I think it’s safe to say that tensions are running high across the United States this week. Between the relentless heat pounding parts of the country and the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial, we are all feeling the tension and with that tension it brings hair trigger tempers. Can I suggest that we all step back and take a collective breath, breathe it out slowly and repeat at least two more times.

It used to be that the social code in our society demanded that there were a few subjects that we never discussed publicly namely, sex, religion, and politics. For some of the more sensitive or volatile among you, may I suggest that we add race to that list as well since we rarely discuss it in an open and honest fashion thus when cases such as Trayvon Martin make it to the mainstream media and our collective minds, many of us are all caught with our metaphorical pants down by our ankles and our private bits blowing in the wind.

At the not really ripe age of 40, I can recall one other specific time when race was on everyone’s mind yet true discussions were not really had…remember our ole pal O.J. Simpson? I remember the day that verdict was announced, I was eating lunch in a downtown Chicago steakhouse and was one of only a handful of Black patrons in the restaurant. It was a moment, I won’t ever forget. It was chilling.

Yet all these years later, despite so many surface changes when it comes to race in this country, nothing has really changed. For the most part, Americans live racially segregated lives either by choice or chance.  Unlike just a few decades ago where racism was the law of the land and outright bigotry was accepted, that is no longer the case. But while laws change, that doesn’t mean attitudes change, instead for many of us our bigotry is simply stuffed down and out of sight. We as a collective body have not unlearned racism; instead we painted over the ugly and unsightly wallpaper of our racial houses with cheap paint. Every few years we paint over it some more, telling ourselves that racism is gone and that all is well; our walls are in good shape. However as anyone who has ever dealt with painted over wallpaper can attest to, what you really do when you paint over the wallpaper rather than painstakingly removing the wallpaper and fixing the walls is to create a mess that eventually someone has to deal with.

In essence that is what this Trayvon Martin case has revealed to our nation, our racial walls are not in good shape, they are raggedy. Raggedy though is not always a bad thing, sometimes raggedy is what we need to get to the root and actually make true systemic change. In order though to be raggedy and make change we have to want it. As I learned in a diversity class many years ago in graduate school, we must be willing to open ourselves up and lay bare things about ourselves that are scary. We need to be willing to question our assumptions and if need be throw them in the garbage and start over from scratch.

This week, I have seen so many people of color namely Black people lay prostrate in order to be seen as fully human, I have also seen many white people get angry or ignore the pain of others. This unwillingness to engage even if there are missteps are part of why America finds itself in what I am calling a continual Do the Right Thing loop every decade or so.

Talking about race is hard, even in families such as mine that are multicultural; race talks are painful and at times polarizing. I am well aware that my use of social media to discuss race and specifically this case has been alienating to both my white friends and family members.  Last night my ex-husband called me to discuss this and while we do not see eye to eye about the case, as I told him he is entitled to his beliefs on the matter. Truthfully we are about 180 degrees apart on this case but I needed to hear him out and ask that he hear me out. Respectful discussions that respect the individual are the beginning of the process of change; not the tit for tat comparisons that often seem to substitute for real discourse in this ramped up digital age.

There also times when silence is not golden, and with a non-stop talker in my house, I enjoy silence but there are times when silence sends the signal that the pain of others is not worthy of your consideration. It is okay to admit to being helpless and not knowing what to do, but if one wants to create change when it comes to our collective racial walls, tell me that. Really, I want to hear it and as other mothers of color are expressing this week, they want to hear that too. This is a time where we can learn and help one another out, hell, I have a big mouth and plenty of thoughts I would be happy to give you some suggestions on what to do.

Note: As this blog grows it is clear that while it will never be a commercial space, it is a safe space where many feel they can come and read something meaningful. My inbox has far more emails in it than it used to have and it is clear that running this blog is more than just throwing a post up. After much though I have decided that I am going to bring the tip jar back, as always while a tip is a lovely gesture it is not expected but much appreciated. This space is a personal labor of love that I do because it gives me pleasure, so no pressure at all.

