Black Boy Trials: Killing Black Boys By the Court – #BLM Guest Post (Poetry)

[We continue to solicit #BLM guest posts. We pay $150 for accepted posts. 1000 words ballpark; profanity welcome. Art also welcome. Please send a draft or query/pitch to Karen at gettenure@gmail.com]

DeFINEd is a spoken word artist, author, and speaker from Dayton, Ohio. She is a first generation scholar, graduate of The OSU with a dual degree in Philosophy and Psychology as well as dual minors in Theatre and Africana Studies. Most recently, she attended and matriculated from The United Theological Seminary where she received her Masters of Divinity and has begun community workshops for Getting To Know Grief. DeFINEd has authored 3 books of poetry, Shhh…, There Are No Right Words, and Questions of Blackness. Her award winning poem “My Heroes” about little black boys as action figures was inspired by an art project which contrasted the plights of Emmett Till and Trayvon Martin plus stories in between of black boys denied justice. 

My Heroes

by DeFINEd

~~

Little black boys

are da most valuable action figures-

where I come from

We run da fastest!

 (shooms)

 super speed!

We jump da highest, stand da tallest!!!

We are stronger den everybody

(uhhh uggh)!

We think da mostest!

We are da best at EVERYTHING!

Our death rates even da highest,

(slump, snore)

just playing, I still ‘live hehe.

Dey don’t make many models of us tho,

Momma say it cost too much

and white folk only see one color- green.

BUT dey make us life sized!

5’2 to 6’9

erybody fit dat description!

and since one skin tone has to represent all,

dey just make us da nigga hue.

Okay, dat don’t sound like much

but erywhere we go,

we get more den 1 look.

We are da coolest!!!!

I prove it!

I had dis one,

he had da purple and black jersey

he played basketball

and he was strong

he beat da hulk…

at one on one!

He was like crossover, crossover,

going right SYKE! going left

driving down the lane

MONKEY DUNKED ON DAT HULK!

Hulk a sore loser,

He tore up the court

but dat’s cuz he knew he wouldn’t score no way

HA

and der was dis one

he had all dese long gold chains

and da fast red car!

Mercedes benz vroom vroom!

He got all da barbies…yeah

I mean, I ‘ont play with barbies

my sister she told me

see she was always talking bout

she couldn’t never find one

so I gave her one of mine,

my momma said I had to share…

wait, where was I?

oh yea

Black boys, why we da bestest

They age us 12-20

well cuz most of us get recalled by 21

our shelf life not dat long

But if you’ve ever been

Black Boys ‘R Lynched

you know dat from the moment

was first manufac, minyfac

from the moment we was first made

we had targets on our back

That’s why we run so fast,

it’s our onliest hope

of escaping those that try to cell us.

We jump high and stand tall

well, because we rather be typecast than shot at.

And we are stronger den erybody

cuz dey beat us everyday

try to whip us into character,

when we say we not da same.

Scottsboro 9, Jena 6, Emmett Till

My cousins back at home,

Death immortalizes the young.

It takes courage to be one of us,

Little Black Boys don’t live too long.

We make da best action heroes tho,

everybody want one…

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Black Boy Bullets

by DeFINEd

~~

“Southern trees bear a strange fruit

Blood on the leaves, and blood at the root

Black bodies swingin’ in the Southern breeze

Strange fruit hangin’ from the poplar trees” (Strange Fruit excerpt, Billie Holiday)

Black Boy Bullets

have replaced nooses made for niggers

no more strange fruit

hanging from poplar trees

Brass badges got farmer’s markets

That pop up in our streets

where blue black lives hold tight to triggers

squeeze out Black Boy Bullets for bebe guns

resurrect little boy blues

little boy little boy

BLACK BOY

when blue shoots

assume the position

hands up

back open

can’t breathe

inhale Black Boy Bullets

the new jim crow

the same sad tune

No more nooses hanging niggers

strange fruit stolen from poplar trees

brass badges profit off farmer’s markets

placed in walmarts

With just one phone call

Blue black trigger fingers

Dial home

Smile for the camera

Point and shoot

black boy bullets humming little boy blues

Momma

why can’t I

go out and play too?

Why sidewalks hold funerals

and swimming pools too?

Why you beat us

but we scare you?

