As federal investigators are sorting out what exactly happened to Trayvon Martin, the young African-American boy shot and killed while walking through a neighborhood, I am wondering what parents are telling their kids? I am wondering what conclusions they are drawing about the participants and what advise they are offering to their teens and kids?
I have read several interesting perspectives on the story that I wanted to share with you and get your reaction. Our own Gracie Bond Staples talked with African-American parents about the rearing African-American boys in particular.
From the AJC’s story:
“…According to a 2010 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study, homicide was the leading cause of death for black males age 12-19.”
“In the weeks since young Trayvon Martin was gunned down in a gated community in Sanford, Fla., those truths have weighed heavily on black parents.”
“(Marlyn) Tillman, a community activist and empty nester, lives in a middle-class, predominately white Snellville neighborhood.”
“Ruben Brown, 48, lives with his wife and 14-year-old son in Atlanta and, while not the suburbs, it is hardly the ‘hood. But like Tillman, he knows their middle-class status in no way equals safety when it comes to his son.”
“Although worries about the safety of adolescents are not the province of just black families or parents of boys, Tillman, Brown and other parents say raising black boys is perhaps the most stressful aspects of parenting because they know they’re dealing with a society that is fearful and hostile toward them, simply because of the color of their skin.”
“At 14, Brown said his son is at that critical age when he’s always worried about his safety because of profiling.”
“ ‘I don’t want to scare him or have him paint people with a broad brush, but, historically, we black males have been stigmatized as the purveyors of crime and wherever we are, we’re suspect,” Brown said.”
“Black parents who don’t make that fact clear, he and others said, do it at their and their male children’s own peril.”
“ ‘Any African-American parent not having that conversation is being irresponsible,’ Brown said. ‘I see this whole thing as an opportunity for us to speak frankly, openly and honestly about race relations.’ ”
“Morehouse College associate professor Bryant Marks agreed, saying parents need to be vigilant in raising their boys, make them aware of how they are perceived in this country and give them the skills they need to survive.”
“ ‘Have the conversation about the police, tell them what to do when they are on foot or in a car,’ he said. ‘That conversation needs to happen. It acknowledges the bias out there, but let them know that they can succeed in spite of all of that.’ “
“Regardless of a family’s class or education, the challenge of bringing young black males safely to adulthood must be tremendous, said Richard Cohen, president of the Southern Poverty Law Center.”
“ ‘On the one hand, should they tell children to run when they are faced with suspicious and possibly dangerous circumstances such as a car following them, or should they stand still for fear that their running will be interpreted as some sort of evidence of guilt,” he said. “It’s a horrible, horrible Catch 22 for any parent or child on the street.’ ”
Which leads me to the ABC News report about how Martin was on the phone with his girlfriend when he thought he was being followed. She told him to run. But he told her he would not run. I wondered if that was from something his parents had told him about the Civil Rights era? I wondered if it was a pride thing or was he told never to run so he didn’t look guilty?
“He said this man was watching him, so he put his hoodie on. He said he lost the man,” Martin’s friend said. “I asked Trayvon to run, and he said he was going to walk fast. I told him to run, but he said he was not going to run.”
Eventually, he would run, said the girl, thinking that he’d managed to escape. But suddenly the strange man was back, cornering Martin.
“Trayvon said, ‘What are you following me for,’ and the man said, ‘What are you doing here.’ Next thing I hear is somebody pushing, and somebody pushed Trayvon because the head set just fell. I called him again, and he didn’t answer the phone.”
The final story I found particularly compelling is from The Washington Post. It talks about how the Trayvon Martin case reminds people of the 1960s when civil rights workers would vanish in Southern towns. Here is an excerpt:
“It feels like the not-so-long-ago ’60s, back when getting federal authorities to move quickly was often difficult. But this is a different era, however tragically similar the outcome.”
“The Trayvon Martin story has multiple layers: a black victim, a Hispanic man who did the shooting in Sanford, Fla. In Washington, the head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, Thomas E. Perez, is Hispanic. The attorney general of the United States, Eric H. Holder Jr., is a black man. The man who occupies the Oval Office, Barack Obama, is an African American. “
“And yet, even that arc of progress — while admired — hasn’t softened emotions and feelings.”
“ ‘It reminds you of Emmett Till,” said Bernadette Pruitt, an associate professor of history at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Tex., who has written about Southern racial history and can’t stop thinking of Trayvon Martin and his family. ‘This so-called post-racialism is a figment of our imagination. Race, unfortunately, is still the barometer by which everyone is measured.’ ”
So I am wondering if parents are feeling this echo from the past and explaining it in that framework? I am also wondering if they are using it as a teachable moment about history?
If you are an African-American parents what are you telling your boys (or girls)? What lessons should all parents be sharing with their kids from this?