Friday, March 23, 2012
The Tragedy of Trayvon Martin: A Mother's Perspective, A Meltingpot Perspective
I've been avoiding you. I've been avoiding this topic. Sometimes I just want to hide from the news and hope it will all just go away. But of course it won't. And hiding doesn't help.
So, let's get to it.
If for any reason you don't know who Trayvon Martin is, I'll just send you here to read the facts of the story. I think it goes without saying, that the greatest tragedy in this case is that a child -- yes, a 17-year-old is a child -- had his life violently stolen from him. His final moments on this earth were spent at the hands of a deranged and evil man. His mother and father now have to wake up every single morning for the rest of their lives knowing that their son died alone and afraid.
That is the tragedy of this story.
Now comes the injustice.
The man who murdered Trayvon, George Zimmerman, is not in jail. He's not in police custody. He's walking the streets of Florida a free man. With a gun! The same gun he used to assassinate an unarmed 17-year-old. I cannot wrap my mind around that fact. Let's review. Man follows teen around the neighborhood because he suspects he's up to 'no good.' Teen does nothing but walk while Black. Zimmerman confronts teen, shoots him dead, tells police what he did, witnesses confirm the facts and he's still not in jail. This is the most insane miscarriage of justice I've ever heard. Zimmerman claims he was acting in self-defense -- using Florida's insane Stand Your Ground Law as protection -- and that's that. He's free.
So, using Zimmerman's logic, the good citizens of Florida can walk around killing people who they deem to be dangerous, based entirely on stereotypes and perceived threats. How is that law supposed to protect people? It sounds like a path to anarchy and vigilantism.
What To Tell Our Children?
A reader asked me -- since I previously posted about racism being too stressful to talk to kids about -- how to explain the Trayvon Martin tragedy to kids. And it's taken me a while to figure it out myself.
Okay, here's the Meltingpot Mother answer to that question. Feel free to agree or disagree at will. With the anger and grief I feel about this case, I admit, it's been very difficult to know what to say to my kids about this. I don't want to scare them and I don't want them to carry this burden. My two brown boys are 10 and seven. And in consultation with el esposo, we have decided not to tell them about Trayvon Martin. They don't watch the news and it has not been discussed at school. If they do hear about Trayvon, I will tell them that a young boy was senselessly murdered by a crazy man. I will not bring race into the story. Here's why.
I remember watching a documentary about nuclear war when I was about 10 years old. It scared me so badly, I had nightmares for years. I knew nuclear war was a real threat and I also knew I could do nothing to prevent it from happening. I lived in such terror because of that film. I wasn't ready for that knowledge. Likewise, if I tell my sons, that people shoot Black boys because they are racist, because people think Black boys are violent and delinquent, or simply because they can, what are my sons supposed to do with that information except fear for their life? I think that's my job. Which after this incident, I fear even more. But I'm an adult and I can handle it. They are children.
How do I want my boys to move through this world? Fearful and eventually angry? No. I want them to embrace life and all of its wonderful possibilities. I don't want them to be afraid to walk to the store to buy candy or travel outside of their comfort zones. But I'm not stupid either. I am aware of the world we live in and --now more than ever. I know people like George Zimmerman exist in abundance. So, while I don't couch it in terms of race or violence, I don't let my sons wear certain clothes. I demand a certain level of courtesy and behavior in public that they probably think is overkill, but I think is cautionary. I don't let them play with guns. Ever. Because, sadly, a little brown boy playing with a water gun, can be mistaken for a killer.
George Zimmerman already stole one childhood, he's not going to steal two more. As my sons age, I will begin to feed them more of the real story. I plan to give them age appropriate doses of racial reality. It's kind of like the sex talk. You don't tell your seven year olds -- I hope -- everything about sex. You give them the sanitized version. As they approach puberty you start getting into the details. You can start having nuanced and sometimes uncomfortable conversations about sex as your child matures and starts experiencing some of the things you've been talking about. It's a model I use for the race talks. I encourage others to try this method of thinking. What are your kids able to handle? Would you tell your eight-year-old daughter about birth-control pills and STD's? Probably not, because she's not going to need that information for several years and you might scare the bejeezus out of her.
Some people might disagree with me and that's quite okay. But I believe in preserving the innocence of children as long as possible so that they have time to form a solid sense of self-identity before that identity is attacked by society. A strong foundation is the key to a stable sense of self-worth. Burden a child with the horrors of this world when they're too young and you poke holes in that foundation.
I'd love to hear how others are talking about Trayvon to their children.
I'm so listening.