As news programs and talk shows on television and radio have been analyzing the case thread by thread over the last couple of weeks, I have been struck by the recurring conversation about the appropriate behaviors for black males out in public - all the things law-abiding black men minding their own business should and should not do to avoid being targeted, harassed, or gunned down in the streets. Are white mothers being advised to sit their sons down to instruct them on always saying "Yes Sir" and always keeping their hands in clear view? As a mother of two sons, I reject the notion that I or my sons should be the ones to carry the responsibility for racism. Sure we can clad this idea in the language of protection of the innocent, but it lets off the hook those who would act based on stereotypes and prejudices. It is appalling to hear a mother describe how her son is repeatedly accosted by new tenants in their New York luxury apartment. Their assumption is that he does not belong, or that he is a service person and should be using the service entrance. I shuddered to hear a sister talk about making sure her brother always has his hair neatly cut so that negative assumptions wont be made about him on the street.
There will always be Trayvon Martins as long as being black is, on its own, grounds for suspicion. Having sit-downs with our sons about casting their eyes to the ground and not looking "Massa" in the eye is not progress or justice. If Zimmerman gets off for this murder it will confirm what American black families already know and seem to accept - that a black man is a dangerous thing to be. It will be undeniable endorsement of racial profiling - not just by law enforcement officials but also by every crazy vigilante.
Not every criminal case has a wide-reaching implication for the rest of society, but this case definitely does. Justice for Trayvon Martin not only means justice is more likely for my two boys, it also makes it less likely that they will actually need it - even if they wear hoodies and walk with their hands in the pockets.