16 July 2013

A Mother's Reflection on Trayvon Martin

(My friend, Lucy, originally posted this piece on her Facebook page and I found it so touching and honest that I asked her to amend it slightly for Causes & Effect. So much has been made of the fact that the jury was composed of mothers. Here's another mother's perspective.  Melinda)

Much has been made of President Obama’s public reflection that if he had a son, he’d look like Trayvon Martin.  Well, I do have a son, and he doesn’t look like Trayvon. But Trayvon was a teenage boy, and my son is a teenage boy, and somehow, having a teenage boy makes me feel like a mother to all of them. The teenage boy trying to retrieve his skateboard from the middle of a busy intersection. The teenage boy riding his bike the wrong way down the street at dusk, with no light and no helmet. The group of teenage boys playing a little too roughly and a little too close to the small kids in the park. I react like a mother to all of them.  

Teenage boys do Stupid Things that have no relationship to their IQs. In my son’s case, that means loading five other teenage boys onto two sleds at the top of a steep hill and thinking it’s a good idea to make his body, with a rope wrapped around it, serve as a coupler. 

I’m working hard to make sure my teenage boy doesn’t graduate to bigger and more serious Stupid Things. Like driving recklessly. Getting drunk.  Smoking anything.  If I fail, and if he one day gets caught at school with a plastic bag that shows traces of marijuana, I’m sure that, like Trayvon, he’ll  be suspended, and rightfully so. But my own maternal wrath aside, I’d be willing to bet that the general public reaction to his transgression would be on the lines of, “He’s a teenage boy. They do Stupid Things. He’ll grow out of it.” Not “There goes a future thug.”

Trayvon might or might not have done a Stupid Thing that night on his way home from the store, when he became aware that he was being watched and followed. I don’t know, because I wasn’t there and the only one who can tell us exactly what went down has a vested interest in recalling the story in a particular way. 

Parents know the importance of keeping open communication lines with our children, and particularly with teenagers. There are conversations that are so important we plan them out months, even years, in advance.  Ask another parent, “So, have you had The Talk?” and everyone knows you the one you mean. Right? Except that I recently learned, more recently than I’d like to admit, that there’s a whole other talk black parents have with their children.  One that gets the same knowing nod from other black parents. It’s the one that covers things like what words to use, what demeanor to adopt, and where to put your hands when, not if, a cop pulls you over for driving while black. 

The only time my son drew the attention of cops, as he made his way  home from a store holding a bag with a brand-new game for his PS2, it was to make sure he was old enough to be walking alone and that he knew how to get where he was going. 

I have been told that being a white male in this country can be tough. Just last week, in fact, in a conversation that somehow segued from marriage equality to affirmative action, a white man let me know in no uncertain terms that he’s tired of taking the blame for every wrong that’s ever been done to any minority group. And I quote:  “I can tell you in my life(43 years) I have seen affirmative action keep me from a better situation just as much as hatred kept minorities from a better life before I was born.... there is no difference in my eyes.”  Just as much. Okay, then.

I have been told by others that my son, despite his straight As and considerable ambition, might find financial aid and college scholarship opportunities lacking because he is a white male. That, like the drunk ex-Goldman Sachs employee in New York this week who stumbled into a cafĂ© table occupied by a black couple and yelled “you N*s are why I lost my job,” my son might one day find himself out of a job he rightfully earned and replaced by someone, either of another race or the other gender, solely in the name of diversity.

To those people, I say thank you for your concern but my son will do just fine. I’m just exceedingly grateful that when I send him out on an errand, or when he walks to 7-11 for candy or to GameStop to buy a new game for his PS2, I can been reasonably confident he’ll make it home alive.

(I've already given to them, but will break my own rule for my guest columnists)

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