How Do You Explain Insanity Like The Trayvon Martin Shooting To Your Kids When They Look Like Him?
Heather Greenwood-Davis pulled her two boys from a year of school to travel the world. They are learning incredible things as they travel the world but today Heather's thoughts are about North America, and how young black men like Trayvon Martin could be killed by walking down the street and how she can break the news to her young boys, that they may be considered a danger just because of what they look like.
Guest Post: Explaining Insanity
Trayvon Martin, 17, wasn’t as fortunate.
The young, black man in Florida was shot dead by what would seem to be an overzealous, self-appointed, neighbourhood watch vigilante. Martin was deemed a “threat” by the man who called police to report him, was warned to stay away from him and then went out and shot him. Dead.
I am married to a black man who made it through similar events in his teen years and together we are raising two black boys who have never really had to think about the demonization of race. And so it angers me that although the only part of Trayvon Martin’s death my kids, aged 7 and 9, can relate to is the can of ice tea and packet of Skittles Martin was carrying when he was shot. Their dad and I found ourselves in the unenviable position of having to begin the prep work that only visible minority families seem to have to do.
Much has been made of the killing but it was Geraldo Rivera’s comments on Fox News, suggesting that it was Trayvon’s decision to wear a hooded sweatshirt that day that was partly to blame, that forced me to talk to my kids immediately.
I was actually grateful for his comment: I’d rather know what evil looks like than be surprised by it later. What Geraldo revealed in that statement was what more people than I’d realized were thinking: black + young+ hoodie = threat.
I had to share the potential of this deadly math that is waiting in North America with kids who have spent 9 months travelling all over the world and never once encountered racism. We are literally a million miles away from Trayvon Martin and yet here it is on our doorstep.
We’ve never coddled these boys. Where some parents might avoid talks about changing bodies or dread conversations about where babies come from or “why my skin is different from hers,” we’ve answered them head on. So there was no way we were going to sidestep an issue that has this much bearing on their lives.
When I sat the boys down to talk about the situation my youngest recounted the facts to me almost as I would’ve shared them with him.
He had overheard conversations among other travellers and his parents and had been thinking about it.
And so it was that in a hotel room in Africa, I tried to explain madness to my children. I talked about the fact that there are people in this world who may make decisions about who my boys are based on their skin and age; that wearing certain clothes in certain ways might cause a person to make false assumptions and that that is not ok.
We talked about the fact that the shooter didn't stop to ask this boy if he was good in math or nice to people or loved by his neighbours. He made an assumption based only on what he saw and based on what he had grown to believe: ‘a young black man in my neighbourhood is a threat’.
I said that it was why it was important that they learn to judge character well, not laugh at jokes that suggest negatives about another race, steer clear of people who make those kinds of non-factual based judgments of others and be aware of where they are and who they are with at all times. These are skills we’ve talked about before and during this trip but it was always in conjunction with not getting lost in a foreign country or avoiding being abducted by a man ”looking for his lost dog.”
Never had I thought that at 7 and 9 I’d be giving them guidelines in the hopes of saving their life from ignorant, armed, neighbourhood protectors.
The boys were listening and nodding and I felt like we were doing well but our downfall was coming and I only saw it when it was too late. The youngest screwed up his mouth to the left, bit his lip for a moment and then let it fly and before he even said a word I knew what was coming.
Because of course Trayvon was not doing anything wrong and he's dead.
“But mom, what if it's me?” asked Cameron, 7 his eyes welling with tears. “And he has a gun. What do I do?”
“You raise your hands in surrender, you look them in the eye, you ask them to call the police,” we told him.
He’s nodding but the tears have begun to spill.
And so for the first time in his life I looked that kid in the eye and lied. I told him not to worry and that it would never happen to him in Canada. And then I read about the white pride rally in Edmonton that had relocated from Calgary where it had operated for years and stayed up the rest of the night wondering if it would.
Have you talked to your kids about the deadly nature of racism?
Want more chaos? Last year, I lamented the amount of sexy tween apparel out there. Push-up bikinis? Really??