This morning when I awoke and read that George Zimmerman had been found not guilty of murdering Trayvon Martin I was stunned. And I decided to tell my daughter about his murder, even though she’s only 5. Even though we live in liberal, happy-go-lucky Austin, Texas. I’d been wondering when I would need to start this conversation with her, about racist acts. And suddenly, I knew. The time was right.
I wasn’t so surprised about the verdict. After all, it is Florida. (Yes I know that’s offensive, I don’t give a shit. I’m fucking pissed! Plus, I live in Texas, I hear that shit about us all the time, and you know what? They’re right.)
And after all, you know, he’s a black male so he must’ve been doing SOMETHING wrong walking around a white neighborhood. (That’s sarcasm, in case there’s a troll reading.)
As I got up and wandered into the kitchen with my squeaky 5-year-old, a child with brown skin and curly black hair. A beautiful child. An innocent child. A child that was once Trayvon Martin.
I looked at her and I didn’t so much as think, but I began to feel fear. I knew within a millisecond before I opened my mouth that I was going to start down a treacherous path with her. One that needs to start now. Because if I wait, she might not know enough in time to save her life.
I am not being dramatic. (That’s also for the trolls.) That’s the worst part of this conversation.
So, I said to her as we prepared to make banana pancakes, “Baby, I’m a little sad this morning.”
“Why mama?” as she colors in her coloring book.
So I began to tell her. I told her that a man who murdered a boy named Trayvon Martin was on trial. I told her that he got away with murdering Trayvon.
“Trayvon Martin had brown skin like you, baby. And he was walking in the dark, alone, and he was wearing a hoodie, you know a jacket with a hood? And this man thought he looked suspicious. Do you know what suspicious means? (Explain the meaning of suspicious, move on.) So this man picked a fight with Trayvon Martin and then he shot him in the chest with a gun. And Trayvon Martin died.”
“I’m feeling really sad for his mama and daddy right now, because their son died last year. And today, the man who murdered him is going to walk free.”
I choked up a little as I spoke to her, surprising even myself. I am not a very openly emotional person. But as I sat down next to her, she put her arms around me and said, “Don’t worry mama, that won’t happen to me.”
God. She gets it. She fucking gets it! She cut right to the chase.
It was downright chilling.
I wondered immediately and even during the moment if I was doing the right thing by telling her about Trayvon’s murder.
I went on to tell her that I didn’t want her to worry. And that part of the reason he was killed was because he was alone and in the dark. He’s older than you, 17. And I also told her that he should have run.
He should have run.
I wish we didn’t live in a world where we need to tell our brown skinned children that they can’t stay and fight. But that they must run.
Does anyone actually care about the Trayvon Martin case? Because I don’t. Why is it being covered by every major news station as if it were the case of the century? No one I know in person or online mentions it at all. It’s tragic that a kid died, but what makes this case so special?
Um, yeah, dude, I care! Uh, maybe parents of black children care? Maybe parents of black boys care even fucking more? Um, maybe Trayvon Martin’s parents care? Maybe black people care? Maybe white people care? Uhhhh Wait. Do they?
For the most part, it’s not a case that catches the attention of the average person in my daily life.
But then I tell myself that it’s in part because of the Texas legislature. But I know that’s not true. If we weren’t having this debate in Texas right now, I’d be paying closer attention to the trial. And I’d be posting about it and here’s what I’d get.
Now, I don’t know that for sure. But it’s what I guess because when I’ve posted before about Travyon Martin it’s been mostly other moms of biracial kids who I know online showing concern about the case.
So, do we care about Trayvon Martin any more than we would if he was any other murder victim?
I don’t know. But my white friends should. And here’s why.
If you’re white and liberal and you don’t care about this case, then you are continuing to protect the status quo of a society that allows these types of cases listed below.
To me, Zimmerman was guilty from the outset. I realize that in the eyes of the law, he must be proven guilty. But the facts were in from the get go. Zimmerman profiled Trayvon Martin.He shot an unarmed child in cold blood. I don’t care if Martin threw a punch at Zimmerman or even tried to beat him on the sidewalk.
