Sunday, March 25, 2012

Real justice for my boys

Everyone with a sense of right and wrong is up in arms about the Trayvon Martin case; and rightly so.  The idea that an unarmed young man could be gunned down for walking to the corner store in a hoodie is incompatible with our assurance that we live in a just society.  Unfortunately people get killed everyday, so Martin's murder would not ordinarily have become of nationwide interest except for the Stanford Police's unwillingness to charge the overzealous cop-wannabe George Zimmerman with the murder.

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.


  1. I couldn't have said it better myself. What am I saying, I couldn't have said it at all. I'm white. It would mean nothing coming from my lips, I have never felt this kind of prejudiced toward me or my family. I grew up in central Minnesota. I never saw a person of color till I was ten years old and living in Denver, Colorado. Being a new kid in the middle of the school year, I was getting the usual cold shoulder and the only child that befriended me was a black boy in my class. We became fast friends. I discovered he lived nine blocks from me so I asked my mom one day if I could ride my bike down to his house. “Absolutely not!” “But why”, I inquired. I was told, “It's not safe.” Well as it turns out, we live six blocks from Colorado Boulevard and my only friend lived three blocks on the other side of Colorado Boulevard. Colorado Boulevard was “The dividing line” It was the fifties after all. We didn't live long in Denver and another move brought us to Las Vegas. Not an African American in my neighborhood or my school. Two years later when I was twelve, we moved to Hermiston,Oregon, population about 5,000 and I don't think there was an African American in the entire town. I was pretty much totally racially isolated for my growing up years.

    In my late teens we moved to Massachusetts. There were only a handful of African Americans in my school and of course none in our neighborhood, cause this was the sixties. So I really didn't have a sense of how prejudice my mother was till my brother showed up with his African American prom date. My mother hit the ceiling.

    Fast forward to the nineties, I am now living in Atlanta and working in the intensive care unit of a city medical center. We often heard gun fire from the Emergency Room loading dock waiting for an ambulance bring another unfortunate soul. I worked the twelve hour night shift with a black woman whose mother worked the day shift so mom looked after her two boys, ages five and seven. During the change of shift the two boys were hanging around the unit until they could be handed off to Grandma so I often joked around with them and engaged them in conversation. On one occasion the oldest blurted out, “We hate white people.” I said, “Really, do you hate me?” He immediately returned, “Oh no, just white people.”

    Prejudice is learned. Am I prejudice? I believe so. Do I choose not to be prejudice? Absolutely. Parents are human and they don't always teach us the right way to behave in a multicultural society. As thinking adults we have the responsibility to assess our own inner demons and relearn the behaviors that will interfere with our ability to be good citizens. It behooves us to pass this on to our children and until this is done on a massive scale, I fear our racial problems will not go away.

  2. Thanks for your insight Don. It's always good to hear a piece of someone else's mind.

  3. Thanks Toni, my heart really hurts for the family of Trayvon Martin, this whole thing is so wrong on so many levels. But I really liked your post because it so succinctly address the much bigger problem.