|And They Scream for Help & No One Answers
From lynchings to truck draggings to being gunned down like a rabid dog, violence against black men and boys continues to remind us of how they are viewed and how undervalued their lives are to many. A few years ago, after another black Florida man was found hanging from a tree (ruled a suicide), I wrote a tribute to him. Today, I read it again, mourning for 17-year-old Trayvon Martin, his family and all the other victims of racial violence. As the mother of a young black son, you feel afraid to let them go out into a world waiting to swallow them up, but not before beating out of them every centimeter of confidence and self-love you have worked to build in them over the years. You want to hold onto them, but then you want to see them fly. Then, you realize things like sweet tea and rainbow-colored candy are all part of The Lie.
A STRANGE LIGHT
Something sways gently from a tree in Belle Glade, Florida, on May 28, 2003. In the early morning hour a soft column of sunlight hits the object, revealing a brown man, a heavy and curious ornament. The tree is in his grandmother’s backyard and his mother—his mother—finds him. The authorities rule the hanging a suicide. He tied the rope around his own neck, they say. His family protests: That is not possible. His hands were tied behind his back. He was not depressed. He was happy. He was surrounded by love.
One of his loves was a white woman. The daughter of a police officer. Ray’s family points this out to the media. The media furiously jots this juicy bit of drama down in its notebook.
This farming community has been quiet for years, the journalists report. But underneath that quietness lurks an old distrust. Underneath that quietness, under the cover of night, someone strung a black man to a tree. Did he kill himself, or was it the worst act of racial violence? The mystery might never be solved. Questions, accusations, assumptions, indignation—they march through Florida, make their way across our country. Those trapped in the rumors encircling their town are fed up. Sick of black people’s paranoia. Tired of white neighbors’ quick jump to deny—a steel door that slams and automatically bolts.
When I think of the hanged man I feel the same quakes of terror we felt as destruction crumbled Manhattan, the horror spreading like wildfire throughout the world. We wondered: Who? Why? We couldn’t help, though, seeing something else in the photographs: that strong shaft of light, shining through the dust. So splendid, that light. So unaware. Its glory baffled us.
It is that light I remember when I say the dead man’s name. Ray Golden. What sense does it make to have a name like that unless we let it shine? Some names cannot be lynched, suffocated, broken or buried. They live on each time you speak them, infusing oxygen into the forgotten.
Three perfect and beautiful sounds expelled onto the air before returning to the lungs: ray-gold-en.
His body is underground, decayed, but the light…it won’t stop rising.
Ray, go in.