Trayvon Martin was the one under attack. Trayvon Martin was the one defending himself and he lost.
Why didn’t Zimmerman run if he was scare? Kick Martin in the nuts. Why the fuck was he even out of his truck?
Get the fuck away if you’re scared. Don’t shoot an unarmed kid.
The only difference between Zimmerman and the cases I’ve listed below is that he lives in a different time period than one and the rest of them were just a lot fucking dumber than Zimmerman and some admitted they were racists pieces of shit.
If you are white, you should care about Trayvon Martin. He was a child. He was not doing anything wrong. He was profiled and murdered in cold blood on the street by a racist. It is so obvious to people of color.
It is easy for me to see it because Trayvon Martin has the same skin color as my kid. So let me put it to you this way. If the case was all the same, but Trayvon Martin was a white kid with a football jacket on walking down the street chatting on the phone with his girlfriend, and some guy pulled up, picked a fight with him, and then shot him, he’d already be in jail. I guarantee it.
This trial is a potential travesty. There is already speculation that Zimmerman will walk because nobody knows for sure if Martin was the one beating Zimmerman. But to people of color, this is a clear case of profiling and racism, so why it isn’t being treated as such in the courtroom?
So what if Martin was high? Or even had been in trouble at school? Or called George Zimmerman a cracker? It’s not all that uncommon for teenagers to get into trouble at school and smoke pot and call strangers obnoxious names.
White kids do it to y’all. And that doesn’t make them career criminals. The fact is, we hold a much different standard to black boys in this country. They must toe the line and if they don’t they get busted down. It’s not really a far cry from slavery days.
So, if you still don’t think this is a big deal, take a look at a few cases where black men have been killed simply for being black.
If you are a white liberal, you should care. Because if you don’t, then you are a part of the racist society that continues to let black men be killed at the hands of white racists. And I know that you don’t want that.
Yes, most of them were convicted. But it’s still hard to see how it continues to happen. We must send a message that racist murders will not be tolerated. They should be punished to the fullest extent of the law.
Emmett Till was a 14-year-old boy who was had his eyes gouged out, beaten and ultimately shot to death for flirting with a white woman in Mississippi in 1955.
James C. Anderson murdered by three white boys who just went looking for a black person to kill in Jackson, Mississippi in 2009.
Johnny Lee Butts a black man who was killed in a hit and run in 2012. Again, in Mississippi. (For god’s sake, if you’re black and you live in Mississippi, get the fuck out!)
Everett Gant a black man in Port St. Joe, Florida shot in 2013 by his white neighbor who confessed his crime to police by saying, “I only shot a n—er.” Gant had gone over to Butler’s apartment to confront him about calling a child a n—er. Butler shot him in the head and then sat down to eat his dinner.
While these cases continue, they aren’t given the credence they should be given. Media reports on them with details of the racism as if it were just another cause and effect. People are shocked and horrified for a moment. But they continue to happen.
It’s looking possible that Zimmerman could walk for his crimes. The judge has ruled the jury can consider the lesser charge of manslaughter, probably to give them a choice, if they don’t feel he deserves the second-degree murder charge.
But if George Zimmerman is not convicted, it will send the message to white racists that the murder of black men and boys is still open season. Profiling that leads to murder should be given additional penalties and consideration inside a murder trial. This is not just about murder. This is about racism, stereotypes and the continued assault on black men in our country. It needs to stop.
With the controversy surrounding Paula Deen and the n-word, it got me to thinking about how we white folks give ourselves a pass on racism in many instances. “I’m not a racist. I would never use the n-word!” type of thinking.
Using the n-word is not the only thing that white racists do. Here’s a non-comprehensive list of other things that white racists do. This is (very) mildly tongue in cheek. This is meant to make you think.It’s not about shame. I can write this because I’ve done/said many of things in my life too. Heck, still do some of ’em sometimes.
Racism is systemic. It’s endemic in our white American society. And the only way it can stop is when white people start owning up to it, recognizing it and then actively working against it.
