Wednesday, March 21, 2012

For the Brown Boys

The case is everywhere.  That of Trayvon Martin, a seventeen year old African-American boy who went out to a convenience store to buy himself a snack, and was shot dead by a neighborhood watchman.  

Seeing his picture, reading more of the details, hearing his screams on the 911 tapes, I fast forward fourteen years from now to when R is seventeen, and sob.  As the mother of a brown-skinned boy, I am truly shaken.  

When my son is old enough, we will have to have the conversation all black and brown boys must have about the police.  One day he will have to realize that the men in blue he thinks are currently the good guys, out to protect him, might very well not have his back at all.  We will have to tell him never to talk back, to be completely deferential, and to keep his hands in plain sight.  It won't matter how intelligent he is, how well he speaks, where his mother went to school, the color of Daddy's skin or where he works.  While his white friends might be wise to heed the same advice, for Riley it will have to be as ingrained and automatic as knowing his address.  

Of course, I pray that he is never stopped by the police, as these situations have the potential to go so horribly, horribly wrong.

But this case isn't just about black and brown boys and the police.  With the f-ed gun laws in this country, and especially in states like sunny Florida, any lunatic with a weapon could decide based on skin color and the choice to wear a hoodie to shoot now and ask questions later.  If he's suspicious, it's self-defense, after all.  

Those who want to discount or even defend racism will say that if you don't want to be found suspicious, then don't dress/talk/act that way.

To them I say, it doesn't matter.  Legit African-American men in suits still make some ladies grab their purses and scurry across the street.  

Once President Obama was elected, people claimed we had entered a post-racial America.  Perhaps in some ways, and in some sections of the country we have.  Black/white marriages continue to rise and more people are more tolerant of mixed marriages.  Still, despite our 44th president, this country feels like a racial tinderbox.  Every fool with fingers and internet access is now able to shoot intellectual sewage into cyberspace, letting loose all the racial vitriol held in check by political correctness and the lack of a platform.   

I hope that young Mr. Martin's death opens the doors to a national conversation about both race and guns.  May justice be served.  And please may it not be another one of the thousands of black deaths where the not black* killer goes scot free.

As a mommyblogger, I want to call on other parents in the blogging world to do something, post something on their blogs.  It doesn't have to be big. It doesn't matter if you're not political.  Urge people to sign a petition  Maybe you don't know the details of the case.  Maybe you're not convinced he was innocent.  Listen. Read.  Think of your son, or daughter, for that matter begging for his/her life.  Think of the unimaginable grief of Trayvon's parents.  As parents we cannot tolerate violence against children.  Not from their peers, and certainly not from adults. We protect each others' children when they are little.  We stop them from running too far down the sidewalk, from stepping in front of a swing.  Let's not stop when they're teens.  

Or when they're black.  

*George Zimmerman is Latino.


  1. I'm in tears. I can't imagine how much this case worries you as a mother of "brown" boy. I'll share this post and know that I'm with you.

  2. Thank you for posting this. It personifies much of how I feel as I am pregnant with my brown son....

    1. It's horrifying to me that this post even needs to be shared. How much time needs to pass for racism to be eradicated? I have a white son, and I promise to teach him tolerance and love for everyone. I'll copy and paste your post onto my blog.

    2. or should I just link from my blog to yours? yes. I'll do that :)

  3. keesha, i had "the talk" with my 2 brown boys 2 years ago when they were 7 and 9, and have updated the conversation every year as the crisis time gets closer. it's heartbreaking and absurd that we parents of brown boys have to have "the talk" with our children, but what other choice do we have to even try to keep them safe? like you i've shed many tears over the martin case (and the myriad others that don't receive even a fraction of the media attention) and rage against the reality of the situation. the addition of insult to injury in the form of the attempts to smear this CHILD (he allegedly smoked weed, posed with gold grills in pics on FB, had the audacity to try to defend himself against some crazy racist grown man who stalked him like prey on the serengeti, etc) has made me even more determined to simultaneously work even harder to protect my boys and attempt to effect social justice writ large. trayvon martin's murder is a call to action about gun control legislation, racial profiling, and anti-black prejudice. as parents and people of conscience, it can't be anything but a galvanizing wake-up call.

    in my work in the field of HIV prevention, it's pretty clear that HIV infection in 2012 is more about sociocultural factors than about who inserts what body part where. poverty, education, access to healthcare, homophobia, racism, HIV stigma, stable housing -- all play crucial roles in ongoing HIV infections. it's not a coincidence that Black folks are becoming HIV-positive at *highly* disproportionate rates nationally. in order to effectively prevent new HIV infections, i essentially have to go upstream and work against poverty, racism, homophobia, etc, and that's where it starts to feel daunting. for me, when confronted with the reality of the true extent of the problem, i feel completely inadequate to the task, like st. george facing a dragon, but armed only, and sadly, with a toothpick.

    i think the same is true here in the US with young black and brown men. to get to the heart of the problem requires going so far upstream that a viable solution seems impossibly daunting. how to unpack and educate the legions about the lived reality of black life since the emancipation proclamation, or unravel the twisted skein of "southern pride" about "the war of northern aggression" to expose america's deepest, ugliest, and enduring shame? how can we expose the brazen lie of "post-racial america" and still honor the fact that 44 (our beloved ozymandias) is one of us? is it even possible to undo the decades of damage done by the GOP's "southern strategy," which has stretched far beyond the south, pitting poor whites against blacks, gays, women, and immigrants, even though doing so is flagrantly against their own economic and political interests?

    it seems almost impossible. so instead, we weep for the fallen, petition the universe to spare our own and have "the talk" with our black and brown progeny and do the best we can. it's inadequate, but WTF else can we do? argh!

    sorry to go off on your blog cousin, but this has been plaguing me and literally keeping me up at night. the very thought that my mouthy and precocious boys could be gunned down for being in "the wrong place at the wrong time," despite all of my efforts rankles me deep in my soul. no ivy league credentials, no solid middle-class income, no classical musical education, no accentless english will matter if that moment comes to my boys and it makes me want to say fuck it, and move off the grid entirely.

    i will keep them safe as best as i can, for as long as i can. that's all i can do.

  4. tHE proplem is people what don't got no respect.


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