What Did Trayvon Know?
Last night, one of my dearest friends called me with some of her thoughts on Trayvon Martin. I asked her to turn it into a blog post; you can find it here. It was sometime later in the conversation that she said, “What can I do? I am one person in the Bay Area. What can I do? Write a blog post?”
I said, “Yeah, write a blog post. And you have to help raise Alex in this world.”
She was quiet for a long time.
Alex is her beautiful 2.5-year-old nephew. He’s lovely, he’s smart, he’s inquisitive. He’s Black. He’s Black in a world where a dead teenager can be put on trial for his own murder because he was a Black kid in a hoodie.
He’s Black in a world where racism is rampant (whatever the old white people on Drunk!SCOTUS seem to think), where people can be killed, imprisoned, pulled over, and denied employment or even so much as the benefit of the doubt upon walking into a store because of the color of their skin. He’s a Black boy being raised by a White mother who is acutely aware of what the outcome of the Zimmerman trial means for her son. [Note: the link is not about her and her family specifically.]
In fact, we live in a world where a man who grabbed a gun, stalked a Black kid, and then killed him was able to claim self defense. Because Black people are so scary that apparently we are always defending ourselves against them, even if all they have to fight with is a package of Skittles and a soft drink.
I am a queer Jewish person of color (with a largely invisible physical disability, because I needed a complete set). I grew up being told that the world didn’t want me here for just about every part of who and what I am. My mother apologized more than once for the fight I didn’t fully realize, as a kid, that I had ahead of me. My girlfriend and I plan to adopt and/or foster one day, and there is a very real possibility that some of our kids will be PoC. I turned to her last night and said, “What will we do?”
She said, in typical White-person-who-has-never-dealt-with-race-issues fashion, “We will just have to make the world better.” And I felt so powerless. Powerless to explain how two people in the Bay Area and their friends will not be able to “fix” racism for our kids. Powerless to even begin to explain the history of racism and how scores of people, organizations, campaigns, politicians, religious figures, celebrities, etc. have been trying to fight racism for so long. About how we still need laws and explicitly stated policies to protect people of color. About how privilege is still rampant and a major issue of contention, especially for those who have it.
Later, she told me she was glad I would be there to help our kids with the “race stuff”, which I found heartbreaking. Because in that moment I became the token go-to. Thank DOG she has a brown person to explain brown things (this is also a major issue wrt the discussion of race and racism–white people still seem to need brown people to explain the issues when the issues, the resources, the information is all right there for the reading [see re: Google searches]). And yet I loved the fact that she recognized that there would be “race stuff”, and that our children would need resources. I love the fact that she wants them to have those resources.
And that’s true whether our kids are female, queer, trans, and/or people of color. These kids have to learn about how they can best navigate in a world that is still unfriendly and dangerous to them. We (as a planet full of people) aren’t teaching boys not to rape*, we are still teaching women and girls not to get raped. We aren’t teaching people not to be racist, we are teaching people not to dress threateningly on top of being Black. We aren’t teaching people not to be homophobic, we focus on places where queers should worry about coming out. We need to teach our children to navigate through that and come out stronger, to support each other even when it is scary, to know when they need help.
What did Trayvon know that night when he left the house to get some candy? Did he know that the world was a dangerous place for him? Did he know what image he needed to present as a visual apology for the color of his skin? Did he know that some deeply racist vigilante nutjob might shoot him to death because of a general distrust of Black people, a distrust that is neither limited to Zimmerman, nor Florida? Would knowing that have saved his life? Where do we find the balance between wishing desperately that Trayvon had been wearing khakis and a preppy button-down shirt and indulging in victim blaming?
What are you teaching your kids? What pieces of wisdom do you have to offer your female, queer, alternative, PoC children? Did you even know that you needed to? If your children are straight, White, and male, what do you tell them about racism, misogyny, rape, homophobia? Do you see a need to discuss these things with them? Are you letting them learn about these things on Facebook?
If so, WHY?
*I don’t mean that boys are born rapists and must be taught otherwise. I mean that boys are not given the skills they need to handle sexual situations appropriately. In fact, society puts a level of pressure on boys and men to be sexually active and dominant that can be pretty unbearable (and ensures that instances of male rape go woefully underreported).