How to Tell If You’re a White Racist
You (think you) don’t judge people based on skin color, but you judge a person of color based on clothes they wear.
You judge people of color based on the music they listen to.
You judge people of color based on the condition of their car.
You clutch your purse/belongings closer when you see a group of them walking and talking loudly.
You don’t clutch your purse/belongings closely when you are on the elevator with them, actively proving to yourself that you are not a racist.
You cross the street to get away from one or a group of them.
You don’t cross the street, actively proving to yourself that you aren’t a racist.
You have referred to hair of another culture in words that don’t normally describe hair, i.e. puffs or balls.
You describe skin color with words that are typically designated for food, i.e., caramel, chocolate, brown sugar.
You have ever told a racially insensitive joke.
You have ever laughed at a racially insensitive joke.
You use/have used the n-word among white people and assumed that they would be okay with it.
You heard the n-word in a group of white people, felt offended, but didn’t tell them they were being racist jerks.
You think the best way to teach about racism and promoting racial harmony is through literature.
Your child goes to a school where they have pictures of Martin Luther King on the walls, but they don’t actively seek inclusion and the majority of students are white.
You tell your white children that “skin color doesn’t matter.”
You don’t talk about race or skin color with your kids.
You don’t have any friends of another race.
You do have friends of another race, but you never talk to them about racism.
You say that you’re colorblind.
You talk about other races with words like “culture” and “diversity” but you feel uncomfortable hearing people mention skin color.
You don’t bother to learn how to properly pronounce names that aren’t similar to ones you know how to say.
You practice cultural norms from third world countries with the mindset that it must be more natural, but you’ve never been to those countries, don’t know anyone from there and have the only reason you think it’s more “natural” is because you have a fancy sling/cosleeping gadget that was really fucking expensive and so you must justify its naturalness.
You ask people “where are you from?” even though they dress like an American and don’t have an foreign accent. What you really mean to say is, “What is your ethnicity?” or What is your ancestry?”
You say things like: “Jewed down,” “Mexican shower,” “Ghetto,” “Slum (when talking about large instances of cultural minorities).”
You see a parent and child of differing skin color and assume the child is adopted.
You are overly interested in the hair of people who are not of your race.
You think that people of other races smell bad.
You didn’t know that in black America, Bill Clinton was considered the first black president.
You think that racism is dead because a black man was elected president.
You downplay racist complaints from people of color.
You think that racism is only something that happens with negative intent.
You don’t know how you’ve benefited from white privilege.
You’ve said, “Yeah, well black people can be racist too.”
Finally, 16 months after his murder, the trial for Trayvon Martin begins. Jury selection for the George Zimmerman murder trial started yesterday. I will be watching this case closely to see if justice will prevail and a precedent will be set for all those who think that an unarmed black male walking in your neighborhood is cause for alarm.
Key points of George Zimmerman Murder Trial:
Trayvon Martin was murdered on Feb. 26, 2012 as he walked from the store to buy an iced tea and bag of Skittles when Zimmerman profiled him as a suspicious character. Martin was shot in an ensuring scuffle. Details of their interaction are not entirely clear. Zimmerman says he shot Martin in self defense. But many have argued that he chased down Martin and Martin was the one fighting for his life.
If convicted, George Zimmerman faces life imprisonment.
George Zimmerman pleaded not guilty, claiming self defense.
This case hold the potential for a defining moment in civil rights.
George Zimmerman wasn’t arrested until 44 days after the killing, citing the Stand Your Ground law in Florida.
Zimmerman was finally arrested after an outcry from the nation’s top civil rights leaders and American citizens demanded that this was not a case for the controversial Stand Your Ground law.
The 911 call will be debated, there is still no determination on whether it was Martin or Zimmerman screaming for help.
Jurors will remain anonymous.
George Zimmerman waived his right to a “stand your ground” pretrial immunity hearing. If he had had this hearing, a judge could have ruled that his actions were legal and no civil or criminal hearing would have continued. Instead of doing this, Zimmerman chose to use a self defense claim.
