What White Parents Can Tell Their Children About The Trayvon Martin Case

On Monday, I told you about how our kids responded to Trayvon Martin’s death, choosing to take a picture in their hoodies.  Today, I’ll share seven points we made with our kids as we talked about the case.  As a head’s up, this is a long piece.  But as I tell my kids when we are talking about something important, “Sorry, guys, but Mommy’s got a lot to say on this topic.”

1.  We all have negative prejudices based on things that aren’t true. We may think that girls cannot be good at math.  Or that foreigners are weird.  Most people of all races tend to think negative things about people from other races.  This is part of our broken nature. We need to ask God to help us identify those prejudices, and replace them with the truth.

We can’t know what was going on in George Zimmerman’s mind, but it seems likely that he had prejudices about black teenage boys.  He called the police to report Trayvon as being suspicious, even when it seems as though Trayvon was doing absolutely nothing wrong.

2.  Racism still exists. It did not end with slavery.  It did not end with Martin Luther King.  Racism is not over just because there is a black president or because Oprah and Lebron James make a boatload of money. This is because white people in our country still have more money and more political power than non-white people, and so our prejudices have bigger negative consequences than the prejudices of non-white people. Racism still exists in hiring practices, educational discipline practices, voting practices, entertainment industry practices, and everywhere that white people have more control.  The institutions that govern and influence our country – police departments, judges, legislatures, banks, etc – are predominantly controlled by white people, so their prejudices can have a much more damaging effect than those of non-whites.

While it is likely that George Zimmerman’s prejudices led him to follow Trayvon in a neighborhood where he assumed Trayvon did not belong, it is the racism of the justice system that is most angering to most people about this case.

3.  In our country, the justice system works differently for people based on race. We can’t say for certain why the police chief didn’t initially arrest George Zimmerman, but there is a long and continuing history in our country of black people being prosecuted at higher rates and getting harsher sentences for the same crimes as whites, and for people who commit crimes against black people being prosecuted at lower rates and receiving lighter sentences than people who commit crimes against whites.

(If you as a parent are unconvinced of this, you can read anything by the politically conservative, Evangelical Christian, Bill Stuntz.  Until his death last year, he was perhaps the country’s best criminal procedure expert.  Read an excerpt of his last book here, and a review here.)

When white people say things like, “Well, we don’t know what really happened,” it is a slap in the face to many of our black neighbors.  Of course, we don’t know all the facts or the motives in any one person’s heart.  Black people know this as well.  But whites all too regularly say things like this about claims of racism by non-whites, and it hurts.  And it’s not right. White people need to admit that the justice system, as a whole, does not work as well for black victims and black defendants as it does for whites.

4.  It is harder for White people to see racism and injustice toward non-White people than it is for non-White people to see it. We don’t see it because we don’t have to, because it doesn’t effect our lives and the lives of our families in the same ways.  Black people are far more likely to know the appalling statistics related to race and justice than whites are. This is part of why nearly all of the people you see at rallies and protests and prayer meetings for Trayvon are black.  But just because it’s harder for us to see it, doesn’t mean that we are excused from seeing it.  It’s our job to keep trying to listen to our black friends and black neighbors and black leaders. It’s our job to learn from people like Bill Stuntz, so that we are not ignorant of the truth about how racism and injustice effect our black neighbors’ lives today.

5.  We live a great country. Our country, like every country on Earth, is broken, and sinful.  When we see the glory of heaven, we will look back on our earthly home and see just how far astray our country was from God’s ideal.  Racism and injustice are part of what is broken in our country.

Still, there is much that is right and wonderful here.  You can be proud of being an American.  One of the great things about America is that we have the ideal, if not always the practice, that all people are created equal, and that it’s important to work toward a fair society, where all people have a chance to pursue happiness.  So when you fight for justice, for one person or a group of people, you are doing so on the shoulders of many who have come before you: people who fought against slavery; fought for women to be able to vote; fought for migrant farm workers to have decent working conditions; fought to allow students to proclaim their faith in public settings; fought to keep Japanese people out of the internment camps; and fought to give disabled people access to public buildings. Without courageous, primarily black, Americans fighting for Trayvon, I don’t think that George Zimmerman would be facing a trial right now.

Sometimes courageous Americans have lost those fights, but it is a noble tradition, nonetheless.

6.  We serve an amazing God. Although people sometimes lose a righteous fight, and although our country will never be heaven, God never loses.  In the darkness, his light never goes out.  One day, he will redeem and restore all that is lost and broken. In the meantime, we do our best to hear his voice and follow his way.  Often that means doing dangerous and unpopular things.  We can do them, though, because God is our strength and our comfort.

He is with the oppressed, the weak, the brokenhearted.  When we join hands with them, we join hands with God.  We can walk arm in arm with our black brothers and sisters, knowing that God is there before us.

