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