of what? Being a bad shot?

      • I wish I could remember what I was watching Jeff. It has been a bad week on a personal level and I was a bit dazed, but that comment caught me and I thought; ‘yes, that is exactly it. If I can find the clip I will add post it to you. It was the exact right truth.

  3. This verdict is shameful. I sat with my sisters in our hotel room as we saw the news and were shocked. How could this happen again? I have no words but hope the Justice Department will intervene. Boycotting Florida.

    • I wasn’t shocked by the verdict. Not at all. My expectations for justice in America start small and stay limited. Until we as a society place a greater value on Life and not Fear, we will see this story play out time and again. And when I say “value Life’ that includes the Black community valuing the lives of each other instead of waiting for a White man with a gun to kill a Black person before we respond. Every life has value and every murder is senseless and preventable.

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