Crying black boy bullets

assume the position

nooses made for niggers

backyards target practice

Blue lives pull the trigger

But black lives hold the gun

Only the guilty would run

Strange fruit stolen from poplar trees

To fund farmer’s markets with prison sheets

and trash bags

Ever since

Blue Black lives

Agreed to

donate their backs

To black boy bullets

cement body bags

6 by 8 cell burial plots

Farmer’s markets

Ran by

brass badges

no more strange fruit

on they poplar trees

Too many flies

They want us fresh

They want themselves alive

Crying blue lives matter too

This one fit the description

He had a history

Don’t shoot me

I’m just the messenger

I wasn’t on duty

NO INDICTMENT

I was doing my duty

NO INDICTMENT

I was standing my ground

NO INDICTMENT

They music was too goddamn loud

…no indictment

And they wonder

why we call it

a holding pattern

Context:

My Heroes and Black Boy Bullets are poems I wrote between 2014 and 2016 which speak to a question which has been hauntingly  articulated in 2020  but echoes throughout racism’s deep and pervasive history. When do I go from being cute to a threat?

From 2013 – 2014 I was finishing my final year of undergrad at Ohio State. In the year prior Trayvon Martin was murdered.[1] During my final year a Public Safety Notice went out from campus police describing a suspect as being a black male between the ages of 16 and 22 with variable heights as well.[2] In the midst of working on an art final I had requested to do which showcased the deaths of young boys like Emmett Till and Trayvonn Martin and the subsequent defamation of character after their murders, I wrote My Heroes. As I began listing the ages of the Scottsboro Boys, Jordan Davis, and a number of others for whom the judicial system had failed them, or worked as designed I should say, my despair grew.[3] The persecution of black males, black females, black trans people, black lgbtq+, of the black existence is an old and still very present epidemic, a truth some are just now accepting.

While I expressed this in my chalk rendering, I did so in my writing also.  I wrote this poem out of a place of deep exhaustion, anger, and frustration that my brothers, friends and strangers alike that I looked up to, could not walk our campus and classrooms which they paid and worked hard to attend without being accused of not belonging and fearing for their lives. I wrote it out of frustration and weariness of feeling the need to call my biological brother and suggest he not visit any time soon for his safety.

 “My Heroes” is a spoken word poem which lives in the tension of the collectible action figure, profitable within its box and label thus assigned and a threat outside of it. It is written in the voice of a young black child calling out the stereotypes of black boys admired and sought for their athletic attributes and prowess but feared and killed for it when white supremacy feels threatened and stands their ground. Their bodies must either be for sale or put in cells, otherwise their life is not valued.

Similarly, “Black Boy Bullets” written in the wake of John Crawford, Mike Brown, and Walter Scott reimagines the reality of lynching today previously captured in the Strange Fruit poem of Abel Meeropol and popularized by the soulful sounds of Billie Holiday.[4] Rather than the lynching characterized by nooses from trees, modern day lynchings are apparent in the wake of rampant police brutality which leaves our bodies in the streets for hours, and refuses to indict in the court months or years later. This reality is captured through the farmers market by brass badges, phrases I coined in this ode to black boy blues. I call them black boy blues because a bebe gun in the hand of black man in a Dayton area Walmart “justified” his murder in the same way a toy gun in the hands of a 12 year old in a Cleveland park “justified” his murder.[5]

Ultimately, the reality is we are not just now tired. We been tired, and some of us numb, even. Our accolades, suits and ties, degrees, respectability politics, none of it can protect us from a world offended by being asked to respect, at minimum, Black Lives Matter, These poems speak the victimization black boys and men, but I’ve also written about the violence enacted against black women and black girls as someone who sees herself in the tales of Sandra Bland, Atatiana Jefferson, and, most recently, Breonna Taylor; as someone who fears for her life at home and on the road.[6] Yet I question who will read and listen to the tales of black girls and black women, there rarely seems to be a right time to talk about us.


[1] https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/florida-teen-trayvon-martin-is-shot-and-killed

[2] https://dps.osu.edu/2014-04

[3] https://www.history.com/topics/great-depression/scottsboro-boys

[4] https://www.litcharts.com/poetry/abel-meeropol/strange-fruit

[5] https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.newyorker.com/news/daily-comment/tamir-rice-and-americas-tragedy/amp

[6] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/breonna-taylor-birthday-george-floyd-protests-louisville-a9551946.html

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About Karen Kelsky

I am a former tenured professor at two institutions--University of Oregon and University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign. I have trained numerous Ph.D. students, now gainfully employed in academia, and handled a number of successful tenure cases as Department Head. I've created this business, The Professor Is In, to guide graduate students and junior faculty through grad school, the job search, and tenure. I am the advisor they should already have, but probably don't.

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