Friday, March 23, 2012

The Tragedy of Trayvon Martin: A Mother's Perspective, A Meltingpot Perspective

Hello Meltingpot Readers,

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.



Anonymous said...

I agree with you! Since my daughter is brown and her two parents are white, race is of interest to her. She talks about it all the time. I think February is her favorite month, although black history should be taught through the entire year. (But I digress). This year she said something that broke my heard and lead me to start teaching her more about race in Colombian context. I bought a book about Pedro Claver, who is from her hometown. The book for very young readers talked about the slave trade and slaves in Colombia. It was also the story of Saint Pedro Claver who become the "Slave to Slaves", working tirelessly draw attention to injustice of slavery. Well the book had lots of pictures, paintings really. And all not 100% portrait like in quality, they had a lot of detailed. My 7 year old busted out in tears upon seeing the Africans blooded and beaten. I realized that she is too sensitive for such information. I could tell her the story at her level and as she gets older add in the more graphic details.

Anonymous said...

White People, You Will Never Look Suspicious Like Trayvon Martin! by Michael Skolnik

Read more:

Waiting for Zufan! said...

"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."

I love that, also loved that you said he stole one innocent life, you won't give him 2 more.

Thanks for your perspective.

Charlotte said...

You may not be able to avoid it. My 9 year old daughter came home talking about it last week. We didn't listen to the 911 calls or get into the details of institutional racism or racial profiling but we agreed it's not nice to think someone is a bad guy because of how they look. I don't see how that takes away from her innocence.

I am worried about the opposite. My child once exclaimed, "2 men can't be a mommy and daddy!" While technically true, her point--which was based on everything in our society--was that 2 men can't raise a family together. Which could not be further from our family's personal beliefs. I was especially concerned because her aunt is gay. My husband and I were perplexed as to how 2 rather 'enlightened' parents could not notice our child would feel this way (after all, when she was younger we took special care to read her books with same sex couples). We realized it was because we never constantly challenged the notions society consistently gave her--her school, what she sees on the little tv she watches with us, and our neighbors. I wish I had specifically told her it was okay from the beginning rather than having to undo what society had fed into her head. Do you think whether you discuss it or not your boys are getting a message from society that men a little darker than them are scary?

Our daughter also watches some of the news with us and listens to NPR with us when we are going somewhere in the car. NPR gives us lots of random things to look up at the library. We tend to watch BBC which is a lot less inflammatory but I like that she is interested in current events. How will children learn to watch the news and be engaged if they never watch the news?

claudia said...

This is very difficult. I don't want my granddaughter to be as angry as I am or as angry as I probably made her mother my sharing my feelings. I don't I really don't but on the other hand it is hard not to. When she was born I was so glad that she was a girl because I had already raised a black son and knew all that entailed. Good luck.

Charlotte said...

Happened to see this

Sharontina Brightman said...

I love every single thing about this post. All in all, I think your approach is most fitting and I believe it's definitely true that you should only give as much as you think children can handle at said time. You said it perfectly when you stated that burdening children w/ heavy issues too early pokes holes at the foundation they need to build, and I think giving too much info too early is just as bad as giving none at all.

Clever analogy between the sex and race talk and the parallels between them; I learned about both topics through the "just poke holes at her foundation method", and let's just say I think your way is

Again, GREAT post and I hope there is some resolve and justice for Trayvon Martin.


lifeexplorerdiscovery said...

Trayvon is just a reminder of why I believe in the philosophy that anyone around you has the potential to hurt/kill you for no reason.

Even if I am not a black male, I still feel as a black woman that I am seen as less than and therefore, cannot rely upon society to ensure my safety.

Maxwell Dumaurier said...

“Walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, must be a duck…but then again, it might not be a duck…”
~anonymous, excerpt from the E. Lynn Harris novel Invisible Life.

In other words, everything that looks racially motivated may not be.

PatriciaW said...

Have not discussed it with two youngest (9 and 7). Absolutely have had conversations with 16yo. Agree that the younger ones won't know what to do with the only possible outcome, fear. No chance they'll be on the streets by themselves, not for years to come. By then, we'll have prepared them, I hope. Oldest one needs to know so that he can make whatever adjustments he needs to in order to stay alive. Just the way it is.

Anonymous said...

So good topic really i like any post talking about STD Symptoms but i want to say thing to u STD Disease not that only ... you can see in STD Illness STD symptoms in men and more , you shall search in Google and Wikipedia about that .... thanks a gain ,,,