7.  As a white child in a country still plagued by racism, you can do things to end racism and glorify God in the process. For example, you can read more history books about our country. You can work hard to make friends with people who are not like you in some way.  You can write letters to our politicians. You can pray and ask God to help our country change.

You can’t bring Trayvon back to life, but in his honor, you can ask God to help you become someone he can use to help his will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.

  • Debbie Childers

    As a white, Christian mom who has invested in a handful of black, primarily African teenagers, I can personally attest to inequity in law enforcement and judicial process. I love your realistic assessment of racism and affirmation of those who courageously speak against it. Mostly, I love your reminder that God is redeeming broken people and that His children are called to be participants in racial and spiritual reconciliation!

  • Jen

    First- I love to read your blog, especially this series. Second, this is fantastic. Third, your photo for this story makes me giggle for some reason. It looks like a tampon commercial. Too far???

    • Tara Edelschick

      Ha! I had reservations about the picture but I couldn’t figure out why. I think you’ve nailed it.

      • http://www.ReeeseOnTheRadio.com Reese Hopkins

        The most irresponsible blog I’ve ever seen. there is no evidence to support Trayvon was shot over his race. that narrative was promoted by the media. Zimmerman had plenty of reason to suspect Trayvon. As a member of the media, I’ve covered this story back to front and your suggestions on how to deal with this case with your children promotes a manufactured race issue. For the sake of honest dialogue, do your research better. This article is disturbing.

        Not to mention Trayvon had been suspended after being found with a burglary tool and women’s jewelry. But you knew that, right?

        FYI, I’m African-American. I’ve been falsely accused of a crime of rape. I spent 2.5 years in jail and have stood for truth telling to avoid such commentary as this. Do better.

        • KP

          I agree totally with your post. The writer of this blog seems to give her opinions as to what to do but does not know all of the facts before giving opinions.

  • regular joe

    Hmm. I think this talk leaves out a few true things that might be important for children to understand in this case. One is that to regard someone as suspicious is inherantly a form of prejudgement, and if Mr. Zimmerman included Trayvon’s race in that assessment it was not unreasonable- there had been many break ins in his neighborhood in the last year, and all were by blacks. Blacks commit 7 times the violent crime of whites and latinos together, per capita, and the group Trayvon belonged to, 15-20 year old black males, is the single most dangerous group in our nation, and the biggest threat of violence to boys like Trayvon is from other boys like Trayvon, by far. The second is that blacks suffer from misperceptions of the legal system at least equal to those held by whites, including that they are unfairly targeted, when in fact their stop and arrest statistics are disproportionately low in comparison to the rate at which they commit crime. The third is that distortions to the justice system go both ways, and in certain ways its tilted significantly in favor of blacks. In this case the indictment of Mr. Zimmerman, having been declared honorarily white for purposes of racializing this tragedy, for Second Degree Murder, an unsupported charge, is a clearly racist reaction to pressure from a racially motivated mob. Also, if a jury of his peers finds the charges against him not proven beyond a reasonable doubt, the Constitutional protection against double jeapordy will not apply, as the Attorney general has already pledged to Al Sharpton to re-charge him for the same crime under the rubric of Civil Rights violation. It is important to give children the truth, along with the expected PC pieties.

  • http://www.ReeeseOnTheRadio.com Reese Hopkins

    The most irresponsible blog I’ve ever seen. there is no evidence to support Trayvon was shot over his race. that narrative was promoted by the media. Zimmerman had plenty of reason to suspect Trayvon. As a member of the media, I’ve covered this story back to front and your suggestions on how to deal with this case with your children promotes a manufactured race issue. For the sake of honest dialogue, do your research better. This article is disturbing.

    Not to mention Trayvon had been suspended after being found with a burglary tool and women’s jewelry. But you knew that, right?

  • http://www.ReeeseOnTheRadio.com Reese Hopkins

    FYI, I’m African-American. I’ve been falsely accused of a crime of rape. I spent 2.5 months in jail and have stood for truth telling to avoid such commentary as this. Do better.

  • regular joe

    A thought experiment: Do you believe it would be sexist, or wrong, for your daughters to find large, young men more threatening than small, old women, to be more wary of the former than of the latter when walking alone at night? Size, age and sex are all immutable physical characteristics, and prejudging someone by being more cautious i.e. suspicious of them because of those characteristics is strictly speaking unjust to any individual. Some small old women are dangerous, most large young men are not. BUT, nobody in their right minds would privelage that minor justice consideration over their daughter’s safety, and large, young men are, on average, statistically, MUCH more dangerous than small old women, and we don’t balance the risks to personal safety versus minor injustices that way.