This is the second day of jury selection, which is speculated to last about three weeks.
Last week I was interviewed for a research study being conducted to study white mothers who have biracial children.
It was thoroughly enjoyable and very casual. The interviewer, a white mother of a biracial son, is writing her dissertation and might eventually produce a documentary on the topic.
Her research is strictly on white mothers of biracial children and their interactions with people at school. The interview was very casual, conducted over Skype and we essentially just talked for about 90 minutes. (I think it was only supposed to last an hour.)
We talked mostly about our various interactions with the general public and our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes about race and skin color, and how those have changed (or not) since having our children.
Our feelings on many of the topics were similar. There were plenty of “YEAH! I KNOW, RIGHT?!” moments, which was awesome. Even when you have friends who are biracial moms, these conversations still don’t happen very often because we’re all parents who have busy lives and when we get together we don’t all sit around talking about our kids’ skin colors. So it was fun.
One of the points she made during the interview that I absolutely loved was how it’s so important for white parents to talk to their white children about race, skin color, and racism. I thought I knew all the reasons it was important but she brought up something I’d honestly never even thought about.
There is a whole new generation of white kids out there who will grow up to fall in love with a person of color. We did. And yet, it’s not something that parents necessarily think to talk to their kids about.
There’s lots more on that topic, but I’ll let you save it for a conversation with her. Or the possible documentary. Just something to think about.
Jennifer Chandler is doing this study for Cardinal Stritch University and is looking for more participants. If you wish to participate, contact her directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org
When Annika was a baby, I once casually mentioned to Toyin that I’d like to dress her as Snow White for Halloween. He rolled his eyes and scoffed, “You can’t dress a black child as Snow White!” He was joking, mostly.
But even so, that year, I dressed her as a kitty cat, because she could say cat.
Oddly, Toyin doesn’t remember that conversation, or perhaps, remembers it differently than I do. A few years later, when Annika was 3.5, one of his family members sent us a Snow White costume for a Christmas present, which we both enjoyed watching her get excited over and immediately put it on and dance around. By that time, it was no big deal. Or was it? As I watched her pull it out and realized what it was, I flashed back to that conversation, when all of this was so new.
Thinking about race and skin color enters into the most mundane of choices when you have a mixed race family.
If the opposite had happened, let’s say my white daughter wanted to dress up as say, Diana Ross, I would probably be thrilled with her choice, glad my child was so multiculturally aware and being the raging liberal that I am I would brag about it to all my friends.
So when my brown-skinned daughter wants to dress up as a white character, coincidentally, also Daphne from Scooby Doo, why do I feel mildly ill at the thought?
I posed this question on my Facebook page a couple of days ago and got the same thoughts back at me that I’d been thinking myself.
The gist of the commenters said what I’d been telling myself, “She can be whomever she chooses. It’s not about race. It’s about what she likes to watch on TV. It’s no big deal.”
And they are right. I was right. I went ahead and ordered the costume. She wants to dress as Daphne for her Scooby Doo themed birthday party. I will not say a word when she puts on the costume as I didn’t when she dressed as Snow White. When she dressed as Ruby Gloom/Tinkerbell.
I think what all these thoughts are telling me is this.
It’s not that fact that my child wishes to dress up as a white character. It’s the fact that most characters are white. It’s that there are so few reflections in the media for her that she only sees white.
It’s true that what we see reflects back on us, in all walks of life. And if the equality in children’s programming was more balanced, I would have less of an issue with it. But it’s not.
Basically, there’s nothing wrong with my child. What’s wrong is societal messages and media reflections. It’s time to change that.
I can’t do much with that. Sure, I could lobby and join groups that support media issues. But honestly, I’d rather spend my time being a mom and doing the best with what we’ve got. In time, all of this will change. I know it because I see it happening.
Every generation keeps the talks going along and eventually, equality and fairness will win out in the racial divide. I believe that wholeheartedly, although, I don’t think it will happen in my lifetime.
But for now, what I have to do is go out of my way to ensure that my daughter see whatever reflections that are there.
