Ben is not Trayvon Martin

I’m going to take one of my rare serious turns for a moment:

I am not Trayvon Martin’s mother.

Ian is not Trayvon Martin’s father.

And Ben will never be Trayvon Martin.

Ben will never know the feeling of being looked on with suspicion as he walks down the road at night (or any time).

I will never worry, when wondering why Ian isn’t home yet, that he has been stopped without cause and shot by police while reaching for his license.

Unlike actor/director of Roots and ST:TNG fame LeVar Burton, Ian won’t have to teach Ben the fundamentals of how to avoid being killed by police when stopped for the offense of driving while black:

Listen, I’m gonna be honest with you, and this is a practice that I engage in every time I am stopped by law enforcement, and I taught this to my son who is now 33 as part of my duty as a father to ensure that he knows the kind of world in which he is growing up. So when I get stopped by the police, I take my hat off and my sunglasses off, I put them on the passengers’ side, I roll down my window, I take my hands, I stick them outside the window and on the door of the drivers’ side because I want that officer to be as relaxed as he can be as he approaches my vehicle. And I do that because I live in America.

                                                                              – LeVar Burton, 2013

We will never have to worry about Ben being shot by a stranger, not because he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but because he was in a place he had every right to be, at a time he had every right to be there, but was born with the wrong colour skin to be able to safely assert those rights.

And if, God forbid, and I’m having trouble even typing this out, one of my children ever was murdered, it wouldn’t even cross my mind that the person responsible would walk free, smiling smugly, his or her supporters celebrating with fireworks displays, with the story of the verdict relegated to a tiny square below the (virtual) fold while the lead news story bemoans the untimely death of a troubled young (white) TV star.

Because we are white, we don’t live those realities. Our reality is very different. Heck, if I decided to steal a bike and freely admitted to it when questioned, people would probably offer to help me do it.

So what I am going to do about it?

I’m going to name my privilege. I’m not going to hide behind, “But I’m not a racist,” because that’s not good enough. The world I live in is oppressive, and I benefit while others are oppressed, and if I don’t recognize that and call it out, I am complicit.

I am not going to teach my kids colourblindness, because that’s not good enough either. They need to know that actually, we’re not all the same regardless of the colour of our skin. The way we are treated by the world is different because of the colour of our skin, and that is not okay.

I’m going to name privilege and oppression where and when I see them, and teach my children to do the same, because although it may make me uncomfortable, it’s nothing compared to what Trayvon Martin’s mother and father had to do.

~ karyn

Here are some resources for talking to your children about race:

How do you talk to kids about race? This guide can help.

RACE: The Power of an Illusion (PBS)

My son is not Trayvon

Please feel free to comment with any more resources that you know of or have found helpful.



15 thoughts on “Ben is not Trayvon Martin

  1. This is AMAZING. It is exactly what we have been talking about all weekend when we have talked about this case. And actually, ironically, this season of Big Brother as well. Thank you for writing EXACTLY how so many of us feel right now. This verdict was a travesty, because if Trayvon Martin had been white, George Zimmerman would be on death row today. And to live in a country where a man murders a child in cold blood and gets away with it, well that is just sad. And depressing. And we must do better.-The Dose Girls

  2. And on the heels of Zimmerman, who has a history of violence, walking free despite killing someone who had no history of violence, a Florida woman has been sentenced to 20 years for ‘aggravated assault’ for firing warning shots near her abusive husband whom she has a protective order against.

    My mind is boggled.

    And I agree, we need to teach our kids that people ARE treated differently because of their circumstances (white, black, rich, poor, gay, straight, etc.) and we need to make them understand that it’s not right, nor is it okay.

    • Exactly – and I would love to be able to get all Canadian, and post this with some cutesy catchphrase, like “meanwhile, in Florida,” secure and complacent in the fact that up here it’s all sunshine and unicorns, but that just ain’t the truth.

  3. Oy. I am a white woman with a black son, and I have no idea how to teach him how to be a black man someday. He’s only 3 now. He knows that his skin is “brown” but it’s only a color to him. If only we could all be like little children in this regard. I hate this kind of thing in the news. Well written.

