I suppose that those of us who have children of different ethnic backgrounds are paying close attention to the Trayvon Martin story that broke a few weeks ago. If we aren’t, we should be.
There are hundreds of thoughts that are swirling around my head about this issue, but I’m going to condense them into only a few that hopefully string together to make some kind of sense. It seems as though little makes sense to me these days. I’ve listened to the reports, the interviews, the speculation, the facts, and the opinions of far too many people. I’ve watched vigils and seen people pontificate with intellectual prowess while wearing hoodies. And I’ve heard the recorded cell phone calls (and yes, I think I did hear what I thought I heard, but I’m not sure).
I wouldn’t have the audacity to think I could possibly know how Trayvon’s mother might feel. I do not have an African-American son. But I have an Asian-American child, and I can tell you what I know people think about her:
She is good at math
She is submissive
She is shy
She excels at either the violin or piano
Not one of these things is true about my daughter. That’s not the amazing thing, however. What shocks me is that people will assume these things about my daughter simply because of the way she looks. Before they have met her, or talked to me about her, or talked to her about what she loves and doesn’t love, they will make determinations about who she is and how she will act based upon her almond shaped eyes and straight black hair. She is Asian, therefore, she fits all of the stereotypes that we have come to believe about people who do not look like us.
Is this what happened on the evening of February 26, 2012? Because a young man was black, wearing a hoodie, and walking, he was assumed to be 1) a threat to the community, 2) armed, 3) dangerous, 4) gangster, 5) up to no good. So therefore, it was justifiable to shoot him. I’m only asking. I wasn’t there.
But I have been there when people have made inaccurate assumptions about my child, and it’s maddening. Sometimes, when people do this I want to scream, “She has an inside, you know!” She isn’t aware of those assumptions yet, but sadly, she will be at some point and I want to shield her from them. I want to tell her that she simply must ignore the people who only look at her ethnicity and make judgments based on that. Don’t just ignore those people, I want to warn her, but stay far away from them. Maybe this is what Trayvon’s mother told him also, but the sad reality is that it’s impossible. We live in a world of people who are racist and don’t even realize it. Why? Because we live in a country that practices systematic racism without blinking an eye. You might disagree because we have an African-American president, but please look at all the skepticism, fear, judgement, and inaccurate assumptions that have surrounded him since he became president.
In case you were wondering if this post was all about prideful, righteous indignation, you should know that I do not take myself out of the equation when it comes to racism. I’ve crossed to the other side of the street plenty of times. I’ve caught myself making judgements about people based on the placement and quantity of tattoos. And I’ve dismissed people because of their color, dialect, and, yes, size. Haven’t you? And really, isn’t that the problem? We would all like to say that we’re not prone to judge people based on their outward appearance, but we do it all the time. And taken to the extreme, this kind of action is deadly to the soul, and to the body.
I weep for Trayvon Martin’s mother because she has lost a son. However it happened, it was unjustifiable. Life is precious, and if we truly believe that, we would not settle for a law that allows one person to kill another and never have to answer questions about how it happened. I don’t want that for my child, for your child, or for anyone’s child. We can do better than this. Our children deserve it.