I’ve started coming up with a list of non-white characters that I will do my best to insert into her regular viewing. I’m not going to try to cut out white characters, but do whatever I can to show her that the others exist.
Off the top of my head I can think of exactly one black female cartoon character that Annika watches semi regularly.
As of today, it’s been a year since Trayvon Martin’s murder.
For a year, he’s been dead, cold and buried while his parents mourn. And his murderer hasn’t been tried. He’s out on bail, living. Albeit, he’s probably not living as he’d like to be living. But he’s not in jail. Nor is he dead and buried in the ground.
And nothing has changed.
Over the past year, we were initially outraged. Many people spent the first few weeks pounding their fists and demanding justice. Then quietly, it’s all sort of gone away.
George Zimmerman’s face appears on the news scene every once in a while. But there’s no outrage anymore. Quietly, we’ve all started to forget that a year ago, an unarmed 17-year-old boy was murdered on the street by a grown man who simply thought he looked suspicious.
Oh, there will be a trial eventually. Zimmerman’s team of lawyers will play it out as if he was defending himself against an angry, murderous man.
But the fact remains, Trayvon Martin is dead because of the way he looked. It’s that simple. And he’s dead. And nothing has changed.
When I look at the past history of this country, slavery, Jim Crow laws (separate but equal), affirmative action, school busing, all of it. I see a country trying to change. Laws demanding that we must start treating people equally.
But really, nothing will change until we begin to see people equally.
Imagine if Trayvon Martin was white and walking in the same neighborhood. Would he be dead? We don’t know for sure, but I feel certain that he wouldn’t. I think he would have gone unnoticed.
The fact is, in this country, when we look at black males, we see criminals. We fear. They are the wild cards in this country. We make them into something they are not. And that’s what George Zimmerman did that night.
And until we start looking past skin color and truly seeing people for who they are, nothing will change. No law can change prejudice.
Years ago, long before I met Toyin and long before Annika was a sparkle in my brain, I have this vague memory of being introduced to the idea that it’s important for people to be properly represented in the media.
This notion came by way of watching an interview with a Hispanic comedian who talked about his goal of finding ways to have more Latin faces on mainstream television, not just in their own shows, but in pop culture.
Initially, knowing me, I probably rolled my eyes. But it didn’t take long for the message to sink in when I began studying communications and found out just why representation is important in the media.
I could go into a long, boring explanation, but the gist is, media is part of our culture. Culture provides a reflection. And when you are not reflected in the media, there is a sense of loss. We are constantly looking for our reflections somewhere. In our parents, in our friends, in our daily lives. And that includes media. (It also probably explains a lot about why Facebook is so popular.)
There are people who will say that it doesn’t matter what’s on television, internet and magazines. That it only matters what’s inside. And I agree that it is important to have a solid sense of self. But what we see in our daily lives reflects back to us. Especially children, who are still building a solid sense of self. And since we cannot protect them from everything in the world, what they see in the media DOES matter. And it’s important that kids see positive things to reflect on.
While I’ve known that all this stuff is important, and that there are negatives reflected in the media, until the Trayvon Martin case and subsequent articles on the philosophy of our culture, I hadn’t done much research on what the media reflects back on black women.
According to this study, “Media, in short, are central to what ultimately comes to represent our social realities.” And, “… how we come to understand and perform gender is based on culture.”
The study goes to say that the majority of the representation of black women is either hyper-sexualized -think music videos, bitches and hos- or the traditional “mammy.” This study, btw was done on media from the mid-to-late 90s up through the mid 2000s.
The biracial female is raised up in status, making her the most desirable with lighter skin and typically straight hair. But she is also a “tragic mulatto.”
The study goes on to say that men of color are often just as guilty of perpetuating these stereotypes, as they are typically working for industries run by white men.
The study moves on and discusses other races, Asian women are exotic, yet subservient and ready for sex. Hispanic women are also exotic, but often portrayed with as little culture as possible, acting “white” or they are in very traditional roles, like maids (think Jennifer Lopez).
And Native American women are recast into a Western context, ignoring their culture completely.
