Yesterday my son asked, “Mommy, if I wear a hoodie, does that mean I’m going to be shot, too?”
My son is 8 years old.
The question gave me pause because really, what could I say? Hoodies don’t cause people to be killed.
But that didn’t exactly hold true for Trayvon Martin, did it?
A one-word answer, neither negative nor affirmative, would provide a proper response to his query.
We live in an area where the racial divides — ones that are so exact and rigid in other communities — are more or less blurred. The kids have friends of every race. While they understand the weight that “nigger” carries, they’ve never had to bear the burden of being called one like I did, or like my mother before me.
They know the history; I make sure of that as a proud Black mom. But they haven’t had to live the history. I haven’t yet had to teach them, within the context of their everyday lives, the lessons that our ancestors had to learn. I always knew that I would have to eventually. Someday, they’ll leave this sheltered nest and enter the world, where someone might view the color of their skin as a threat. They know that there are close-minded people like that. They know, to some degree, that there are enemies who will try to hold them back simply because they are Black.
After Trayvon was shot, I suddenly realized that the faceless enemy I’ve been priming my kids to recognize was in corporate America–some jerk on the career ladder who might interfere with their advancement even as he smiles in their faces. A college professor who refuses to believe that those people were capable of writing brilliant theses. Someone in human resources who routinely passes over applications with the Black/African-American box checked.
Without realizing it, all along I’ve been thinking that if anyone feared my children’s color, it would be because they were intimidated by the power of my children’s knowledge. I was preparing my children for the possibility of challenge, but not for the idea that anything was impossible. I thought they might face obstacles to their way of life, not to living.
But now there’s a boy dead because color + hoodie = “assholes” who “always get away.”
Zimmerman, Trayvon’s murderer, sure showed him, didn’t he?
Well, he showed me, too.
And now I have to show my children lessons that I didn’t recognize I’d have to teach. I didn’t think I’d have to teach them that there are people who believe that because they’re Black, they have to prove their innocence in advance by avoiding certain types of clothing (you’ve done this cause no favors, Geraldo).
I didn’t think my kids would have to learn that in matters of race, it wouldn’t only be their opportunities that they would have to protect, but maybe also their lives. In matters of racial prejudice and assumptions, people take from others what they’re most afraid of losing for themselves. I wanted to prepare my children for the idea that someone, out of fear for losing his or her own chances, might try to take their chances for success. I didn’t think I’d ever have to tell my kids that this same concept might also apply to their very lives.
Trayvon Martin begged for his. I don’t want my kids to have to beg for anything, least of all, for their lives.
I only paused for only a moment when Jordan asked me whether wearing a hoodie was a risk to his life. I gathered his twin 10-year old brother and sister and introduced to them the lessons that Trayvon–or any child–should never have to learn. I bottom-lined it with a repeat of what I have always tried to teach them–
Be proud of who you are. Others might fear you because you are Black, but don’t you fear being Black. If someone views the color of your skin as a threat, you then view it as your armor.
We all have something to learn from Trayvon. Otherwise, his death was in vain. Your lesson might be different from mine. What is he teaching you?