Trayvon Martin Could Not Be My Son

Trayvon was our brother.

My friend Cameron has been unrelenting in Facebook posts about Trayvon Martin. He’s really mad.  Incensed, actually.  Bereft, I think, but he doesn’t say so. Sometimes, after reading a particularly indignant post, I worry about his emotional state.

Then, a little while later, I worry about my own because I feel so little of what he feels.

Don’t get me wrong, I was outraged when I learned how Trayvon died and that the shooter was not charged.  I feel sick for his parents.  Ocassionally, I even feel overwhelmed with grief for all that is wrong in our country when it comes to race and racism.

Mostly, though, after reading one of Cameron’s posts, I scroll down the page and look at a picture of someone’s adorable baby dressed in bunny ears.  And then I spend some time deciding whether I should buy new sneakers now that I am taking tennis lessons. After that, I might obsess a little while over my seven- and nine-year-old sons’ development, future college applications, and marriageability.

My outrage and sadness over Trayvon fades quickly.  Because it can.  I’m white and wealthy, and don’t have to worry about my boys being shot by people who don’t think they belong in a fancy neighborhood.

In addition to having our boys, Jeff and I are unofficial guardian-types to Nafisa.  She is an African American fourteen-year-old who lives with us most of the time. Our boys call her Sissy, and she is the same age as my stillborn daughter would have been.  When her mother died and she came to live with us, I had no doubt that God brought us together.

Still, even my deep love for Nafisa does little to keep the Martin case in mind for long. Perhaps because I don’t worry about her either.  She is a girl, afterall, and the statistics for black females in the US are far better than those for the boys.

Mainly, though, I think that I don’t spend much time thinking about and praying for justice in the Martin case because I don’t have to.  To riff on the president’s quote in a manner in which I’m sure he did not intend his words to be used, Trayvon Martin could not be my son.

Of course, he need not be my son for me to fight injustice.  I can chose to be a White Ally, a term I learned in grad school. White allies recognize their own unearned privilege and work with others to fight oppression and share power.  I loved the term when I first heard it, especially because it gave me a clear sense of what my role should be in a messed up system I didn’t create but nonetheless benefit from.

Allies don’t pretend to be from the same country; they are simply fighting together in the same cause.  I can’t know what it’s like to send my black boy to a predominantly white school or what it’s like to be a black woman turned down for a job she should have received.  It would be insulting to assuming I can.  But I can work to end racist beliefs, practices, and systems.

That was all well and good, but over time it didn’t quite fit.  For one, I do very little explicit anti-racism work these days.  But more important, the term ally doesn’t quite capture the truth of my experience anymore.

Allies are partnerships of convenience.  Their interests are not identical. Allies shift as interests shift.  Allies are neighbors, yes, but there are borders. Like I said, I know why it’s important to acknowledge that I am white. But Ally isn’t the right word for me anymore.

It’s here that my Pentecostal church provides me a better identity.  There, I am called Sister Tara.  As a sister, I stand not next to, but with my brothers and sisters.  We are a family.

Sisters are not twins, but they are more than allies.  I know because I have two sisters.  I cannot know what Brenda experiences with Multiple Sclerosis, but I know that my heart aches for her in a way that can only be explained by sisterhood.  I cannot know what it’s like for Jenny to work every day with young children who die from Cystic Fibrosis, but my heart swells with pride in a way that can only be explained by sisterhood.

In their short lives, the boys have called four other children brother or sister: Eliot, who is just as pasty white as they are. Sophia, who is bi-racial white and Chinese, Cutie Pie, who is bi-racial, born in the US to a Liberian mother and El Salvadoran father, and Sissy, who has lived with us for a over a year now. When other kids have questioned the boys’ assertions that one of the four was indeed their sibling, the boys fiercely insisted that he or she was indeed a brother or sister.   When Eliot moved, Ezra was so upset that he told his teacher, “My brother was killed in the park last week.”  That’s what brotherhood feels like.

When Sissy asked this week to take a picture with the boys in support of Trayvon and those who want charges to be filed, I worried that my black friends would be offended if I let my white sons pose for the picture: What do they know about the fear and anger that many young black boys feel? I also worried that my white friends would think I was using my kids as political tools: She’s brainwashing them to be liberal reactionaries.

The boys wanted to do it, though, and their reasons seemed right.  When getting ready for the the picture, though, Ezra asked if he should try to “darken” his skin to better show that he felt connected to Trayvon.

