Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Repost: On Trayvon Martin and a mom's worst fear

I've contributed to the Orlando Sentinel's Moms at Work blog since 2010. The blog is changing content management systems and my old posts will no longer be available to the public, so I'm reposting them here, in the order that they were originally posted.

March 21, 2012

Although I have obsessively read and re-read news stories about Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old Miami boy shot dead last month by a self-proclaimed neighborhood-watch captain in a Sanford community, I haven't been able to watch any television coverage of his mother speaking about her boy.

That's because Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon's mom, is living one of the things I fear most.

When I learned I was pregnant in early 2009, I told anyone who asked that it didn't matter whether I had a girl or boy. All I wanted, I said, was a healthy child. It wasn't until a sonogram showed the girlchild in my womb that I exhaled a long breath and was able to acknowledge what I'd hardly wanted to admit to myself: I didn't want a boy. I was actually terrified about the prospect of raising a black boy in America.

I was afraid, you see, of what happened to Trayvon. While it's not entirely clear that the man who killed Trayvon was animated by the boy's race, the news reports certainly made me wonder. Trayvon's death at the hands of a man who had reported him to authorities as "suspicious" reminded me of my worry that any educational, social or financial advantages my husband and I could give a hypothetical son might mean nothing in the face of someone who decided our son was a threat.

In the weeks since Trayvon's death, I've seen and heard my fear articulated dozens of times by other black parents who've confessed that the ghoul haunting their nightmares has suddenly been made real. They've spoken and written matter-of-factly about how they envy white friends who can approach parenting as a largely race-neutral exercise. With the names Sean Bell, Troy Davis and Oscar Grant on their lips, they talk about teaching their kids how to respond when stopped by the police. Moms and dads living in middle-class and upper-class communities shared experiences telling disappointed sons who still play with action figures and watch cartoons that there are people in the world who will consider them problematic just because of who the boys are -- and of their own sadness that they even have to discuss race with their children at all. They tell their active pre-teens not to ever, ever run in public. Over tea a few days ago, one mom told me that she'd preemptively set her teen son's curfew a full hour before the standard curfew time of his nonblack friends, because she worried that police in her suburb would not look kindly on him if they came upon him at night.

Trayvon Martin has been dead nearly a month. Gone is the cheerful, well-liked A- and B- student. Gone is the boy, like millions of teen boys before him, who called the girl he was sweet on as soon as he was out of his parents' sight. Gone is the kid in the universal teen-boy uniform of a hoodie, jeans and sneakers. Gone is the son of Sybrina and Tracy.

Trayvon has become to black parents in 2012 what I think Emmett Till was to our grandparents. He's a solemn story to tell in hushed tones. A name to hiss to a mouthy son who insists that "Things aren't like that anymore, Mom."

He's a mom's worst fear. He's a symbol.

One that won't be forgotten soon.

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