Reflecting on Trayvon and My Son

Not all families look alike, nor are they created in the same way. This is true of mine, and although I am always aware that my family doesn’t match, and that my kids are at risk for prejudice and racism, the murder of 17-year-old hoodie-wearing Trayvon Martin, shot and killed by self-appointed neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman (Hispanic) on February 26, 2012 in Sanford, FL, on his way to visit his father in a gated community from the 7-Eleven, armed with only Skittles and ice-tea, hit close to the bone. Trayvon was black.

The tragedy begs that I reflect deeply on the prejudice and racism that contributed to horrific event, and what these factors, as they stand now, portend for my children in the future. I attempt to assess how my Hispanic son will be seen by others, perhaps looking suspicious, as Zimmermann stated about Trayvon, because the assumptions may be that he does not “belong” where he lives. Or works. Or plays. All because of the color of his skin and the ethnic features that scream his heritage.

Raised by white parents, our son reflects our values and attitudes. He has also acquired a case of “white privilege,” courtesy of us.  He is comfortable being anywhere, among anyone, and that could be a detriment in the future when he is in the company of others who are not comfortable with him, because he is a teenager or a young man or a man who exudes confidence. And he is Hispanic.

Adolescent boys are targets for law enforcement. Add in some color and they become a bigger target. I was taught by my parents that the police are my friends and protectors; Hispanic and Black parents teach their kids to fear them, and often for good reason. Look around you. Observe who’s pulled over in the communities in which you drive through…

How do we “hammer” it home to our son about how he is viewed outside of his safe and loving family and circle of supportive friends? How do we, with our “white privilege,” help our son who has absorbed it, understand the seriousness of being treated a certain way by people because of his appearance? How do we teach him to “take it,” while also standing up for himself?  You see, we can talk the talk, however we can’t walk the walk… We are not of his race or ethnicity, and so we rely on others—peers, role models and professionals of his race and ethnicity.  Will it be enough? I pray daily that it will be.

Trayvon’s murder is a senseless tragedy.  As a parent and a human being I hope you are sickened by what has happened and are watching the events as they continue to unfold. I hope you use his murder as a springboard for discussions with your children.

There was no need for Trayvon to die. This sad truth has brought the ugly national history of race and racism into the spotlight. As humans we need to address these wounds; we need to talk about race and racism. We need to cry, together. We need to pray for Trayvon, his family, friends, and for the countless others who believe and act in such ways because they are ignorant, fearful and weak. We need to work towards healing, and that begins with all of us.

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13 Comments

Filed under Adoptive Mom's Perspective, Growing Tweens & Teens, International Adoption, Multicultural Families, Multiracial Families, Racial Identity, The International Mom

13 responses to “Reflecting on Trayvon and My Son

  1. Judy,

    I often wonder how my own son will be viewed. He is half white and half Hispanic, being raised by two white parents. This shocking tragedy of Trayvon is heartbreaking and unfair.

    We may never know the full story of what happened that night. With that said, if I were Trayvon and a man were to be following me with a gun I would probably attack that man simply out of fear for my own safety. What has happened to if you see something say something. Isn’t that why we spend millions of dollars a year on a police force? At what point do we say vigilante justice is not acceptable.

    With as far as we have come as a society prejudice is still very real.

    • Hi Andrea,
      In response to “what point do we say vigilante justice is not acceptable,” listen to the 911 call. Zimmerman was encouraged not to act/follow, to wait on the police. The story still unfolds, different slants thrown out by different parties. We may well never know the truth, but we do know that a young man is dead–a senseless tragedy resulting from prejudice and fear. Would Zimmerman have acted if Trayvon was white? This event brings home how serious and enmeshed prejudice is. We must be having these conversations with ourselves, each other and our children.

  2. Very interesting blog and take on the current tragedy experienced by this young man and his family. I am a child of a multi cultural marriage. My parents are from other countries outside of the US. I grew up in mostly white neighborhoods and attended mostly white schools. Nobody looked like me and to this day (grown, married and three children) I have not met any other person with my ethnic back ground. Although it wasn’t until 13 I began to face racial issues, because my parents did not focus on these issues at home, I feel I had an advantage to over coming the treatment I received many times because of the color of my skin. Granted my parents did not grow up in America with the generational emotional burden of American slavery. It hurts to be treated this way, this is true but parents must be careful not to ingrain “slave” mentalities into their children. I am glad that we are talking about these issues that have been swept under the rug for decades. Racism has not ended but we cannot raise our children with mentalities that tell them they need to think of themselves a certain way because of their race and how others might potentially treat them. They are humans, created by God, special and valuable, wonderfully made and loved. To conclude this is a complex issue and no answer is easy come to. Each family has to figure out works best for them and their children.

