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.