Like many people, I've spent a lot of time recently thinking about Trayvon Martin. And I've been thinking about our son "L," our beautiful African boy. And thinking about how completely unprepared I am to explain to our son why someone who looks like him could be considered "suspicious" simply because he's black.
In our adoption training classes we talk about race. Our instructor told us to think about what we'll do when someone calls our child the N-word so that we're prepared. Not if someone calls him that, but when. I admit in my naivete I silently scoffed, thinking nobody's going to do that. We have all, as a society, moved so far beyond that. We have a black president, for crying out loud.
I also thought I had some perspective on what it feels like not to look like everyone else. Growing up as a fair skinned, freckled kid in Ft. Lauderdale wasn't easy. I tried spending days sunbathing with my friends, with disastrous blistery results. Oh, and wound up with skin cancer to boot. I turned myself orange with every self tanner out there, and even tried spot removing cream to get rid of my freckles. I would've loved to have had dark skin as a kid; it took me many years into adulthood to appreciate and love my fair skin. So I figured I would be able to empathize with our son when questions about skin color are raised.
I am an idiot.
I've never been feared or considered suspicious because I was wearing a hoodie while walking in the rain. I have no clue, and feel so unprepared to explain to our child the inexplicable. How do I instill in our child that he is valued exactly because of who he is and to be proud of his heritage, while warning him about what his black skin may provoke in some people? It makes me sick just to think about it.
Because the tragic case of Trayvon Martin shows how we, as a society, certainly have not moved beyond race. Most disturbing to me have been the commentaries, like this one from Time magazine, about how black families must raise their children to STAY ALIVE amidst the horrible racism that persists in this country, because it shows this problem goes way beyond one trigger-happy neighborhood watch racist. The author gives talking points about "the potentially fatal condition of being black" and, in particular, being a black male.
Like our son, "L."
Another parent writes here how her twelve year old son knows he could be Trayvon Martin, and how in this land of liberty her son needs to understand he's only "free-ish."
How could I have not known this was happening? That parents, as a matter of course, have been teaching their black children to anticipate and account for others' bigotry and possible violence. As a matter of survival.
I chafe at the notion that we may have to teach our son not to run in the neighborhood, since somebody may think he's committed a crime and is trying to elude capture. I can't even wrap my mind around that, but I know I must.
Our child's life may one day depend on it.
God, help us all.
UPDATE: Once again, Jen Hatmaker wrote on her blog what I'm feeling so much better than I ever could. It's like she has a direct line to my heart.