I’m late to the conversation about Trayvon Martin. Or rather, I’m late committing to writing the conversation that’s been going on in my house and in the media and in my head for weeks. Last weekend, I read Leonard Pitts’ column to my husband at the breakfast table and choked on the last lines. I wept when I heard the 911 tape of the dispatcher telling Zimmerman to stop following him (I can’t bring myself to listen to the other one). And like anyone with a soul, I am more outraged the more I hear. It’s a tragedy beyond measure that fills me with despair.
So, why wouldn’t I write about such an important thing? I could blame finals week, when I’m so busy grading portfolios and tracking down plagiarists and finalizing grades I can’t possibly find time to write. But if I’m perfectly honest, it’s not that. I’m a gifted enough procrastinator that I could have found time and place to write about Trayvon Martin if I really wanted to.
It turns out I’m just chicken. I’m a white, middle-class woman who lives in the suburbs, and I am afraid to write about race. I’m afraid to get it wrong or to presume that I have anything at all to add to the conversation. I’m not the black woman whose son was shot in cold blood. I’m not the black woman who was mistaken for a prostitute when she was a guest at the Beverly Hills Hotel. I’m not the white mother of a black child who had to introduce her son to her new white neighbors so they wouldn’t think he was breaking into her house every time he got locked out. I’m not a woman who worries about what it will be like to have black sons or daughters.
But this morning, I caught wind of Geraldo's inane, deliberately inflammatory Tweets. What sent me over the edge was that Geraldo blamed, of all people, parents, for not telling their children not to dress like “gangstas.” He went on to say, “look like a gangsta and some armed schmuck will take you at your word.”
Finally, the free floating rage and despair that have been flickering around the edges of my conscience for the last couple of weeks congealed into a hot, white flash.
It’s cringey and creepy enough that he actually used the word “gangsta,” but take you at your word? What words would those be, exactly? “I am a criminal?” “I don’t belong here?” “I am up to no good?” “Please shoot me in the chest?” Is that what the hoodie said, Geraldo? It makes me so angry I shake when I write it.
Yes, as a mother, it is my job to try to keep my children safe. I tell them not to walk alone in the dark. I tell them to buckle their seatbelts, to say no to drugs, to call home.
But I do not tell them that wearing a hoodie -- which both of them, both girls, do with some regularity -- will get them killed, although I might tell them to wear one on a rainy night. Do I tell them not to wear short skirts or low-cut shirts? Sometimes, but that’s because I’m an uptight suburbanite who thinks it looks tacky, not because I think it is an invitation to rapists. Rapists are criminals who are motivated by violence, not sexual attraction, and George Zimmerman is a racist who was looking for an excuse to shoot a black man -- and settled for a black boy instead. Nothing that anyone does or does not wear justifies crimes against them, ever.
In the stream of verbal vomit that is Geraldo’s Twitter feed, he bemoaned the fact that he “had to be the one to remind minority parents that risk comes with being a minority kid in America.”
You know what? Fuck you, Geraldo. If you think there’s a single minority parent in this country who doesn’t know that already then you are even more of a self-deluded narcissist than we already knew.
I can’t imagine what it must feel like for Trayvon Martin’s grieving parents to hear that they somehow failed their son by not warning him about the dangers of his sartorial choices. It doesn’t take a sophisticated understanding of race relations, or being a minority, or being a parent, to be outraged by that. All it takes is being human.