A friend from Chicago, a black female physician, had a sobering conversation with her three school-age sons days before a Florida jury failed to convict Michael Dunn of the premeditated murder of Jordan Davis, a black teenager, in a dispute over loud music.
“I presented the concept of “Strange Fruit” to them through poetry, music and the frightening visual …but with Trayvon Martin as an example,” said the doctor who is deeply concerned about how white men view young black men.
She was offering her sons a powerful historical testimony to bring past to present to discuss an emerging crisis targeting young black males in America today – a crisis that could also be described as modern-day lynchings.
“Strange Fruit” was a song performed by Billie Holiday in 1939. The song exposed racism in America, particularly the lynching of black men in the South. A chilling photo of two black men who were lynched and surrounded by racist white men in 1930 was the inspiration for the song written by teacher Abel Meeropol. A video that accompanies Holiday’s song shows eerie black-and-white photos of Ku Klux Klansmen in hoods burning crosses and watching half-nude black men hanging from trees.
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
So how did my friend’s sons react to Billie Holiday’s song, the video, and a mother’s life lesson?
“Sad. Mad. Processing,” she said.
Another friend, a black male journalist from Washington, D.C. who has two young sons, has pulled his sons aside on several occasions, looked them in the eyes, and talked to them about how unfair life can be for young black men in America – and how the situation is getting worse.
And yet another friend, a black female college professor from St. Louis who has written extensively about challenges facing black boys, is trying to decide when – and how — to talk to her sons (6 and 7 years old) about this crisis where young black men are being shot down senselessly.
She, too, is extremely concerned about a disturbing pattern where young black men are being shot by white men who claim to be standing their ground in self-defense.