“Oh, no, buddy, that would be really offensive.”

Then I gave all three kids a very brief history lesson on blackface.  I went on to say, “But you don’t have to change how you look to let people know you are upset about what happened to Trayvon.  You can be the white boy God made you to be and stand up and say that you are upset about what happened to him and that you want justice for his family.  You say that as a white boy, Ezra, a white boy who in God’s kingdom is brother’s with Trayvon.”

Trayvon may not have been my son.  But he was my brother.  And yours as well.

Later this week, I’ll write in with some thoughts about how white parents might talk to their white children about the case.  I’d love to hear how others, of all races, are talking to their kids about it.

  • http://www.NancyFrench.com Nancy French

    Hey Tara — great post. I’m a tad confused — was Eliot killed??

    Sorry if I missed something big. :)

    Did you see this?

    http://takimag.com/article/the_talk_nonblack_version_john_derbyshire/print#axzz1rW2LempG

    • Tara Edelschick

      No, no, no. Sorry that was confusing. When Eliot MOVED to DC, Ezra was so upset that he told his teacher that Eliot died. It was during a phase where Ezra’s fantasy life was so strong that he wasn’t always sure what was real and what wasn’t. I think that he was so upset that Eliot moved that it felt like he died. And in Ezra’s mind at the time, if it felt like he died, he did die. All of this was meant to show how much Ezra loved Eliot. Ah, clarity in writing, not my strong suit. Thanks for giving me a chance to clarify. Now I’m off to read the article you link to.

      • Tara Edelschick

        Oh my gosh, Nancy. I hate that article. I don’t know where to start. Literally, I don’t know what to say except that it was ugly. I keep starting a new sentence and then erasing it.

        I’m wondering why you linked to it. Help me out…

        • Steve Song

          Nice article, Tara. As for the linked article, it clearly demonstrates why women are not as intelligent as men as there are no female Field Medal winners, and an average female (in the US) makes 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. Since “life is an IQ test,” this outcome would be consistent with “the women have lower IQ than men” assertion. Thanks for the insightful article(s)!

          • Tara Edelschick

            Dude, you kill me. You should write your own blog.

  • Jen

    Tara- This is so fantastic. I feel a lot of these things. And I know that raising white kids in our society I am constantly thinking of the fact that I want them to be aware of the fact that they have privledge based on their skin color without feeling shame about it. I think this sometimes does result in backlash … I see that often with teenagers I work with. You do a fantastic job of really putting things in a beautiful perspective and I thank you for that.

    Jen

    • Tara Edelschick

      Thanks, Jen. Since you and I grew up in the same neighborhood, I wonder if you can remember any of the messages we got about race from our parents and our teachers. All I remember is that I was told that everyone was equal. Unless, of course, you wanted to date someone outside your race. Which let me know that we were definitely not all equal. I wonder what it’s like there now.

  • Jackie F

    Beautiful perspective…. And the reality of forgetting in this age of instant information is too much to bear at times.

  • Jackie F

    Ugh… Is there any way to remove Nancy’s post? Why would she post something so ignorant? Where are those “statistics” coming from??

    • Tara Edelschick

      Knowing Nancy, I don’t imagine that she intended the link as an endorsement. She may have been linking to another white parent’s take by way of contrast. Nancy?

  • http://just-works.com Ora

    Very well said, Tara. Thanks for this.

  • http://www.dorothygrecophotography.com dorothy greco

    Thanks Tara. I had not thought about why I back away. Your words are resonant for me. I think the pain also causes me to instinctively turn my head. It crushes me. Which maybe should be the point?
    I would humbly disagree with this line, “For one, I do very little explicit anti-racism work these days.” You have taken three non-white kids to live with you. This must shape and influence your kids and break expectations of whites around you in a profound way. Not to diminish the more that you wish/want to do but just thought I would affirm that radical, counter-cultural and loving choice.
    (And lastly, since you reside in MA but are now Central America , I think you are pentecoastal.)

    • http://www.dorothygrecophotography.com dorothy greco

      Sorry – delete that final line. I somehow thought Jeff wrote pentecoastal!!

    • Tara Edelschick

      I hear you about the pain, Dorothy. Same thing for me. I like the way you said it.