Overall, none of this is all that new to me. But it burns a fire anew inside me to do my best to ensure that Annika gets as many positive characters inside her media intake as possible. It’s going to be hard though. She has recently taken a huge interest in fairies. And guess what, yeah, there’s only ONE black one.
Last week I got into a little disagreement on Facebook, through a comment thread on an acquaintance’s page. I left a comment saying that people who fly confederate flags are generally not the kind of people who a black man (or woman) might want to be caught in a dark alley with. My point was not so much that flying a confederate flag makes you a racist, but in my experience, they usually are.
Then I got called a racist. By a white guy from Mississippi. Which, as another commenter on the thread pointed out, was kind of humorous.
The whole thing was kind of silly. Serves me right for wasting my time commenting on threads of people I barely know.
I forgot about it, for a day. But then out of the blue a couple of days later it popped into my head and I began to wonder, “Am I starting to be a bit of a racist toward white people?”
And then I wonder, is that even possible? The notion that white Americans can cry racism is complex and debatable in communities like Detroit, where race tension often runs high. It’s an argument that would take an entire other post to fill.
But the issue at hand, a type of ism, which I will call whiteism, and really has little to do with people who actually fly confederate flags, before Annika was born, and even before I met Toyin, I held the same opinion of confederate flag fliers.
But getting called a racist is unnerving. It’s been a long time since it has happend to me. But it happened a number of times when I lived and worked in Detroit. Black people often pulled the race card out when I worked at a bank on the border of Detroit. And it pissed me off royally every single time.
So the comment struck a nerve with me and it made me start to think about how I view other white people now.
Now that it’s been four years of being the mom to a child of color, I realize that I often view other white people with an initial suspicion that I never did before. I never needed to. I am white, and in the past, there was no reason to associate me with people of another color. Even when Toyin and I were a couple, it wasn’t the same as being someone’s mom. I never took it all that personally or really cared what people thought of us.
But a mother cares and holds concern when the thought that some people might assume negative things about her child.
All the general stereotypes that I know are there about African Americans and mixed race mothers, float through my head when we go to the park, to the store, to school, wherever, in certain neighborhoods. It doesn’t matter what they are, but I wonder, even here in liberal Austin, if they are thinking them about me/us.
They probably aren’t. I try to brush the thoughts away, telling myself that most white people aren’t racist. Even the ones who are friendly, I wonder, just a tiny bit if they are thinking something negative about me.
It’s hard to brush away all the memories of being in a group of white people and hearing things that I know they wouldn’t have said if there was a black person in the room.
And it’s just the white people I wonder about. With black people, I feel more accepted by them than I did before.
Black people typically pick up that Annika is my daughter. The occasional brown skinned person has asked if she’s mine, but for the most part, they see it.
They can tell a biracial child from a black child. They know what it looks like and in their world, it’s just not as uncommon. Additionally, they aren’t looking at her skin color because it’s not a definer. They see her hair, her bone structure. They look at her face faster. It’s not something anyone has told me, but I see it. I can see that they are really looking at her and to them, she’s just a child, not a black child.
I generally feel a sense of welcome when a black person sees Annika and me together. They smile a bit bigger than I imagine they might have when she’s not with me. They see us and they know that I will see them as a person. And I wonder, if perhaps, it’s because they know right away that they can drop their suspicions about me.
It’s true. I’m not imaging it. I began to notice it when I was pregnant. The first time I noticed it was when Toyin and I went out to eat. Our waitress was a black woman and she was so friendly to me. I thought it was just because I was pregnant. Toyin said, maybe that was why, but his guess was that it was because she knew I was carrying a black child in my belly. “You’re one of us now,” he said.
So, in some manner, becoming a part of a culture that I was never entirely privy to, have I renegotiated my status in the other culture that I was once a part of?
It’s a question I wonder about. And it’s why I know, viscerally, that racism still exists. Because I feel it inside my bones and in my heart.
I have no answer to this question. I am not interested in coining a term or floating around a new race debate (not really new). But it’s just something I wonder and I know that I will likely never have a very good answer for.