Rebecca Morean

Turning Over Stones

Rebecca Morean

Rebecca Morean
Yellow Springs, Ohio,
April 25
Associate Professor
Sinclair Community College and The Antioch Writers' Workshop
Novelist and mom. Dog walker and goat milker. Warrior against the ravages of ignorance (and time). Addicted to popcorn and sea coasts. Loves Rocks. (Also known as Abbey Pen Baker for one particular series.)


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MARCH 29, 2012 3:15PM

Pacifiers and Hoodies

Rate: 22 Flag





Last month, in Complicity, I wrote how infuriated I became when confronted with a white woman who shared with me her unsolicited world view: “They can’t follow instructions….Black people.”  The second to last paragraph garnered angry letters and comments.  I concluded the piece by writing about our family’s move just a mile outside our integrated town to an all white, rural street. 


             "When I moved several months ago, a mile from our old home, to just  outside Yellow Springs, I ran around and introduced myself to my neighbors, who are now all white, casually mentioning my younger daughter is Korean and my son African American, and that he often forgets his house key, so please don’t shoot him if you see him prowling around the house and breaking in through a window. This was offered with a smile and a plate of cookies my son made. " 

I was accused of over reaction.  That I was a “white racist.”  That I was painting white folks in rural communities with a kind of NASCAR-NRA-shoot-first-ask-questions-later brush. 

The issues, however, are far more nuanced.  If the problem could be that easily identified, Trayvon Martin would not be dead.   

In Blink, Malcolm Gladwell  illustrates the neuroscience of racism in the second half of his book on decisions we make in nanoseconds.  From trusting “intuition,” to make rock solid conclusions, correctly identifying a forged piece of art for example, he then moves to explain the downside of snap decisions and racism reigns at the forefront of that discussion.  He even explains how, even though he is half African American, his response time associating positive qualifiers to people of color was slower than when he associated these same qualifiers for white people.  

I get this.  I get ingrained stereotypes and how people fight them everyday in small and large ways. That there are covert forms of racism and prejudice. 

What is undeniable is the fact Trayvon Martin was not shot in a blink of an eye, or because of the horrid tragedy of our own horrid history lying latent in someone’s mind.  As tragic and inexcusable as that set of circumstances would be, his death is even more horrific.  And jaw dropping baffling his killer walks free. 

Trayvon is dead because of the potent and deadly cocktail of fear and racism chased with expansive gun rights and a grandiose cowboy mentality.  This in a country which consistently finds suspicion with intellectuals and finds resonance with brutality and force and, ironically, the "rights" of the individual. 

As a white parent of a black child, I watch daily how everything I understood intellectually, is now punishing my heart and generating real fear for my son.  As he has grown, my fear has grown visceral. 

When John was little, everyone, even strangers were supportive and sweet and kind.  He was adorable—wispy down soft hair, burbling giving away to soft babbling and then to speech.  Now, at 13, he stands in the mirror looking twice Trayvon’s age, perfecting the teenage blank stare, hoodie up.  He does not understand how some people will think that stare is a threat to their life.  

Two months ago, I left the movie theater with my two youngest.  Walking across the parking lot, John started rough housing with this sister.  There was grabbing and squealing.  She’s tiny and cute, and impossibly loud.   I saw four people get out of their cars and watch him.  Hoodie up, they could not have seen his face, which was full of younger brother glee.  I walked fast to catch him and put my arm around his shoulders and then behind closed car doors, I  lectured them both for the millionth time about the dangers of acting out in public and not to do it.  I never had this talk with my two older white children.  There was not the fear one of them would be shot. 

I am plagued with a recurring nightmare that burrowed its way into my psyche after Ohio passed its conceal and carry law. I am sitting in a parked car.  John is grown, big, tall, his face wildly expressive and he is laughing really hard, head thrown back, and then I start to tickle him and he me.  We are laughing and tackling each other.  Suddenly we are showered in bullets, the windshield exploding.  He is dead, covered in blood.  I am screaming.  White people surround the car and ask if I am all right.  They do not understand he is my son.  They are convinced he was hurting me.  They won’t let me touch him.  I can’t speak. 

I’ve had this dream four times and I never have nightmares. 

John will stand close to seven feet tall.  When I first heard this from the pediatrician, I knew his manners would have to be impeccable.  His mere presence will be seen as a threat.  I will fear for him the rest of my life.


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I can't add anything either.

On top of everything else, you are living with teenagers.
Yes, walking down the street with your 3 yr. old and clenching your fist when you pass a Black person, certainly does skew the kid's worldview forever.....
I wrote in a comment on another post that I teach AP English comp to young, tall black men in hoodies, and sometimes pants below their butts, in the Bronx. Hello--they're all going to college. They excel. I can't believe you have to fear for your son the way you do--I'm so tired of people's ignorance in this regard.
This just breaks my heart.
Thanks for sharing this, Rebecca. Wishing only peace and a long, healthy, happy life for you and your children.
Can't imagine being a mother with children... hope the force is with you and them.
With all due respect to all of this, it never fails to amaze me how people talk, talk, talk, about this case and it’s mostly race, race, race– which is totally legitimate for that is the ugly underbelly in America. This infestation of racism pollutes our body politic and is a disgrace on a great Nation.

But what troubles me most is that people also talk, and jabber hysterically about this law when they haven’t even troubled themselves to go read the freakin’ statute  so they might at least have a thimble full of knowledge demonstrating they have a clue what they are talking about.  Essentially it comes down to what Randolph McLaughlin, attorney for the family of Kenneth Chamberlain said speaking about that case on Democracy Now and comparing the police there to Zimmerman here. You can’t provoke a situation and then respond to it, "Oh, I had to use deadly force to protect myself."  That really is all of it in a nutshell. Superbly stated.