      I know that when my kids have been really sick or really struggling, that pain also makes me want to turn away. But I don’t because I love them too much to let them struggle through it alone. I often ask Jesus to break my heart for what breaks his. I guess I’m realizing that that isn’t enough. I need to further pray for the strength to stay there with the pain and respond as he would have me respond.

      As for explicit anti-racist work, I don’t see loving the kids in the same way as I saw my more “activist” efforts. I didn’t set out to bring non-white kids into our home. I was in relationships with people, and it developed naturally. I’m not saying that God didn’t use those situations in some small way to further his desire for racial reconciliation and healing. But those thoughts were not on my mind at all. Still, I appreciate your affirmation of that “loving choice.”

      Finally, I love the term ”pentecoastal.’ I’m gonna start calling myself that!

  • Kathleen

    I appreciate these good thoughts. Thank you for writing, Tara. In this post you address some of my doubts, fears, and questions about being a white mother (not now, but hopefully in the future) raising white children in this country. Lots to chew on.

  • Kathy Tuan-Maclean

    Thanks for the post Tara. I’ve been thinking lately about what used to be said at our Multi-Ethnic conferences to the Whites, “Go preach to your own people.” It was a hard message for some, who realized it was easier to go cross-cultural than it was to face speaking to your own folks. Anyway, despite you not feeling like you’re doing “anti-racism” work, the fact that you’re willing to speak to your people means the world. Thanks again.

  • Darcy Downie

    Oh my brilliant friend. I love this piece and will share it with many. You see things so clearly and put pen to paper in such a poignant way. I love the photo of the kids in hoodies.
    The piece made a bit wistful, remembering the great times but at the same time realizing how much I have lost track of long ago friends. Hope you are having a fun time. I love looking at your posts. Be well old friend. Hugs

  • http://www.NancyFrench.com Nancy French

    Hey Guys — Sorry — I don’t get notified when these comments are put up. I linked to that article because it’s reprehensible and is ALL the talk in conservative and liberal circles these days. As some of you know, I write for National Review. While the author of the post (John Derbyshire) wasn’t writing for NRO at the time, he got published in that magazine because of his National Review ties.

    When he wrote that, all hell broke loose. In fact, he was immediately fired by National Review:

    http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/295514/parting-ways-rich-lowry

    So when you wrote that post, it was at exactly the same time that the “chattering class” was talking about this controversial and reprehensible posting. You wrote that next week you’d write about how white parents might talk to their white children about the case. I thought you said “race.” Which is why I linked to it. Derbyshire’s post was supposedly going to tell people how to talk to their kids about race.

    Big misunderstanding.

    Sorry!

    I heart black people.

    Got a small one right now waiting for her dinner. Love you all!

    • Tara Edelschick

      Thanks for clarifying. Glad he was fired.

    • Mithun

      It looks like this article is tongue-in-cheek. He’s satirizing the articles that he links to in the beginning, which are about black parents warning about the perils of associating with white people, the police, etc., and are built of the same sort of anecdotal evidence and stereotyping this article mocks.

  • regular joe

    Trayvon may be your brother, but it needs to be said that the attempt to spin the individual tragedy of Zimmerman and Trayvon’s confrontation and shooting into some Lesson on American Racism is silly and forced. 6foot 2 inch Trayvon was shot by a Latino man, in a distinctly non-fancy townhouse neighborhood, while sitting on that Latino’s chest and punching him. Zimmerman incorrectly suspected Trayvon partly because his non fancy neighborhood is gated because it is plagued with robberies by other large, black teenagers, 28 in the last year. And while seeming suspicious to a Latino in a lower middle class crime plagued neighborhood was certainly deadly to Trayvon individually, the reason your white sons are safe in a way that boys like Trayvon is not, is primarily because they don’t have to live with or around boys like Trayvon. Black teenage and early twenties boys have the highest body counts in this country because they kill each other at massively higher rates than all other groups, and the relative threat from Latinos on the neighborhood watch, or even the occasional suspicious white, is negligible. The Trayvon Zimmerman story is not evidence of a pattern, just the opposite: our nation is so hungry for examples of Blacks being victimized by Whites to fit the PC storyline, though they are hyper scarce, that when the a tangentially related story involving a Latino, or a false one like the Duke Lacrosse team comes up, it gets full bore national media attention and the full Al Sharpton Jesse Jackson treatment.