 

 

Kimani Gray, 16

Kendrec McDade, 19

Timothy Russell, 43

Ervin Johnson, 18

Amadou Diallo, 23

Patrick Dorsmond, 26

Ousmane Zongo, 43

Timothy Stansbury Jr., 23

Sean Bell, 23

Orlando Barlow, 28

Aaron Campbell, 25

Victor Steen, 17

Steven Eugene Washington, 27

Alonzo Ashley, 29

Wendell Allen, 20

Ronald Madison, 40

James Brisette, 17

Travares McGill, 16

Ramarley Graham, 18

Oscar Grant, 22

These are just some of the Black men and boys in recent years who have been killed, all unarmed and all part of a pattern  that any reasonable person might deduce suggests that America has a problem with the mere existence of Black men and boys.

I wish I could say that the verdict this weekend in the trial of George Zimmerman was truly a surprise and that I was shocked. I am many things but shocked is not one of them. Instead I am sad, sad that in the end, a grown man was entitled to his fear and a right to protect himself but that a teenager was not entitled to his fear of the unknown.

Clearly much has been written about the Trayvon Martin case, and I have read so many amazing pieces that I almost wonder, what else is there to say? Yet in the end I am struck as the mother and sister of young Black men, how common it is to deny Black men their own humanity. Frankly Black women are not exactly allowed the whole spectrum of emotions either, since typically we are reduced to simply being either angry or strong.

However for our boys and men, they are not even deemed worthy of anger or strength, instead they are simply beings in the eyes of many who must be annihilated before they harm someone.  Much was made during the trial of some of Trayvon’s habits, all in an attempt to reduce him to less than in the eyes of the law.  Children, especially teenagers, are known for doing things that sometimes are right and sometimes wrong, this growth stage is a given for White youth but for Black youth, it means that even if you are killed, you will be judged and judged harshly for doing things that for White youth may even be seen as a rite of passage.

Today I participated in a roundtable discussion with other mothers, many Black and the one commonality among the Black mothers that we shared was fear, fear that this society built on the backs of a stolen people and stolen land will eventually steal our sons.  As Black mothers we must steal parts of our son’s youth and innocence in an attempt to keep them alive but at what cost? To keep ours son’s alive means that we too must take their humanity, yet what is the cost for stolen humanity? My son answered that indirectly when we texted one another after the verdict was announced, anger and to be young, gifted and black.

I am not a weeper, weeping isn’t my thing, but this Saturday night I wept. I wept as I watched a press conference where getting a client off in the wake of a child’s death should not be a reason for smiles of joy. I wept for a young life cut down before it even had a chance to really start. I wept for parents who had to bury a beloved child and yet must be strong and endure. Their son was denied his humanity for simply daring to walk down the street and the parents even in grief are denied their humanity because they must appear respectable and thus palatable to the general public even while grieving the unimaginable. I wept for the mothers who sat and listened to this story with the somber realization that what happened to Trayvon could happen to our boys. I wept for a nation that has stuck a giant gauze pad on its oozing and festering racial sores but won’t dare to truly pull it off so that we can become a healthy nation.

List of names courtesy of The Root

 

The Wild, Wild West of Race Relations

I have to confess that whenever I write about race in this space, I feel a pang of momentary discomfort…why, you ask? Because inevitably a reader will tell me either via email or a comment that I am being sensitive, that they don’t see race, all people are equal or some variation of that sentiment. The subtle implication is that as a Black woman, I am creating mountains out of molehills.  

The news cycle of the past week was the reminder that 92% of the time if my intuition says that race is an issue, I am most likely right. This past week was one for the books as far as happenings here in the US, to quote humor blogger Luvvie “This week has given me outrage fatigue syndrome.” The United States Supreme Court also known in certain circles as the SCOTUS (by the way, is it me, or does SCOTUS sound like a nasty infection?) handed out some real life changing decisions. For the most part though the SCOTUS let it be known that in their minds racism is dead. Alrighty, now!  

If race and racism were dead, we would not be witnessing the explosion of the high priestess of butter and sugar’s empire. Paula Deen, a marginal cooking personality with dubious Southern recipes (pretty sure her red cake recipe was my grandma’s, but it is all good) learned that not bothering to change and become more accepting and or tolerant of diversity is no longer simply PC, feel good shit. The inability to be tolerant and or accepting of difference will come back and tear a hole in your ass. You cannot admit that you have referred to Black people as niggers, dream of slave themed weddings and create work conditions that are hostile to people of color and not expect to suffer for it. Paula may not have known that before but she does now.