But if we are going to trash a law (when the real trash is law enforcement) we should at least go read it. This is easy. This is not rocket science.  If anyone is going publish their opinions credibility helps.  The law in question here is really simple enough for a 17-year old to understand.

Read "Trayvon Martin: Defense a Pig-Sty Beneath a Racist Facade?"  as well as the follow up commentary and I think you will agree that the ONLY person who can rely on this law as a defense is Trayvon Martin.

Indeed, even as to the alleged fight that broke out the legal consequence is the same. Under the plain and simple language of this law and the facts as we know them, The ONLY man with a right to stand his ground was Trayvon Martin and the only one legally authorized by law to meet force with force as that 6' 3" 140 lg boy against a 5. 9' 240lb gorilla with a gun.  

“Suspicion” will NOT suffice under this statute. Read it. Much more  must be specifically shown.  Did Trayvon fight back? Is this even a relevant question? If you were 140 lb  skinny teenager  displaying none of the BEHAVIOR SPECIFICALLY required before one can even evoke this statute (just read it!) and 250 gorilla jumps out of a car and comes after you as you are retreated from his aggression what would you do?  What would and person do? Waht they have a right to! Stand your ground and meet force with force if necessary to prevent great bodily harm.

Notice, one you read this simple and clear law that one person and one person only has the factual and legal right to assert on their behalf.  And that ONE person was Travyon Martin.  I rest my case.
Trayvon is dead because because an ignoramus (racist or not) was totally ignorant of the law he asserted in his defense. What he will discover is that it is that very law which will convict him. His shield is Trayvon's sword. THAT law vindicates Trayvon and that is the discussion we should all rally be having.
Quite a remarkable piece. But responsibility should always be upheld, and this is what Geraldo Rivera failed so miserably at grasping with his tweets about hoodies. I wrote about it here.
It should be remembered that, ultimately, it is not those who appear threatening to others (whatever their intention) who are to blame, but those who perpetrate violence, and insist that this violence can somehow be a solution.
As a middle ages white conservative male all I can say is that, in line with Republikan plans, war is coming again. We will be at war with Iran soon, and the rest of the Islamic world forever thereafter. If your son is that tall and athletic the country can use him in some Special Ops forces in the military. You should be proud.
I will hope, with everything in me, that your children remain safe and happy, and live long, long lives. R.

I think the comment about ignorance refers to the ignorance about people making decisions based on clothes, not the content of the post which is that people have to deal with ignorant people.
@ gracious jane smithie

Wow, you need to reread manhattanwhitegirl's comment and then apologize.
I know what you say is real but, I would point out that if your son were white, I would also instinctively be a little concerned if he had a hoodie on chasing a little Asian girl, as I would not think them to be part of a unit. Would that make me a bad guy or consistently vigilant?
If I say a big tall white boys chasing a little black girl I would also process that as odd and pay more attention, I don't know what that make me but, I am honest.
Many areas that I have lived would have ignored all scenarios as they could not be bothered with any of those scenarios as it did not concern them. Would that be prefereable to any of us?
Francois, the law may well vindicate Trayvon, but he'll Still.Be.Dead. Kudos to the author for recognizing that her son's going to be seen as a threat just for existing, and if - God forbid - her nightmare came true, everyone would be very, very sorry, but he'd Still.Be.Dead.

In my personal experience, those who conceal-carry are always on the look-out to have a reason to pull their weapon. Negotiation and caution, the first steps before self-defense, are totally bypassed. Your mileage may vary, of course, but it gives me pause before even the most mild confrontation.
I read your blog with great interest and am caused to pause with one question. Even though I certainly think one has the right to live wherever one wishes, I wondered why you would choose to move to an "all white" neighborhood with children of diverse ethnicity, leaving or opting not to live in an ethnically diverse neighborhood.

That aside, I like you, worry for my 6'5, 190 lb. African American son. He and I have had several discussions about Trayvon Martin, not the least of which were: "the headlines in our area could have read"..."Why Thomas couldn't go to the Mall without Money", "Why Thomas Couldn't Have a Driver's License Until He Was Twenty", "Why Thomas' Mother Still Insist He Call Her Immediately on His Cell Phone, Leave The Line Open, Phone On the Seat of The Car, If Ever Stopped By The Police" ...and on and on and on...

He now "get's it"...and he acknowledged that he called to console me when young Mr. Martin was killed because he knew how hurt I would be. We live in different cities now, he's 27 years old, we both attended Trayvon Martin memorial marches.

My nightly prayer is that God is always on his shoulder, protecting him from hurt, harm, danger and stupidity...from wherever source.
"As a white parent of a black child, I watch daily how everything I understood intellectually, is now punishing my heart and generating real fear for my son. . . . I never had this talk with my two older white children. There was not the fear one of them would be shot."

I certainly hope that no harm ever comes to your son or to any of your children. At the same time I know that your black son will experience racism, and that his race, unfortunately, will sometimes be a factor in how he is treated. It is unfortunate, but this is the world in which we live.

That said, it is far more likely that your son would be physically harmed by another young black man than it is that he would be physically harmed by a white racist. According to the crime stats, over 90 percent of homicides of young black males are committed by other young black males. This is not surprising, because across all races the great majority of homicides are committed by people of the same race as the victim.

The real threat to your black son is not white racists but other young black males. Yes, it is possible that he could be shot by a white racist, but it is very unlikely. Trayvon Martin has recently captured the attention of the country. But if people marched in the street every time a young black man shot another black man, they would be in the street twenty-four hours a day.
Powerful writing. sad commentary of our society. I am acrid with you.