  • inspectorudy

    I am appalled at your article. You are acting just like the media when they actually created the scenario of the tragedy by their manipulation of the facts and by leaving out critical info that would have kept this from becoming something it is not which is a racial crime. If you had bothered to actually read more than one article about this event such as the time line you would have realized that Martin was not on his way home and was not on the sidewalk where any normal person would have been. He was in the back yards of the apartments and was not moving purposefully towards any place during a down pour. If you as a priviliged White person saw a young man standing in your yard during a down pour looking at your home would you invite him in for tea especially if your neighborhood had experienced 28 breakins in one year? Get real! Tell your White children not to stand in someone else’s back yard peering into their windows wearing a hoodie during a rain storm and they will most likely be safe.

  • Josh Good

    Tara, thanks for a great piece. Though we’re just as pasty-white as you describe, as Elliot’s parents Becca and I love living in a multi-ethnic DC neighborhood where we get to connect regularly with (and not just next to) our neighbors. A lot of our habits we learned from observing you and Jeff. And now that he’s just gotten a sister, Elliot seems to miss his big brothers Ezra and Zach more than ever. Our love to you guys.

  • we are all brown

    The reason that the world and this country has such a problem with race is that we don’t know the Truth. The truth is that we are all one race of people and one color. If we would understand this and believe this, it would set everyone free from racial sin. It’s something that was created as an excuse to hate and have anger toward another person who was created in God’s image just like we all are! We are all different shades of BROWN! The pigment (melanin) in our skin is varying shades of brown. It’s science and DNA. This comes straight from the Bible and science. We all came from one man (Adam) in the beginning and can be traced back to him or Noah (post flood). The Truth will indeed set you free! There are plenty of books, information to read on the website. For more information, go to

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/

  • MJ Williams

    Very surprised and disappointed in this article and several of the posts praising it. Trayvon’s “justice” should be a result of the rightness or wrongness of his actions, not his skin color. Why the assumption that he was a victim because he’s black? Why teach that fallacy to your children? News flash: all whites are not privileged, if you grew up like I did, where I did, you would know that. All blacks are not disadvantaged, or victimized. Ask President Obama. Ask my close friend, Tre, who is black, raised in a comfortable family and pulls down six figures. I could go on. Why can’t you have sons and daughters, brothers and sisters without distinguishing them by race? Dealing with people as individuals, and judging them by their actions and their character is as fair as it gets. That’s what I teach my kids.

    • Josi

      Thank You! You are so right.

  • we are all brown

    http://www.answersingenesis.org/articles/nab/are-there-different-races

    Here’s the exact link for the topic on race from the website! Blessings!

  • http://heritagecreek.blogspot.com/ Debbie

    I think YOU, just like the media, are making this a race issue, when it’s not. Are you upset about the white, elderly woman who was raped and murdered by a 20 year old black man recently, but not reported? Because she could have been my grandmother. You don’t have all the facts. Are you ok with the Black (thug) Panthers hunting down Mr. Zimmerman like an animal and killing him? Sounds like you might justify this in your mind. People like you and NBC are the ones keeping this country separated by race. Tragedies happen everyday. Death happens. Does it really matter what color anyone is? Shouldn’t it just be the loss of life – period – that upsets us?

    Appalling.

  • Josi

    Tara, your article is not my idea of right and wrong. It is about race. What are you really trying to say. Was you there when all of this came down. Do you see this grown 6’2, or whatever, being helpless in the confrotation. Sounds like he was doing his best to clobber Zimmerman. All this happened before the shooting. Just remember, Zimmerman could have been your son, too. Would you feel any different? Let the legal system take care of this and tell your children to identify who they are and why they are where they are instead of running when asked. would you be one of the members of the community that had a community group trying to do their job and then throw them under the bus? I believe you would. Everything is not about race. Maybe it was about something that was suspicious to one and misundrstood by another and it could have been a hispanic being shot by a black. Would you write a big article about that?

  • Agkcrbs

    The words please the eye, but the scent of White Guilt lingers to ward off otherwise sympathetic readers. White Guilt is most common in those who fear that they actually are racists, and who therefore assume all other people are racists too. In another time, little black girls had to play with white dolls. Today, little white kids have to be taught what sinners they are by virtue of their own blood and skin colour. Having never offended others by race, whites nevertheless now inherit a sense of shame that will be unforgiveable for as long as the newspapers want to celebrate the country’s racial tensions. Little hope remains for whites to grow up looking at others as their natural equals; now, they must all be publicly trained that certain races have always been victims, and will always be victims in some way or another, until a future day when whites can finally be subjugated by enough lop-sided policy that they can learn what victimhood feels like.