This past week the trial started for George Zimmerman; the self-appointed neighborhood watchman who thought a Black teenager, Trayvon Martin armed with iced tea and skittles was soooo threatening that he had to shoot and kill him.  However as the trial kicked off this week, everyone’s attention has been on Rachel Jeantel, the young woman who was on the phone with Trayvon before he was killed. Turns out many people including fellow Black people don’t find Rachel Jeantel to be the best representation of all that is Black. She is large, she is dark, she does not speak the King’s English in a manner that is pleasing to many white and Black people, and therefore she is a problem.

I have read countless articles and blog posts on Rachel Jeantel and watched a few of the video clips of her testimony and all I could think is what is the problem? For starters, she lost a friend, not only did she lose a friend; she was on the phone with him when his life was senselessly snuffed out by a vigilante, wanna be John Wayne type. Add in the fact that she was just 18 when this happened, my goodness, how traumatic.

America has never been particularly kind to Black folks, we are never allowed to slowly grow up and become fully formed and actualized beings. If we, did Trayvon would still be alive because Zimmerman would have acknowledged Trayvon’s youth and humanity rather than putting him the dangerous box. In Rachel Jeantel, we see the youthful air of pride and defiance that is accepted in young whites but in young Blacks, it will always be seen as a negative.

Rachel Jeantel is a young, multilingual woman from a working class background, for that she is branded as “ghetto” because she does not measure up to certain standards of what is truly acceptable and respectable. By the way, who decides what is acceptable? Is there a department of acceptable and respectable?   Of course those of us who have been on this rock long enough, see signs that the media wants to put Rachel in her box. When a person of color can’t be figured out or does not assimilate well, you the person of color becomes the problem. It is easier to brand someone else more problematic than it is to check our own assumptions. To check our own assumptions require heavy emotional and mental lifting, it means that we open ourselves to the possibility of having our world view not only shattered but learning that the very foundation that we sit on may be nothing more than hay.  

In the end, to quote an online pal, “we are living in the wild, wild, west of race relations in America.”  We may have a Black man and his family living in the White House, but that does not mean racism died in November 2008, in many ways we opened up a new chapter in our nation’s racial history, one that intersects with class and requires that we eventually acknowledge this intersectionality.

 

 

 

Black History Month and the Lies We Tell

It’s Black History Month here in the US, that time of year where we supposedly honor the contributions of Black Americans to this great nation of ours by giving Black folks their very own special month… all 28 days. Oh, Black History Month is a glorious time, where we lift up the acceptable and safe Black folks such as Rosa Parks and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and where we get to feel good and pat ourselves on the back because Black folks can now sit in the front of the bus, drink from any water fountain and now they can even become president. It’s a glorious time I tell you…not.

I know that this post is going to piss a few people off and that is okay, I will probably lose a few readers and that is okay too. Life is too short for me to be anything but honest and intentional in all that I do.

The sad sack reality is that most Americans are no more vested or interested in Black Americans than they were fifty or sixty years ago, it’s just that it is no longer socially acceptable to say that. Instead we pretend to care and value everyone but our actions speak louder than our words, sure we might have a Black friend or two. Hell, if we live in a large, diverse, urban area we might even have more than two Black friends, shit we might even date or marry Black people. Imagine that! However for the vast majority of White Americans at the end of the day they live and love in communities of people that look just like them. I say that with no judgment because frankly it cuts both ways, my hometown despite being the 3rd largest city in the United States and the 88th largest city in the world is an extremely segregated place. Sure, in the downtown and near north side lakefront communities you will see a diverse array of people but overall blacks live with blacks, whites’ lives with whites, etc.

Which brings me to my point, in my hometown last year, 440+ school aged children were shot, 60+ were killed. A few names like that of Heaven Sutton, a seven year old girl who was shot and killed outside of her house while standing with her mother where they were  selling snacks; made the national news, most dead brown kids are simply a footnote.  Think about that for a moment, a little kid outside her house selling snacks with her mother is shot and killed. Heaven’s story made the national spotlight but most of the 60+ kids killed in 2012 in Chicago weren’t deemed important enough for their stories to be shared far and wide. Just another day in Black America, where violence has reached epic proportions and kids no longer dream of growing up to become a teacher or an astronaut, they dream that they simply live long enough to grow up.

