Like most parents, I am trying my best to teach my children vital life lessons so they will eventually be equipped to go out on their own to find happiness and success. We talk about self-respect as well as respect for others. I tell them that you are only as good as your word. Even though none of my kids are even close to driving yet, I promise them that if they are ever in a car with a friend who is driving and drinking, they can call me for a ride any time, day or night, no questions asked. We talk about the importance of education. We all see it as their key to getting to do their life’s work. Oh, the places they will go! We discuss taking good care of your body since it is the only one you get in this lifetime. But, it had not yet occurred to me to warn them not to wear a hoodie.
The Trayvon Martin case has really shaken a lot of us up. If you have been living under a rock, let me tell you the basics. Trayvon Martin was a 17-year-old African American boy who lived in Sanford, Florida, a community north of Orlando. On a recent evening, he was on foot returning home to his father’s house from a gas station with a bag of Skittles and an iced tea. He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt and talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone. Meanwhile, George Zimmerman, a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain armed with a gun, was following him and saw him as a threat. Zimmerman fatally shot Martin and has not been arrested as he told police he killed him in self-defense. Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law supports that defense, although he was the only one armed.
In the days following Martin’s murder, the news has exploded with facts about the case, about Martin’s character and his actions towards Zimmerman. This will all eventually be sorted out. But, basically this case has made me see how dangerous it can be to simply be black, especially a black male like my two sons. I am also so frightened that nearly anyone can get a gun, and the laws are becoming more and more permissive. But race is what I want to talk about today.
I was married to my children’s father, an African American of Nigerian descent, for a decade. I saw glimpses of how my ex-husband interacted with society, compared to how people treated me as a blonde, white woman. For example, I remember that when we were shopping he always asked me to carry the bags as we wandered from store to store, as he did not want to be accused of shoplifting. Our close family and friends, who are from a wide variety of races and cultures, generally see people for who they are, not just what they look like. But some others will just see my children’s skin color. Until the Martin case burst onto the scene I had forgotten that I need to remind my children that there are ignorant, frightened people in our society who will only see that they are black and will automatically assume many things about them, most of which are not pleasant.
Last night I watched my boys, 5 and 8, play basketball in the yard. Leo was Harrison Barnes and Roman was Tom Robinson. (Yes, you can tell we are still processing the UNC vs. Kentucky game.) The late afternoon sun was illuminating them beautifully, so I took a quick photo. The sun kept going down and it was getting too cool for their sleeveless shirts so they put on hoodies. I just didn’t have the heart to warn them yet about walking around in a hoodie.
So, now I realize I need to add some life lessons about racism to my repertoire. Mentally, I had placed us in a safe bubble because we live in a liberal, accepting community like Chapel Hill/ Carrboro. Our particular neighborhood is very tight-knit and supportive. We all know each other and watch out for each other. But my job as a parent is to prepare them for the world.
I am just so sorry about the senseless death of Trayvon Martin, but it has helped me to face up to the fact that I need to remind my children that, although we have come a long way, racism, ignorance and fear are still out there and we must be wary.
Please feel free to continue this discussion by emailing me at email@example.com or by leaving a comment. As always, thank you for reading.