July 14, 2013 – Today is so heavy. My lower back hurts, my heart hurts, my contacts sting my eyes. Advice: don’t cry with your contacts in and then sleep with them in and then wake up to shed a couple more tears. Just don’t. You’re welcome.
I’m plagued today for the same reason so many black parents are: we just watched a jury in the lawless state of Florida acquit George Zimmerman in the senseless and blatantly racial murder of Trayvon Martin…and we have children that by now we’ve had to explain it to. We’ve spent a night and a morning in difficult conversations meant to help our future generations understand what just happened…when we don’t yet (if we ever will?) have answers for our own understanding.
We have sons that will grow to be black men…and we cannot take for granted the assumption that they will even get to grow up. The Martin family surely pictured a college graduation day that will not come, a wedding day that will not arrive, and grandchildren that will not be born. I’m choked up just typing that. I’ve pictured all those days for my son.
I did NOT picture this day. Or last night.
Beside the pain of the verdict, my son learned another lesson that black children growing up in a privileged environment eventually learn: you learn how you’re seen by that majority environment you move in. You’re with them…but you’re not one of them. Sometimes, the lesson comes from where you least expect it: your “friends.” And the cloak of innocent childhood is forever drawn back.
July 13, 2013 – It’s late. I’m on the couch stunned. The verdict has just come down and my 12 year old son has stopped playing on his iPad to sit beside me and hold my hand. The tears fall hot and heavy from my eyes, and my phone is ringing with my mother’s face on the caller ID. I can’t talk to her though. I reach over and silence the phone. My son reaches over to look at his.
He hops onto a social networking site just in time to see two friends rejoicing in the verdict, with screencaps from their television and assorted “thank God!” rhetoric. They go back and forth with approval of this “simple right to bear arms” case until a third friend attempts to correct their scope-of-case summary. He is shot down with misinformation and distorted facts. He retreats in sudden agreement.
My son is stunned. “Mom…look…” and he hands me his phone. “They don’t even get what this is about. They don’t understand why this is wrong!” he sputters to me. I read through the words and shake my head. It’s clear that their parents didn’t talk to them about this case…or worse: maybe that they DID. At any rate, they’ve formed opinions based on what they’ve heard from others rather than case facts, and some of their opinions are not of their generation, let alone age appropriate.
See, I knew this would happen back when I wrote about how important it was for ME to tell my son about the case, rather than classmates at school. I won that round and got to him first. But this time, he saw the unfiltered truth of what some friends think about the murder of a black boy…which coincidentally, he is…and he’s not pleased at their lack of regard for that black boy’s life. He makes the short jump to the realization that their feelings apply to the value of his life, too.
My son is before me: offended and angry at what feels like betrayal. Despite temptation to hop into the conversational fray and share the actual case facts, he joins me in a tough talk about being aware in his life – a talk about keeping one eye open – and keeping your guard up where needed. It was the saddest and most brutally honest talk we’ve ever had. But I knew that across this country, other mothers were having it too.
“The world is full of George Zimmermans who ‘could never be racist’…till they slip up and act on those secret, deep-rooted biases…and a black boy is dead. Or they speak the unfiltered truth in your presence…and you learn who they really are,” I counseled.
I shared my experiences with him: I dropped names he knows and tales of shitty things they said to me or in my presence, sometimes coupled with “oh but you’re not THAT kind of black…I don’t mean YOU.” Yes, bitch, you do. Black is black – we’re all in. I. Am. In. My son looked down and somewhat nodded understanding through disbelief.
I burst into tears and hugged him close as I blubbered, “You are my light and my life – you are everything to me. Don’t trust those who show you they are not FOR you; don’t trust those who don’t respect and value your life. Keep them at arm’s distance.”
And that was the lesson on “friends” and trust.
The lesson I gave him from this verdict was equally ominous: the legacy of racism and hatred for black men in particular that was sown into this country by slavery does indeed still exist – it has simply gone undercover. Florida was forced to put on this trial just to satisfy public outcry, not to serve justice for the wronged. As a black man, you cannot trust a justice system that does NOT actually want justice for you, whether you are the defendant or the plaintiff – you enter at a disadvantage. It is a sorry truth, but a truth nonetheless.
July 14, 2013 – Bleary eyes. My morning coffee is bitter. Last night, we both went to bed with heavy hearts. His image of a couple friendships were forever changed, and he got the first of several “authority isn’t actually always your friend” talks.
More to come as he enters the
teen stop-and-frisk years. And I SEE how white women others react to the tall and lanky black teen he has become…it’s very different than how they reacted to the chubby brown baby he once was. Now…he’s a threat.
I’m sad to have to finally shatter that innocent, safe image of the world that all happy children have. His world isn’t the same as some of his friends, as much as it hurts to say. They can afford to be misinformed of the facts, and they can let it fade from headlines and memory after a while. They won’t grow up to be black men in America. He will.
I’m speaking it into being.
Rest in peace, Trayvon.