Monday, March 26, 2012

Talking About Trayvon Martin

Later this week I will be talking to my sons about Trayvon Martin.  And when Xavier finally gets here from Haiti, I will have to tell him about Trayvon.

My sons own hooded sweatshirts and in the wrong place, wearing that sweatshirt with the hood up is enough to put them in danger.  When I see them with the hood up on their sweatshirt, I know I am looking at polite young men who are no more "Gangsta" than their parents.  

But tens of millions of people in America look at my sons as threats.  And I have little hope I can actually convince my sons of that.  But it is so easy to take appearances as truth--even when the opposite is true.  When my sons have trouble with another kid at school, I have to encourage them to stand up to loudmouth or bully.  They are not the kind of boys who are looking for a fight.

Ten years ago I read Uncle Tom's Cabin to my daughters while their one-year-old brother slept in the next room.  They knew in a vague way about America's past, but the book made vivid the reality that 150 years ago their little brother could be sold like a bushel of potatoes at an auction.  The injustice was so ridiculous that the girls had a hard time accepting it was really how life was in their country.

But the racial divide lives on in crazy ways.  Could anything but mistrust and hatred lead to a situation in which a 240-pound, 28-year-old man armed with an automatic weapon and patrolling his neighborhood can say (through his lawyer) that an unarmed, 140-pound, 17-year-old boy somehow made that man fear for his life?  

So when I talk to them, I will let them know that if they pull the hood up on their sweatshirt, they could give a racist all the excuse he needs to pull a gun and kill them.  No matter how much they are loved by their family and friends, when they are away from home, they have to be aware that just being a young black male scares and provokes a big part of our country.

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