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Spring Valley Was Nothing New to Me

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Better Conversation Between the World and Me Ikhlas Saleem Spring Valley High School Ta-Nehisi Coates Trayvon Martin

Spring Valley Was Nothing New to Me

Spring Valley Was Nothing New to Me

The other day, I watched a mom slap her preschool-aged son on the bus for stepping out of line as they prepared to get off. I can’t remember his action exactly, but it was a misstep nonetheless. Something that drew attention to him, something that only slightly disrupted the order of things but something this mom thought of as deserving of punishment.

I felt bad for the kid. He put his hood up and didn’t shed a tear. I replayed this scene later throughout the day. In the strangest of ways, I saw it as her preemptive protection to break down the body, to silence it before “they” get a chance to.

In Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me he addresses his son:

Here is what I would like for you to know: In America, it is traditional to destroy the black body—it is heritage.

What black parent hasn’t said this to their kid in one form or another? What black parent hasn’t taught their kid the “rope-a-dope” when dealing with white America (white “liberal” America included): “don’t interrupt them when they’re speaking,” “choose your words wisely,” “don’t challenge.” My mom literally just gave me this advice last year.

This is not to say that that mom’s actions on the bus were justified. I thought about that kid all day and my heart still hurts. But I get the history of it, I know the pattern. I know that missteps aren’t allowed for non-white kids, especially black ones. Like Coates says in his book:

They would rather subscribe to the myth of Trayvon Martin, slight teenager, hands full of candy and soft drinks, transforming into a murderous juggernaut.

Knowing this, I was yes, saddened and angry, but not surprised that a Spring Valley High School student was thrown from her desk and dragged across the floor. Even in our most sacred of spaces: the classroom, where mistakes are expected and received with guidance is not an option for students of color. Instead we fall back on a tradition of violence because we know that violence inspires fear, silences and deters action—if even only momentarily.

I believe we can reinvent tradition, but first we have to admit that what we’re doing—a mom slapping her son to prepare him from the greater violence to come—isn’t working. That using police force to crush the bodies and spirits of our young people can’t possibly be the solution.

Ikhlas Saleem is the Digital Media Associate for Education Post.

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