Saturday, March 24, 2012

Evie Shockley Remixes Poem to Address Trayvon Martin Case

In July 2009, amid the controversy surrounding the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Evie Shockley wrote a ghazal, entitled "improper(ty) behavior" about racial profiling. The poem appeared in Shockley's volume of poetry the new black (2011), and every second stanza of the poem concludes with the phrase "while black," including "driving while black," "thriving while black," "reviving while black," and "surviving while black."  

In a recent blong entry on the Red Room site, Shockley expressed "feeling overwhelming grief, outrage, and pessimism," noting that "the grief is a response to the recent murder of a black teenager in Florida; the outrage and pessimism respond as much to the long, bitter history of racism in the U.S. as to this specific case." Part of Shockley's response involved adding two lines to "improper(ty) behavior":
like so many young men, trayvon martin was given a real mission impossible:
to buy candy at the corner store without getting caught surviving while black.
There is, no doubt, a sense of sarcasm with Shockley's "mission impossible" reference. Buying candy at the store should be harmless. Yet, in the case of Trayvon Martin troubling issues arose that led to his violent death, turning a typically easy task into an impossible and ultimately fatal mission.

Shockley's phrase, "like so many young men," brings to mind a long line of victims such as Amadou Diallo, Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, and even Emmett Till, whose violent deaths enraged large numbers of black folks. And now Trayvon Martin has become "like so many" of those other men and thus a pained addition to a body of grievances.

As a poem, a ghazal no less, Shockley's (remixed) version of "improper(ty) behavior" is a unique contribution to the rapidly expanding discourse on Trayvon Martin. It is a discourse dominated by editorials and news reports, twitter and facebook postings, youtube videos, photographs of people wearing hoodies, but relatively few African American poems.

A Notebook on the Trayvon Martin Case  
A Notebook on the work of Evie Shockley

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