  4. What a powerful, powerful, piece. I have been thinking about this same situation and how to talk to my kids about this horrific situation. My heart goes out to mothers all over the country who have to be worried for their precious sons each day. I do my best to put myself in another persons shoes, but here I am speechless. I do not have to be worried that my blonde blue eyed sons will be stopped by a police officer or anyone else because someone has deemed them “suspicious.” And I find that fact sad, and infuriating. Thank you again for your gorgeous words and important message.

    • Thank you so much Kathy – when I heard the verdict I posted on FB that I wished I could say I was shocked. It made me sick to my stomach…and I know I can’t even begin to fathom how mothers of black boys are feeling right now.

  5. Thank you for this piece. I was horrified when I woke Sunday and read the news. I felt sick, angry and powerless all at the same time. As a white woman with a black daughter I despair over this world she is entering slowly. At almost 3.5 she barely notices skin color even though I have talked about it since day one. Unfortunately people have noticed hers and have ranged from hostile (“That’s not your baby….BUT SHE’S BLACK!”) to polite racist (But she’s mixed right?) to the proudly colorblind (I don’t even notice her color!).

    While I many not have to worry about her being gunned down in a street she is supposed to be on because she is a black male, she is still looked on as an exotic “thing”. I have had to start telling people to stop touching my child’s hair, and telling my girl that it’s okay to tell people the same. Just read one interview about the young actress Quvenzhane Wallis to see how little black girls in this country are treated.

    I have shared your piece after a good friend shared it with me. I hope it keeps making the rounds, because it is so worth the read, sentiment, and call to action. Unfortunately I am starting to get discouraged that only people who agree with the content will read it and recognize the wisdom in it, that the people it NEEDS to reach will just shuck it off as just another article that blabbers on about “racism”. Sigh.

    • Thanks so much for reading and your kind words, JC – I wish you and your daughter all the best! I think you hit the nail on the head, sadly, saying that it will mostly reach people who already agree – while the internet is a great tool for sharing information, I wonder if we’re getting pushed more and more to our extremes of oppressive/anti-oppressive, liberal/conservative, racist/anti-racist by all those Google and Facebook algorithms that take our browsing history and spoon-feed us only the sites and statuses that we already agree with.

  6. This is amazing Karyn. Thank you for weighing in on this very controversial and terrible incident. I appreciate your insight and your sentiments. If only your thoughts could reach the people who continue to do these horrendous things.

  7. I guess we will have to agree to disagree on this one. I am glad the justice system prevailed and protected a man who exercised his right to protect himself. The jurors claim race didn’t come up in their deliberations ( I know this seems hard to believe), so why are we still stuck on it? I guess I am glad that those women were the ones picked to serve as jurors because they said they followed the law, not their hearts. It’s an emotional issue, but it is a legal one foremost.

    • That man only had to “protect himself” because he disregarded a police order not to follow a child who was in his own neighborhood. This article was not about the trial and verdict as much as it is about the reality of being other than white in this country.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Lori. While I disagree with you (obviously!) I really appreciate the fact that you feel comfortable commenting here.

      To me there are two separate issues; Perhaps it is true that the jury returned the appropriate verdict based on the law (personally I don’t agree with a law that makes it okay to kill someone when you could have walked away, but that’s a whole third issue).

      But it was systemic racism and white privilege that allowed it to happen in the first place. George Zimmerman suspected Trayvon Martin of wrongdoing in the first place because he was a black kid walking through a white neighbourhood. He followed him in his car and called 911 to report him. He was told by the 911 dispatcher to stop following him, but when Trayvon started running (wouldn’t you, if some strange man was following you?) he chased him on foot. And then, finally then, Trayvon confronted him, and was killed in “self-defense.”

      And the worst part, for me, is that so many people, on hearing about it, nodded and said, “Mm-hmm. Yep, that kid sure looked suspicious. I would have done the same thing.” That is white privilege – that we identify with George Zimmerman, the man who was simply trying to defend his neighbourhood from an unarmed black teenager in a hoodie who was just trying to walk home with a bag of Skittles.

      The verdict may have been correct under the law, but when black men like LeVar Burton live the reality every day that they might be stopped by police and shot because they looked suspicious reaching for their wallets, the system is broken. And if white people like me just go on believing that everything is fine, there will be more innocent George Zimmermans and more dead Trayvon Martins, and to me that isn’t okay.

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