Pulling into the convention center parking lot, a sizable crowd had already gathered for the first (maybe only?) ThugWalk. Officially, it’s the Trayvon Martin March; in practice, it’s the Million Hoodie March combined with SlutWalk. The city tried to shut it down at least twice for trivial matters. Talk shows have been divided into supporters and fear mongers. Entire churches will be here while entire churches are cowering at home. I am here to learn to see beyond the clothes, beyond the skin, and into what makes a man—a black man—a human being. Of course he is; logically I know that. But since the death of Trayvon Martin and the following dialogue, my awareness of myself has shifted. I’ve come here to change my little corner of the world; I don’t imagine others would have shown up if they weren’t in it for the same reasons.
Gathering my courage, I get out of my car. I am actively ignoring Mother Culture in my head who is telling me that I’m asking to be hurt by wearing such revealing clothes in company such as this. Not nearly cool enough to own any “club-wear” or equally scandalous attire for the female-half of this event, I dressed in my shortest of running shorts and most revealing of racer-back tops. Still, Mother Culture tells me I might as well be having a steak dinner in a lion's den. Joggers are often targets of attack, but I can guarantee I’m not asking to have anyone jump my bones as I’m rounding mile seven. All the same, I’m certainly out of my element with this degree of public exposure—even for a cause such as this.
I approach a group of ladies decked out in pleather, pink feather boas, sky-high skirts and stripper shoes. They’ve been involved in the ongoing small talk of complete strangers with a common cause, “I didn't expect to be bothered this much. I don’t want to leave, but this just feels…dangerous.” She whispered the last word with a side-glance toward the men who were standing as a disjointed mass, most in hoodies, all hoods down, pretending not to be bothered by the tension such that we (men and women alike) were ready to bolt back to the relative safety of our vehicles should either group make a sudden move in regard to the other.
As the palpable tension began to reach critical mass, as the volume of doubt that we could change anything today crept ever higher, a woman with purpose passed through crowd, following the sizable division between the sexes. She wore an off-the-shoulder sequined red dress with one long sleeve. She positively strutted, her brown hair perfectly coiffed to best resemble Jessica Rabbit. She knew what she was doing. Her lipstick matched the red of her dress and lace-up pumps.
She approached a young man in a hoodie standing by a raised pickup truck half-way down the parking lot. She stood tall and looked him in the eye when she spoke. After an agreement, the man dropped the tailgate, then, smiling, dropped to one knee as she used the human step-ladder to climb into the back of his truck. He seemed honored to have the privilege.
A megaphone was handed to her and she sidestepped to reveal a split in her dress clear to her hip. “Good Mooorning!” she called out in a cheerful, sultry voice. Her cheer was not immediately translated to the crowd.
“I feel I’m at the 7th grade dance!” She gestured over the crowd as she spoke, “Over here I see young men in sweatshirts,” she turned to emphasize how far apart the groups actually were, “and over here I see half-naked ladies!”
Stating the obvious is not comforting, madam.
“I see that you are afraid of each other,” her voice had changed to the stern comfort of a parent who does not judge her children. “Ladies, you have been told that THEY have been told that when you dress as you are today, you are a walking pussy ready for her next hot cock.” Her words hung in the air to stunned silence. That her maternal tone did not change only compounded the impact of her profanity.
“Gentlemen…and I use that term deliberately,” she says to a sea of black faces, “you have been told that THEY have been told that no matter WHAT you wear, you are a walking sex drive and a slave to your impulses.
“Just because it has been said, does not make it true.
“Even if you have believed the lie and acted in accordance to the lie, today, you are FORGIVEN.
“Each of you, ladies and gentlemen, knows that WHO you are is not governed by what THEY THINK you are.
“Today, I say to you that who THEY are, is not governed by what you HAVE BEEN TOLD they are.”
She stood silent for a moment and allowed us to digest those words.
“This demonstration is going by too many names and perhaps that is the downside to social media, but the Trayvon Martin March is named to honor WHO he is, and the life he deserved to live only by virtue of being born. It is the life that you, all of you, deserve to live. It is your BIRTHRIGHT to live the best life you can imagine and to not be afraid that others are afraid of you.
“I have a proposition, and if we can do this, we will set the tone for the rest of the morning, perhaps the rest of our lives. Or we can all go home and nothing will change, and we can pretend this day never happened.
“Ladies and gentlemen, you are at the Trayvon Martin Church, I ask you to mingle and shake hands and don’t be quick about it. Look each other in the eye and say ‘Good Morning.’ Ladies, if the gentleman who looks you in the eye says, ‘You’re looking nice today,’ you look him in the eye and say, ‘Thank you.’
For the first time that morning, the women wearing their “slut” clothes, and the men wearing their “thug” clothes acknowledged each other.