A few days ago, a young lady with a promising future, Hadiya Pendleton’s life was cut short by a bullet. However Hadiya’s story is making the news because you see, just a week before her life was cut short, she had performed at President’s Obama inauguration. Hadiya’s life ended just a mile away from Obama’s home in Chicago. Hadiya got caught in the rain and took cover under a canopy and a gunman started shooting. Truly a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but for hundreds of black and brown kids in Chicago, they are caught in the wrong place at the wrong time all the time; as public streets and parks, places which should be safe, are no longer safe spaces. Yet while some grumble and complain, it’s business as usual where if you have the means you move your family to a safer place and if you don’t have the means, you live on your knees praying and hoping that your kids come home every day and that you don’t receive a call or knock at the door. This violence has been going on for years, it didn’t used to be like that but I am convinced as the divide widens between the have and the have-nots life is not valued.

On the flip side, late last year when 26 precious souls lost their lives to gun violence in Newtown, CT it captured the nation’s attention. Discussions started, a task force was formed and for once a real dialogue about gun violence in this country was launched. It’s too early to see where these actions will go but the point is people want change. The mass shootings have reached a point of no return and even some people who are very comfortable with the second Amendment are willing to admit, maybe, just maybe we need to see what we can do so that little kids aren’t being slaughtered in the one place they should be safe…school.

From my perch, I hate to state the obvious, but I will. See, the souls lost in the Sandy Hook tragedy were primarily white and of comfortable means. In America, schools and streets must be safe for white middle class kids, sadly though that same concern often is not extended to black and brown kids (or financially vulnerable whites either). Maybe it’s because no matter what we tell ourselves at the end of the day, we just aren’t as vested in people who are not like us and therefore we can’t feel for them on the same level. It might be the same reason that it took weeks for news of the death of Trayvon Martin to capture the nation’s attention and that is only because black and brown activists refused to let Trayvon’s story go untold because as mother’s and father’s we all knew our boys could be the next Trayvon.

As we enter Black History Month I find myself wondering what point is there in glorifying dead great Black Americans when at the end of the day, Black life is simply not valued or equal to white life. No matter how many times we tell ourselves that things are equal, our words are cheap because our actions as a collective whole tell a different story.

Why are you people so angry?

One of the greatest things about social media is that it allows cross cultural dialogues and exchanges to happen, the downside though is that sometimes people in a place of privilege get tired of hearing the unprivileged folks vent. This point was brought home a few days ago as a fellow tweep on Twitter mentioned terms he was adding to his filter as he was sick and tired of hearing the talk about said topics. The terms included Zimmerman and Martin. While there plenty of white folks that care as deeply about the Trayvon Martin case as Black folks, there are many more who think that sucks, but oh well. Let’s be honest for many if it’s not their kids or family members that live with a potential bull’s-eye on their back, it can be hard to be vested in these cases. Of course that’s part of why true change never happens, it’s why despite being 2012 and all the so-called progress with regards to race the sad fact is we are going backwards.

That point was made clear to me today as I dealt with life and the tax man, when a few stories ran across my radar. To be honest, I had no intention of blogging, but after watching this first story, I knew I had to vent in this space. Frankly fellow blogger Renee over at Womanist Musings wrote a great piece that demands that you read it. However knowing that people hate clicking links, I am adding the video at the end of this post and will give you the quick and dirty version. Over in Sweden, as part of World Art Day celebrations, a cake was made shaped to look like an African woman and representing female genital mutilation and to really just be offensive as shit we had the artist in Black face at the head of the cake as the head of the woman moaning and yelling as party goers including Sweden’s Minister of Culture and others delightfully cut into the cake and enjoyed themselves. Um….you didn’t think that shit was offensive on any levels. Just cut into a cake representing a woman being hurt, a Black woman complete with someone in Black face moaning and yelling and no one has the good sense to be offended or disturbed. Alright now.

Closer to home, a six year old child who happens to be Black threw a temper tantrum at school and apparently little Salecia Johnson was so scary that the cops had to be called. Well the cops decided this girl was so scary that she deserved to be handcuffed. Just another day in Black America, our kids get shot and killed when all they are trying to do is get home with the Skittles and iced tea to catch a basketball game. They go to school and have behavioral issues but rather than seeking help, we think it’s alright to handcuff em.

