George Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Trayvon Martin. Apparently he was allowed to “stand his ground” against a young man whom he deemed dangerous by virtue of the fact that the boy was African-American and wearing a hoodie. Trayvon, it seems, was not allowed to stand his ground against the man who was stalking him, first by car and then on foot, because, you know, white people aren’t dangerous. Until they kill you.
What I want to know now is what I’m supposed to tell my daughter, an African-American teenager. Maybe, since she’s a girl, she won’t be seen as quite so threatening by white strangers on the street. Maybe, when she starts driving, she won’t be pulled over by the cops for “driving while Black” – at least not as often as if she were a boy. (Lord, here I was just worried about when my teen starts driving because, you know, Teens. Driving.) Maybe she will just be followed in stores when she goes shopping. Maybe men will just make assumptions about the sexual availability of my beautiful girl.
But I have to explain it to her. I have to explain why George Zimmerman literally got away with murder, and why so many people seem to think that’s OK. I have to explain how Trayvon was armed with a sidewalk – a sidewalk! – which somehow made his young Black presence more of a threat than a white man with a gun. I have to explain, because she’s being raised by white parents, and as a child she was protected from much of the bitter truth of racism in this country. Because we knew to teach our little girl about the Civil Rights Movement and the heroes who fought racism so that she could live in a better world. But we couldn’t stand telling a five-year-old, a six-year-old, a seven-year-old what is obviously the case, that those heroes were only able to take us a few steps down the road, and we have so much further, so much further, to go.
She cannot afford to stand her ground. And so I am going to have to. I, and all my other white, middle-aged friends and family who are entitled to walk down a street anywhere we like, we are going to have to stand her ground. We are going to have to tell the truth about racism, about guns, about where the danger in our society really lurks. And maybe, when I know that thousands and thousands of middle-aged white people are standing her ground, standing Trayvon’s ground, then having this conversation with her will not completely break my heart.