President Barack Obama was asked about the slaying of Trayvon Martin today during an unrelated press conference. Obama chose his words carefully due to the ongoing Justice Department investigation, but he concluded by saying this:
My main message is to the parents of Trayvon Martin. If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon. And I think they are right to expect that all of us as Americans are going to take this with the seriousness it deserves, and that we’re going to get to the bottom of exactly what happened.
That third sentence is the sort of thing presidents and politicians always say, and it usually seems a bit hollow given that we already know what lurks down there at “the bottom of exactly what happened.” But the truth and honesty of Obama’s second sentence leads me to entertain the hope that it might mean something more than it usually does here. He’s speaking as a parent — as the parent of black children in America and as one who has just been reminded, yet again, that it seems impossible as a parent to protect black children from America.
That anguished and anguishing reminder to the parents of these American children has been the subject of many of the most powerful recent responses to the killing of Trayvon Martin. I’ve excerpted a handful of these below, but be sure to follow the links and read them in their entirety.
Danielle Belton: “On the Killing of Trayvon Martin and Being ‘Good’“
That if we’re just “good” we’ll be safe. If your son doesn’t listen to hip hop, goes to the church camp, gets A’s and Bs in school, is polite, says “sir” and “ma’am,” if he’s a good kid, he’ll be safe. That’s the bargain black parents make with their children.
If you are “good” the gangs and the violence and the racism won’t get you. You will be safe. You will live to see 25. You will have a great life. Opportunity will abound for you. We will be proud of you. The community will be proud of you. You will be Barack Obama and Michelle Obama and life will be beautiful if you just want it enough.
Just be “good.” Be good, Trayvon Martin. Stay in school. Listen to your parents. And you’ll be safe.
But that’s a lie. No one can make you safe. No one can save you for that day some sick person just decides you’re the bad guy because you’re black and carrying a bottle of ice tea and some Skittles and he self-appointed himself neighborhood watch and some black teenage boys aren’t good, therefore ALL BLACK PEOPLE ARE NOT GOOD. And you are a black person. And you’re a boy. And you had on a “hooded sweatshirt.” So, you’re dead now.
Sorry. You didn’t follow the rules. It wasn’t good enough to be “good.” Why didn’t you just apologize to that man for existing as he had you on the ground, gun pointed at you? Say you were sorry for being born black and apologize for all the black people in the past who may have ever thought of robbing that neighborhood or doing whatever things George Zimmerman, 28, thought black people in Sanford, Fla. were doing in his neighborhood.
Yesterday, I found myself thinking of all my nephews. They are so beautiful, such good boys and regal young men. They love to laugh with each other. They never miss a family gathering. And they love living. I thought to myself, “Where can my sisters and cousins go to protect them?”
This was not a hypothetical question. It was real. I thought about it: in cities my nephews are more likely to be the targets of black-on-black crime or police brutality. In suburbs they are more likely to be targets of white-on-black crime. What about a gated community? People live there to feel safe. But, oh … that’s where Trayvon was.
Black men are targets everywhere — everywhere.
Enuma Okoro: “When You Can’t Find Your Words“
I haven’t written much about the death of Trayvon Martin because I cannot find my words, appropriate words, enough words, redeeming words, resurrecting words. I cannot find any words that could breathe any modicum of life into the death of this child. I listen to and welcome the words of others, of anger and the clarion calls for justice. I listen and I receive them because they are justified. But all I am able to speak to at this point is of deep sadness and burrowing sorrow. For now.
3. Know who you are. You can’t do everything they do. In other words, just because your white friend does something that doesn’t mean you can do the same. Whether it’s hanging at the mall or going to a house party, police, teachers, and other authorities treat white children differently than black children. …
Jesse Taylor: “A Young Black Man, Being Late“
There’s a reason that Trayvon Martin’s story hits me so hard. When you’re thirteen and threatened with a bullet through the chest for getting your braces tightened, it teaches you how the world works, and does it in a hurry.