It’s stories like this that make me feel helpless, so helpless that from my cozy perch here in Maine, all I can do is bring awareness to these incidents. Thankfully social media makes that possible and yes, I do get angry and yeah, I probably do bring down your mood, but until we live in a world where all people get the respect they deserve as human beings, I will not stop being mad. Instead I hope as you look at your loved ones you will join me in getting mad so we can create that world where all our friends and loved ones are safe. Where angry white men (or that’s what they call themselves) won’t decide to take out their anger on any old Black person and shoot and kill people just trying to live life.

Our choices and the deck we play

When we enter this world, no matter who we are or where we are born, we are dealt a deck of cards; that deck of cards we are receive at birth often will determine the life we lead years later. Granted there are always the outliers who break the mold but by and large the hand we are dealt will serve as a reminder in our adult years that life is not fair, equal or just.

Let’s see, in that deck of cards we are served upon arriving earth side, is a gender card, a race card, a nationality card, a religion card (now this one of the few cards that upon adulthood, we can choose to swap out or completely discard) and a socio-economic card. In a fair and just world, that deck of cards would be meaningless but the fact is that deck of cards matter very much.

Years later, we often have to make choices, yet the very choices we make in our lives is actually determined by a deck of cards that we were dealt that we had no choice in choosing. I mean, it’s not as if we can pick up our cards and swap out being a poor person for being a wealthy one. The issue of choice and how free we are to make choices came to mind this morning as I read the hubbub surrounding Ann Romney, the wife of the presumed GOP nominee for president. Seems Hilary Rosen, a Democratic strategist made a comment that Ann Romney never worked a day in her life, Ann came back out swinging taking to the social media airwaves that she has worked very hard raising 5 kids and that was the choice she made.

To be fair here Hilary Rosen was an ass, raising kids is hard work, regardless of if you are wiping your ass with $100 bills. I mean shit, 5 kids is 5 kids! That said, Ann Romney is being a tad disingenuous, let’s face it Ann married well, and that choice created an environment that allowed her to make the choices she has made. By all accounts or at least the good folks of Wikipedia, Ann wasn’t exactly born into a poor family, nope access to good private schools created the situation where she had access to others from pretty decent families.

In a society that likes to live in a fantasy world that we are all created equal and have access to the same opportunities, I am frankly getting tired of this farce. The reality is we do have choices but the choices we get to make are determined in many parts by factors that we don’t get to control.

In the days and weeks since Trayvon Martin was killed, some have stated that if only he hadn’t worn a hoodie he would still be alive. Come now… a child’s decision to wear a hoodie did not play a role in his death. Racism, bigotry, and bias are choices we as a society have made that decides to see certain people as perpetrators no matter what they are doing. Frankly, I think Trayvon could have been wearing a tuxedo and George Zimmerman still would have made the choice he made which was to kill a young man simply for the crime of walking down the street nervous because a strange man in a large car was following him.

In the end, we all make choices, we have too, its part of this experience we call living life but let’s not kid ourselves that we all have the ability to make the same choices because we don’t. Who and what we are shape the decisions and choices we make.

Hate is the new Black

Sometimes trends and styles become all the rage and you wonder why or how…after all the 1980’s had some pretty horrendous styles, why are they coming back? On a serious note and this is a serious matter, hate and ignorance appear to be at an all-time level and many of us are wondering, how is this even possible?

In 2008, so many truly wanted to believe that as a nation we had turned a corner with regards to racism; after all we elected Barack Obama president, surely that meant we were post-racial. As we quickly learned, Obama’s ascent to the White House did not mean we were over the racial hump in this country. In the past several years the level of bigotry and hate are rising and when these cases are brought to light, many of us take to our blogs, our groups, etc. and discuss it but nothing changes.

Creating change that will last is going to take more than sharing links on stories and having twitter conversations. Don’t get me wrong, these are good starting points. But as the Trayvon Martin case highlights, many of us are clueless when it comes to talking race and racism. Just this morning, I read this piece where a white mother ponders how do we discuss the evil that is racism with white kids…you just do it, to quote the old Nike slogan.

Too many of us, and I have been guilty of this at times, live in a circle where we surround ourselves with people who are like us, in many cases that means the people we call our friends and family are the same race and ethnicity as us. Or they have similar leanings as us, so in other words when we do discuss weighty matters such as bigotry, hate, and racism, we are essentially having a circle jerk and then we wonder why nothing changes. One of my favorite bloggers, The Field Negro in this post sums it up brilliantly “The thing is, far too many of you so called progressive thinking people have been fooled into thinking that A-merry-ca is this forward thinking place full of enlightened people. You watch too many commercials with hip interracial friends getting along while sipping beer and playing with puppies. That is not A-merry-ca. That is what Madison Avenue wants A-merry-ca to be.” I agree with Field 100%, we have been jerking ourselves and bought into the dream that America is this enlightened place and sadly it is not.