    • Hi Dija,
      I want to address part of your comment,”…we cannot raise our children with mentalities that tell them they need to think of themselves a certain way because of their race and how others might potentially treat them.” I agree, however I do feel we need to raise our kids with the understanding of how others “see” them and treat them because of those perceptions. Our children need this awareness to help them navigate a society rich with bias. This is, indeed, a very complex issue.

      • Hi Judy. I’m responding to “I do feel we need to raise our kids with the understanding of how others “see” them and treat them because of those perceptions.” I’m curious how you would approach this issue with your kids when the time came. Many times I thought I knew how people saw me and I was wrong. My own expectation of how I thought others would perceive me was incorrect. It’s such a delicate thing to discuss. Many times I am perceived as one culture and treated a certain way because of it. When appropriate I have to take time to educate others on my own culture. I would like to hear your thoughts. My own children are multi-ethnic and I wouldn’t even know how to tell them how others might perceive them. I could only help them grow up with healthy perceptions of themselves and deal with others behaviors in a positive way.

  3. Hi Judy,
    I appreciate your post and thoughts. As a Korean adoptee with Amerasian and Ethiopian children, this is the reality of what we must think about. As a country we have grown and improved in some areas of racism, but in many areas we have digressed. What many people aren’t aware of is the fact that in trying to teach our ethnic children about the realities of their race and the stereotypes attached, we also teach them that “white” is better and the “race” to become more like in order to “blend in” and not be judged. I greatly appreciate your determination to help bring multicultural awareness into a light of honest discussion and reflection as a mom. Thank you!

    • Hi Tara,
      Thank you for commenting. And thank you for raising the point of how sometimes the message of white being “better,” and the need to “blend in” can easily happen in trans- and multiracial families. When working with my clients, we discuss how this is a detriment to the child ongoing, because they aren’t white and this mindset strips the child of their identity, and we examine how to best connect the child with his or her race and ethnicity.

  4. Judy – I immediately thought of our families adopting from Congo. How prepared are our white parents adopting “Black” sons to teach them how to conduct themselves? The sad reality is many African American men still have to alter their behavior to maintain their safety and accommodate racism.

    • This hits close to the bone, doesn’t it, Kathy? As you know my son is not Black, but we are committed to teaching him how to alter his behavior as a Hispanic male. We as white parents can only go so far; we need and have the help of Hispanic mentors. As far as education, we need to keep talking about prejudice and sharing stories to drive home the importance of “arming” kids about racism.

  5. Chris Larsen

    Judy as always your words are poignant and right on target. Yes curing racism begins with each of us, in the home, in school, in our everyday thinking and how we treat others.
    It is a sad thing that in our potpourri world, especially here in the US that people are not colorblind. Nor are people sensitive to the needs of many as denied by class, work, economic station, age, and of course race and heritage.
    We children of the 50-60’s grew up to be more tolerant and accepting of others especially those of color and races. In our lives we have seen the benefits of such acceptance, and I truly do take offense to those who continue to hold others down and hate them for what, who they are and from where they come. I fear for many kids who are victims of such hatred. Here in California we see it everyday, and to me that kind of thing is horrible, senseless, and is an embarrassment to us as an ‘enlightened society’. I pray for these folks, hoping they will learn to be better and work towards peace and ‘can’t we all get along?’

    • Chris,
      I feel “colorblindness” is NOT a good thing; it devalues that person. I do think that we need to work much harder at tolerating and embracing differences. What happened to Trayvon–the fact that, initially, law enforcement and media deemed the circumstances of his death not worth investigating or reporting, and that his body was tagged “John Doe” and remained unidentified for several days–is an outrage. When will we learn that everyone has value?

  6. Well said, Judy. “As humans we need to address these wounds; we need to talk about race and racism. We need to cry, together. We need to pray for Trayvon, his family, friends, and for the countless others who believe and act in such ways because they are ignorant, fearful and weak. We need to work towards healing, and that begins with all of us.”

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