    The higher self-esteemed are the more resistant to self-blame; the more society pushes them to their knees in unwarranted apology, the more they resent the benefactors of their undeserved humiliation. Whites themselves are torn, with half hiding their own shame by accusing the other half of more racism. Instead of time’s healing, White Guilt creates new wounds of its own, and anti-black racism is reborn to correct the perceived injustice.

    The solution to racism is not to build subconscious walls by cyclically degrading the one side and exalting the other side, or to continually reaffirm one’s pity toward a certain class, or to mobbishly adhere to the mandated morality of the media, with its selective, strategic, manipulative outrage. Old MLK already saw the solution: simple colourblindness in policy. Celebrate heritage, cherish history, but don’t socially and financially reward certain races for no other reason. Don’t emblazon isolated racial retaliation into the impressionable homes of the entire country, making the problems of a few deranged minds into the problems of every mind. Don’t swallow false guilt, and whip yourself for things you never did and thoughts you never processed. With people and countries, borders exist where they are marked, not where they’re ignored.

  • Paul

    Without having all the facts, writing things like this just fans the flames. Let the legal system run its course. Remember Zimmerman got a broken nose and lacerations on the back of his head. He had just as much right to be where he was as anyone else that night. That probably has something to do with why he was not initially charged. Justice needs to work for everyone, not just Trayvon.

  • aCultureWarrior

    Yawn, Traaaaayvon was a little wannabe hood. He would have eventually been shot and killed by a brutha. Why are you liberals always so upset when a black guy dies at the hands of a “white hispanic”, but are stone cold silent when they murder one another?

  • Lynn

    Most of what you write in this post is thoughtful and self-reflective. However, I caution you (and so many others) to wait before casting judgment on Mr. Zimmerman. I don’t know all the facts – neither does anyone else. All I know is there is a system in place to bring the facts forward and to protect the innocent from being wrongly prosecuted (yes, I know the system is not perfect, but it is comprised of flawed humans and potentially flawed laws).

    “Don’t get me wrong, I was outraged when I learned how Trayvon died and that the shooter was not charged. I feel sick for his parents. Ocassionally, I even feel overwhelmed with grief for all that is wrong in our country when it comes to race and racism.”

    I know there remains deep racial strife in the U.S. – but I’d like you to consider what would the public “outrage” be if Zimmerman, a Hispanic, had been black (and, I’d imagine black on black crime is far more prevalent than Hispanic on black crime)? Why do we consider only blacks to be minorities (at some point the country will need to deal with a past stained by a history of slavery – as this is always the reason).

    The Trayvon case reflects is rather a breakdown in the black community of the values of family, self-sufficiency, and hard work (which existed several decades ago). Rather the community now blames any outsider for problems the Black community has created itself or allowed to fester – single parenthood, lack of educational attainment, rampant crime in its neighborhoods. All of these pathologies result in the “inequity” in the black community, much more so than “racial profiling” or other racially-motivated causes. Where is the outrage in the black community or broader community around these issues?

    PS – I commend you for taking others into your family and teaching tolerance and values, etc. Thank you for what you do.

  • Ginger

    Does anyone not know by now that Trayvon Martin was a drug dealing gang member? He was 6ft. 3in tall & threatened to kill George Zimmerman. It was self-defence. Good grief even the hoodie pic of Trayvon was doctored to make him look lighter & younger etc. He was “acting suspiciously” milling around in the pouring rain. Of course Zimmerman had a right to be concerned. And he was questioned for 5 hours after the incident. T. Martin was in the morgue for at least 48 hrs. before anyone even noticed he was missing. Where was his father? The lynch mob waited a month after this tragedy to voice their ‘outrage’. This was just a political opportunity for them to start a racist war. I would never let my child wear a hoodie in “honor” of a gangbanger like T. Martin. He would not be my son or my brother or anything else. The pic of him as a 12 yr. old is an insult to my intelligence. The real Trayvon Martin can be found easily enough on a search. I pray that George Zimmerman can find an unbiased judge who sees this matter for what it is. As far as I’m concerned he had a right to protect himself.


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