Trayvon Martin, His Witness and What We Should Be Teaching Our Children About Racism

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But while we do our best to shield the children with a desire to succeed, many of us fail to explain to them how prejudice and bigotry of all kinds still flourishes, often times unrestricted, in these communities across America. Avoiding these subjects with our children, we actually run the risk of strengthening the very prejudices we want them to reject – or worse, leaving them to fend for themselves unprepared against people who do seek to do them harm just because of the color of their skin. In fact, research has shown that parents who do talk opening and honestly about race in their family tend to have kids who are better able to identify racism when they see it and be better equipped mentally from the stress that racism can cause.

That is why it is important that you tell them the truth. Tell them that even despite their well fitted pants, command of the English language and two syllables names they can and will be the targets of systematic racism so ingrained in the culture that it is exhibited in so many ways.  Tell them that they will experience the subtleties of prejudices in which they will be assumed to know how to dance, be from “the hood” and be accountable to every racist bias one might have about black people. Tell them that non-Blacks will want to touch your hair, most times without asking permission, and that they will be asked invasive questions like, “why is it so soft?” or “You mean you don’t wash your hair every day?” Tell them that they will be “befriended” intimately by non-Blacks of the opposite sex to appease some exotic fantasy or to find out if what they really say about black men is true. Tell them that in school, where they might be the only black person, they might be called on to be the spokesperson for all of black humanity. Tell them that some teachers will be unsatisfied at their mundane reading of a Langston Hughes poem and be asked to recite it again -but this time more blacker.

Prepare them for having white women clutching their purses as they walk by unaware that the danger she suspects is of them. Prepare them for having to sit alone on a bus or a train, despite it being crowded. Prepare them for being followed around in stores and shopping malls and how they might not be allowed entrance into more exclusive boutiques.  Prepare them for being stopped and frisked by police for no other suspicion other than being black. Teach them how to reach for their wallets for their IDs so as not to be suspected of reaching for a gun. And when they do mess up, prepare them for facing harsher punishment than their white counterparts; whether it is in school or in the criminal justice system. Prepare them for having the world believe that they are predestined to die from unnatural causes and therefore their lives are valued less than Michael Vick’s four-legged victims. And yes, prepare them for the stark reality that they their jonesing for high fructose corn syrup snacks might be all the justification some folks need to kill them.

You should also tell them that even after their wrongful death, the police and the prosecutors might not take it as seriously as that of a white victim. They will assume that your killer had justification and that his claim of self-defense, despite chasing you down with a gun, trumped your right to life. They will hide behind laws like the Stand Your Ground, which were probably predicated on the widely accepted troupe of the suspicious black man hiding in your bushes ready to rape, murder and pillage.

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