What happened to Trayvon Martin frankly is only shocking in that it was a civilian who pulled the trigger since typically it is a law enforcement officer, otherwise its business as usual and yet we act like this is something new. Then we have what happened to 32 year old Shaima Alawadi an Iraqi mother of 5 living in El Cajon, CA, she was found beaten to death with a note left saying go back to your country, you are a terrorist. This wasn’t the first time the family had received such a note but they brushed it off, didn’t report it and now 5 children are motherless. As we are seeing more Iraqi refugees in the area that my agency is serving, this case chilled me to my core. I know there are ignorant people with biases, hell I have been in professional meetings where people have made disparaging comments. Hate is real.

Hate and bigotry will only cease to be fashionable when we get off our collective asses and step outside of our comfort zone. When as parents we talk about the hard and uncomfortable stuff early in life before our kids start to internalize societal messages that say white is best and everything else sucks. If we have no friends or acquaintances of difference, we need to ask ourselves why? Thanks to technology, even if you live in the whitest state in the country, you can connect with others. Do it! If we fancy ourselves progressives, maybe we need to start the dialogue with conservatives so we can create a middle ground rather than 2 opposing ends of the spectrum.

Hate may be the new Black, but it doesn’t have to be that way.

Hoodies don’t kill, but ignorance and hate do

It’s Friday, the ole man’s birthday is tomorrow and despite the ever-changing state of our lives, we are still each other’s best friend, so my mind was on cake baking and all that good jazz. However this morning while sipping my daily joe to get my motor started, I stumbled into some online stupidity. It seems America’s favorite *smirk* journalist Geraldo Rivera decided to take to the twitter and explain that Trayvon Martin was killed because he was wearing a hoodie. BGIM say what????

Of course twitter lit into his ass with all it had but it doesn’t take away from the fact that there really are people who believe that if people of color wear certain clothes or do certain things that we will decrease the likelihood of having a cap busted in our ass. To that I say please read this post by the Black Snob, she breaks it down in a way that frankly I don’t have the writing chops to do.

There are simply people who for whatever reason refuse to see the humanity of Black people and what we wear or what we do is irrelevant. The fact is that some of the best thugs dress in thousand dollar suits and are very white! Do the names Bernie Madoff, Dick Cheney and George W. Bush mean anything to you? All old white guys who are pure fucking criminals and thugs, they don’t wear hoodies but trust me; they are thugs of the highest order. As someone reminded me Dick Cheney is such a thug, he shot a so-called friend in the face and no one said boo! Call me late to lunch, but that is some Tony Montana shit…straight thuggery, but I digress.

I am realizing that the death of an innocent child is causing us as a collective to start an honest dialogue on race in the United States and while generally I would say that is good, fact is for many this seems to be painful. Change is painful and generally discussions on such serious matters are meant to cause you to feel something internally, growing pains are very real. Yet when you try not to feel that discomfort or worse yet try to co-op the feelings and experiences of people of color, you then become part of the problem. The reason we have never advanced beyond seeing race is because no one wants to get raggedy, well let’s not let a child’s death be in vain, let’s work towards a world where one day any child can wear a hoodie without fear they will lose their life.

Now let me get back to my baking…happy weekend!

Racism and hate affect us all

I read this post this morning by Arwyn over at Raising My Boychick, and while I know most of y’all don’t click the links, I implore you to read her piece. It’s worth the click. It dawned on me after reading her post that we are all victims when racism and hate win out. In the near month since Trayvon Martin was killed and the outrage has grown, the focus has been on the plight of young black men who are clearly targeted. Yet the sad truth is we all lose when these types of hateful and cowardice acts occur.

The thing is, many white folks will offer their condolences and sympathy when these acts occur and many will even admit they are glad they won’t know ever know the possible pain of losing a son to hate, but the reality is that is a rather simplistic way of looking at things.  As Arwyn rightly points out in her piece while her son may never be the target, he sure could grow up to pull the trigger and if that happens it’s not one Mama who loses a son but two.

