Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Reality Of Being Black: What Trayvon Taught My Son



I, along with the nation was absolutely disheartened and angered when I learned about Trayvon Martin, and the tragic end to his short and potential filled life. Consumed by the obvious bias involved in this case, I seethed. His story is everywhere. Major news outlets are covering his case, and radio stations (black and white markets) have devoted the drive time discussion to whether justice would be served.

It was a few days ago, as I drove my kids to school, that I glanced in my rearview mirror and noticed my son’s expression as the radio station hosts debated this very heated issue. He was silent, but it was quite evident that he was deep in thought. I chose not to delve into the inevitable conversation at that time. After all, it was 7:00 am. But, I knew that I was going to have to have “the talk” with him sometime later. Never did I think that the “Trayvon talk” would trump the dreaded “sex talk” that all parents should have with their kids.

That afternoon, I made certain to keep the radio off when I picked them up, preferring instead to talk about the events of the day. However, after homework time, I sat him down and asked “Have you heard about the young boy named Trayvon?” He nodded his head. I persisted (with a knot in my throat)…”What have you heard?” I asked. “He was a kid who was walking down the street and a guy shot him.” My son replied. ”Do you know why?” I asked. After several seconds of silence, he answered, “Because he was Black…I think.”

This was not the first time that we have talked about how being black often affects how others perceive us. Both my husband and I have shared our experiences, and we talk frequently about the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, in his short 11 years, my son has experienced acts of discrimination from both adults and children. But this conversation was different. Perhaps it’s because he is more mature and able to think critically (since as he often points out---he’ll be a “Middle Schooler” next year.). Trayvon’s story served as a tragic but teachable example that illustrated how serious and harmful bias and prejudice are in a way that was meaningful to him. For the first time, my son understood. I mean truly understood the impact of race. See…he cannot conceive of what it feels like to be forced to use a “Colored Only” water fountain, or to be made to sit in the back of anything other than his Mommy’s SUV. But, he surely knows what is like to be a young kid walking around in his neighborhood…carrying candy.

So how does a Parenting Expert talk to their child about something like this you might ask? Well, I first have to admit that it was a bit challenging to separate my own emotions from the equation. But I did my best. My first objective was to address any fears that he might have. From the outset, it was clear that his own personal safety was what was prevalently on his mind. In particular, he asked me if someone could kill him too just for walking down the street. (Talk about fighting back tears.) I assured him that he is safe, and that the likelihood that something like this would ever happen to him is slim to none. However, we also tackled the fact that he would surely continue to encounter people who prejudged him simply because of the color of his skin. I also told him what my parents told me 30 + years ago…”Being Black means that you have to be better than expected in order to be graded evenly.” Our hour-long conversation ended with a very tight hug, and an 11-year-old’s understanding that the color of one’s skin does often affect how one is treated and perceived.

We have always taught our children that their caramel skin is beautiful and cause to be proud. Now, because of Trayvon, I am certain that my son fully understands that along with cultural pride, his skin tone can also make him a target. Like I told him…There are people who will hate you just because of the way you look. There are opportunities that you may be denied because of your race. And yes….George Zimmerman may get away with acting in self-defense murdering Trayvon. Though it really broke my heart to have this discussion with my son, it was inevitable because…

This is the reality of being Black….




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