Mars, I want to take you to a rally.
What’s a rally? Is it like a pep rally?
Sort of. It’s when people gather in a place to either show support for something or show that they are unhappy with something. Or both.
Oh. Why are we going?
Because something very bad happened to a boy named Trayvon. He was a brown boy, a teenager, and he lived in Florida. One night, he walked to the store to get a snack. And on his way back, a man, who was not brown, began to follow him. That man assumed that Trayvon was bad or up to no good because Trayvon was brown and was wearing a hoodie.
A hoodie?! But teenagers are supposed to wear hoodies! They make you look cool.
I’ve tried very hard over the past few weeks not to think about Trayvon Martin. Or, at least, not to fall down the rabbit hole of questions and feelings with which his murder almost instantly flood my mind. My absence from Twitter has certainly helped, but there’s no real way of escaping it. Still, I try, because when I think of Trayvon, I think of his mother and… my heart stops beating for a moment, my breath catches in my throat, and I’m paralyzed with sorrow and sympathy. And fear.
The pragmatist in me requires that I take a step back to acknowledge that mothers losing their children is always tragic and not new. In fact, I love someone very dearly who lost her child senselessly and much too soon. Because of her loss, Trayvon’s death isn’t the first time that I have held my son a little tighter, listened to his ramblings a little more intently, or prayed a little harder for his safety. Her strength is unfathomable because the loss is equally so. So, Sybrina Fulton does not stand out in my mind simply because of who she lost. She stands out because of how she lost him. She is the mother of a child that was hunted and murdered by a man no one realized was hunting.
Just over three years ago, I took Mars to another very important gathering: the inauguration of President Barack Obama. I jumped at the opportunity to do it because it was an opportunity that I never imagined would exist in my lifetime: my little brown boy watching a brown man become president of this country. I remember saying to myself, “I didn’t know that we were here.” I wasn’t so naive as to believe that “here” was a racial utopia or even a “post-racial America”. But “here” was a country in which my son had one more opportunity, one more star in the sky to aim for, one more role model. And even that felt so good.
By all accounts, George Zimmerman was a poster child for the “post-racial America” that I don’t believe in. George was raised by a mother from Peru [a latin American country that, like many others, suffers from blatant (yes, that’s black face) and latent racism by those with European ancestry against those of African and indigenous ancestry]. He spoke Spanish to other Spanish speaking residents of his multi-ethnic neighborhood. He and his wife tutored African-American children *for free*. Most importantly, he has a brown friend.
Try as FoxNews might, they cannot comfort me with these “facts”. Mr. Zimmerman’s actions are no less lethal because of his mother’s ancestry. Sybrina and Tracy hurt no less because George and his wife tutored the black children who stayed where they were willing to accept them. And Mr. Oliver’s 6 year relationship with the Zimmermans gives me no pause, though it should probably give him some. Because in Zimmerman’s “post-racial” mind, a legitimate concern for the safety of property devolved into a stereotype-feuled hunt for brown boys (though it appears the burglars had been arrested nearly 3 weeks earlier — see arrest report dated 2/7/12 in previous link).
What this information about Zimmerman does do is remind me of the rest of “here”. “Here” the opportunities are indeed greater and more numerous for little brown boys… but they must still make it through the gauntlet of our society in order to achieve them. “Here” we have gated communities. “Here” an unknown brown face within such a community is alarming. “Here” teenagers are suspicious in what even my eight year identifies as cool, teen clothing. “Here”, ‘responsible’ black and Hispanic parents should refuse to buy their kids $60
sweatshirts “gangsta style clothing“. “Here”, brown people still have a place.
Having a place is no new thing. So many before us have identified, called out, and challenged that place. Many of us challenge that place in our daily lives or leave it altogether. We make decisions about our careers that piss off a co-worker who thinks we are inferior. We choose to live in neighborhoods with great schools, knowing not to hold our breath for an invitation to that particular barbecue. These situations which remind us of our place are annoying, insulting, even upsetting. But rarely are they any longer life threatening.
And yet, “here” we are. And if I may be so bold as to state my opinion, I think “here” is a little scarier than it used to be. Pointed white hats are easy to spot and “No Coloreds” signs are easy to read. Eight year old easy. No, I’m not saying that I wish for those things to return. No, no. But I am saying that the things that are not being said today are just as scary, if not scarier, than the things that were said then. Especially for a mother trying to protect her child.
And as long as anyone, no matter how small the minority, believes (even without speaking) that brown people have a place, we are not safe “here”, let alone equal.
At the rally last night, Mars was his adorable, bubbly self. He told me I walked too slowly and asked a million questions. I choked back tears, struck by his innocence, when he could no longer listen silently to the speeches and begged for my ear to explain his latest Pokemon trade. And as my little brown boy skipped and ran along the downtown sidewalks back to our car, I prayed that the shittiness of this situation would somehow cover and protect and fertilize the seed of inspiration that was planted three years ago. That he would someday, sooner than later, understand what it means and doesn’t mean to be a little brown boy in America, and be better, and alive, because of it.