It’s no secret now that in Black families we raise our kids with frank discussions about race and difference from an early age. We know too well that we don’t have the luxury or privilege of ignoring it and waiting until we deem that our kids are ready. Yet the sad fact is that while many white families think they have the luxury of ignoring race and difference, the reality is you don’t either.

If you wait until your kid is 6 or 7 or even older to talk race and difference, it’s too late. By the time you decide to have the talk, your child has already figured out the many ways in which whiteness is prized and darkness is not and the seeds are planted that could possibly harvest a rotten harvest decades later.

I think very few people in 2012 intentionally set out to raise racist kids but in almost 4 years of working primarily with low income white youth, trust me when you don’t talk race and difference, they learn hate from the greater world. My center in the past year has experienced a browning due to an influx of Sudanese and Iraqi refugees settling in our area. A few weeks ago, several of our Iraqi kids were speaking in Arabic when a lovely girl who happens to be white told them “You are in America, knock it out and speak English” We were all stunned and knowing this child’s family, I doubt she learned that at home, but in the greater world. I encounter similar incidents when young white kids attempt to speak to me in some half assed Ebonics they heard on television…mind you I don’t speak that way at work and I doubt their parents do. My point being that if we don’t establish a good foundation for our kids, someone else will do it and may not be nice.

To paraphrase Sabrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother at a rally “Trayvon is not just her son, but all our son’s, this is a not a white or black thing” It really isn’t and until we start getting serious about realizing that, the cycle of hate that creates a George Zimmerman will continue. As I tweeted earlier today, I can’t imagine George’s mother is too happy knowing that daily the odds are increasing that her son will be locked up. In the end two sons lose because of hate. It’s no longer enough to strive to be a good person and not actively hate, you need to do more and your kids need to see it early on.

 

 

Teenagers are people too!

Over the past week, I have spoken to many on and offline about the Trayvon Martin case and one thought came up that I have heard few people seriously talk about; of course it’s easy to focus on the obvious factors that Florida has silly laws (Stand Your Ground is insane…sorry) and the clear racism that played a role in this case. But as a buddy and fellow mom pointed out to me, this is also about the sad fact that teenagers in our culture seem to have little value.

For all the talk of bettering the world for our kids, it seems we as a whole tend not to see teenagers and don’t value them. I see this a great deal in my work and sometimes in dealing with professional colleagues it’s clear that we don’t know the place of teens in our society. Are they kids? Or are they mini adults that need to be molded in our exact image? No one seems to know.

Once upon a time in a world far away, there was no official teenage-hood, you had kids and then at a certain age kids were considered adults. Then somewhere along the line came the recognition that teens were also kids yet we have never truly valued them and respected them in my opinion. It’s easy to recognize that in just the lack of public spaces we allocate for teens, that we don’t see them. In the childhood years, we tend to have public spaces and a plethora of programs for kids, acknowledging that kids need their own spaces. Yet let them become teenagers and all of sudden there are no teen spaces.

Instead we complain when we see them in public spaces, over the past decades we have seen inane rules restricting their access to public spaces such as malls, we limit their access to movies and the list the goes on. Then we wonder why teens appear angry and surly. You would be angry too, if your very presence seemed to annoy people especially if you were in a group with your friends.

While teenage black males are a prime target to be viewed with suspicious eyes thanks to the racism that we try to say doesn’t exist, the fact is teenagers in general are viewed with suspicion unless they are superstars…straight A’s, involved in sports, etc. Whenever any crime happens and involves teenagers we are quick to assert whether or not said teenager was a good kid or not. I often joke if you are a teenager and something bad happens, if you are “good” society sees you as a kid, if you are “bad” well we really try to push you into adult status as a way to deal with the conflicts we have when it comes to teenagers.

I recently blogged about mothering older kids and heard from a few folks in the trenches but by and large most had no words of wisdom, either because they haven’t reached that stage with their own kids or simply don’t know how you mother teenagers and young adults.

In the case of Travyon, he was clearly one of the “good” ones which is one of many reasons his case is finally getting the attention that it deserved from day one. Yet I find myself wondering if Trayvon had been prone to trouble as teens are sometimes prone to do (trust me I was that teenager…I got into lots of trouble) would that have colored people’s opinions and thus led to less public outcry aside from the Black community?

Teens are people too and we need to see them and value their unique being and place in our society. Just like adults and kids they need respect too!