Photo Credit: RH PHOTO LTD
The press conference in front of the White House was to announce the appointment of Jim Yong Kim as his nominee to head the World Bank. But when Pres. Barack Obama opened the floor to questions, he only took one. It had nothing to do with Mr. Kim or the World Bank. The question was about Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old Floridian shot and killed by a George Zimmerman, a 28-year-old serial 911 caller. To the question, the president replied, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
I don’t have any children, but I have several nephews. All of them are good kids. None of them have ever been in trouble with the law. Yet, I am fearful for their safety on a daily basis. I’m fearful because I know they are a suspect in a major investigation. They are Black young men, so it is their birthright that they fit the description of the suspect.
My sister reminded me that on the day Trayvon was murdered, Feb. 26, we were on a family outing celebrating the birthday of my youngest nephew, Taylor. He just turned 15; a couple of years younger than Trayvon. I think of Taylor. He’s an absolute joy to be around. He’s warm, polite and intelligent – even if he doesn’t apply his intelligence to every situation. He’d make anyone proud. He makes me proud.
But Taylor is a big kid. At fifteen, he’s taller than me (which is not saying much as I stand only at 5’7”) and he easily outweighs me (and outweighs Trayvon by nearly 50 pounds). He’s a fairly-well put together freshman who, like Trayvon, plays football. Taylor likes to dress like his contemporaries. He likes the baggy, loose-fitting style of clothing. His pants don’t sag because I won’t allow it, but they certainly don’t fit the way I’d want them to fit; that’s for sure. He’s in the gym often, so much of the time he wears sweat suits – with hoods. We call them “hoodies.” I’m sure he has one that looks identical to the one Trayvon had on when he was gunned down – armed with nothing more than a cell phone, an Arizona Iced Tea and a bag of Skittles. On any given day, Taylor could be Trayvon. He fits the description.
“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
I look like Trayvon. Yes, a much older version with a little less hair and probably far less charming, but Trayvon, none the less. I think back to when I was Trayvon’s age. I think back to well before I was Trayvon’s age. I think back to when I was 5-years-old and was first called a nigger by a white child. We were at church. I was the only Black kid in this particular church. The little white boy told me, “move nigger!” I didn’t know what a nigger was, but I knew I didn’t want to be one.
I think back to when I was coming into my teenage years and my grandmother sat me down to have that “birds and the bees” talk. But this wasn’t your average “where do babies come from” lesson. We had gone over that years prior. This was a far more serious, more important talk.
I was a freshman being bussed out to an almost all white high school in St. Louis (MO) County. It was the mid-1980s and forced (voluntary on our part, forced on the school districts) desegregation was not welcomed by many.
Later into the school year I began spending time with a white female classmate. We were talking on the phone a lot and from time-to-time we’d steal an occasional kiss.
One day the young lady called my home and my grandmother told her I wasn’t available to talk. I was furious. “Why can’t I talk to her?” I demanded. That’s when my grandmother sat me down for that birds and bees talk. I remember her tone of worry; of fear. I remember her saying no matter how much the little girl might like me; her parents might not feel the same. I remember her saying how easy it is for Black men to be falsely accused of raping white women. I remember her telling me the story of Emmett Till, a Black child brutalized and murdered for supposedly whistling at a white woman. This was a story to which I later heard directly from Till’s mother, Mamie Till Mobley. Unfortunately, Trayvon’s mother, Sybrina Fulton and father, Tracy Martin now have similar warnings to spread.
See, as Black men in America, we are constantly aware of our blackness. We are taught, as I’m sure was Trayvon, “how to be Black.” We are taught to keep our hands in plain sight at all times as to not give anyone (and let’s be real here, when I say anyone I’m speaking of white people; in particular those of authority – or perceived authority, such as a police officer or dare I say, a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain) the excuse of “he was reaching for a weapon.” We are taught to never make sudden movements. Maybe that’s why when Trayvon was instructed by his girlfriend – to whom he was talking to on the phone – to run while being pursued (hunted) by his eventual killer, he said he’d just walk a little faster.
“If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
Yes, we live in a different time than in which my grandmother lived. Yes, we have access and opportunity far beyond that of our parents and grandparents. Yes, we have access to exclusive gated communities in Florida. Yes, we have a president who, if he had a son, would in fact look like Trayvon.
But, we also live in an era where to date the killer of Trayvon Martin has not been arrested; has not been charged. We live in an era where I am fearful anytime that I drive, I may be pulled over for no other reason than the color of my skin; and that stop may result in the end of my life. We live in an era where I sometimes decide to wear a business suit, not because of business, but because I know the suit makes me less threatening to whites; thus making it less likely for me to be the random Black suspect. Oftentimes I want to wear my hoodie, but I think, “Do I want to walk out of the house instantly endangering myself?”
We live in an era where I still feel uncomfortable being alone in an elevator with a white woman; so uncomfortable that I make a conscious effort to get on the far side of the woman and always stand in her plain sight, not making any sudden movements. She could have mace. Like Trayvon’s killer, Zimmerman, she could have a gun. I want her to be as comfortable as possible. I’m a Black male. Regardless of my attire, I fit the profile. I don’t want to die due to the cell phone in my pocket or my bag of Skittles.
President Obama only took one question at the press conference announcing Kim as nominee to head the World Bank. The question was about Trayvon Martin. He answered, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon.”
President Obama, you do have a son. His name is Trayvon Martin.