    Well, black s are as much more dangerous than whites, on average, as men are more dangerous than women, on average. Black women are actually statistically as dangerous as white men oddly enough. Blacks are less so, but still more criminal than Hispanics as well, on average. So why is it the worst thing ever that Hispanic Mr. Zimmerman may have included ‘black’ in with large, young, and male among things that made him suspicious of Trayvon? Granted, those other categories don’t have the same history of oppression (though age restricts civil rights, and being young and male can get you drafted to fight a war against your will). But still, shouldn’t some leeway for personal safety or protection of property be given to balance the personal injustice to individuals of being prejudged based on immutable physical characteristics?

  • Daniel Morseth

    I agree with the commenters above – this is really an irresponsible ‘white liberal guilt’ driven article and it was not thought out, but apparently gleaned from reading various headlines on the Daily Kos or Huffington Post. Making assumptions about Zimmerman is an example of doing that the writer has just stated that we should NOT do.
    Also the author fails to mention Zimmerman’s role in coming to the defense of a black person who had been inappropriately charged by the police a few weeks before.
    I was sufficiently disappointed over this article to not be very interested in other things this author might have to say, for who knows what slant may be taken next time?

  • regular joe

    Thought Experiment: The elements of this tragedy are all the same, except George Zimmerman’s father was Peruvian, not his mother. He looks precisely the same, but his name is Jorge Zimoles. Do we think this would have make national news? Would the President have felt moved to comment out of racial affinity, would his Attorney General have pledged to Al Sharpton that this villian’s Constitutional Rights will be no barrier to finding him guilty no matter how many trials it takes? Would a Special Prosecutor have been assigned to wildly over charge Jorge with Second Degree Murder (depraved indifferance to human life!), after the first prosecutor concluded that there was insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Mr. Zimoles hadn’t acted in self defense? Would NBC have edited the audio to make Jorge seem prejudiced, and all the pictures of Trayvon broadcast be 5 years old of a fresh faced preteen? Would we see articles here on how to talk to your white children, or perhaps your latino children, about Senior Zimoles shooting Trayvon and the Latino Privelage they must acknowledge and feel ashamed?

    If you have correctly answered NO, this would be another story entirely if only the ethnic sound of Zimmerman’s name changed, and he would be a free man today, then the conclusion must be: Yes, there is a disturbing racial angle to this story, but not the one this article assumes.

  • RonF

    Here’s what I’d tell my son if he wants to discuss it with me:

    1) There’s no evidence that George targeted Trayvon because of Trayvon’s race. None whatsoever.
    2) A major news outlet, NBC, deliberately edited the audio of a 911 call to make it appear that he did. Other major news media outlets, such as CNN and the New York Times, used NBC’s edited audio to do the same thing.
    3) None of those media outlets have gone to any reasonable effort to correct the public record.
    4) If George had been refused a job or a place to rent or was involved in a voting rights redistricting case everyone would call him a Hispanic, as did the people who referred to his race on 911 calls. But major news media outlets call him white – or “white Hispanic”, which no one has ever heard of before – to attempt to make this sound as if racism is involved.
    5) All the media outlets refer to George by his last name – “Zimmerman”, which people identify as white – but refer to Martin by his first name – “Trayvon” – which people identify as black. Why aren’t they consistent and refer to both of them by either their first name or their last name? To make this sound as though racism is involved. “George” and “Trayvon” or “Martin” and “Zimmerman” wouldn’t give the appearance of racism, so they throw their style guides out the window.
    6) I would tell him that nonetheless there IS racism involved in this case. All he has to do to see and hear it is to turn on the TV or read the newspaper. Every time you see or hear Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson or President Obama speak on this case, you’ll hear racism.

  • Paul

    I don’t think there was racial profiling in this case. Trayvon’s girlfriend said that he told her he approached a building to take cover from the rain. I think THAT action is what caused Zimmerman to become suspicious. Nothing to do with race, and Zimmerman even implied on the 911 call that he was not sure of Martin’s race, AFTER he was asked what race Martin was.

  • RonF


    7) The police had been called by people at the housing complex that George lives in 402 times last year. There had been at least 8 different break-ins at the complex over the last year, and all the ones that had been witnessed or had suspects caught matched the description “teenage/20′s male”. Did you see that publicized in the national media?
    8) George had led a protest against the local police for maltreating a young black man a few weeks before this incident. Did you read of this in the national media?
    9) George had actually helped the police catch a burglar earlier in the year doing the very job he was doing that night. Did you read of that in the national media?
    10) A video put out by CNN, of low quality, 10 seconds long, was widely publicized by CNN and others as showing no evidence that George had been injured. A higher quality version of the video, NOT publicized by CNN, showed such evidence. Also, the other 3 or more minutes of that video showed George’s headwounds being examined by a number of police – but that portion of the video was NOT publicized by CNN or other major news outlets.

  • RonF

    Finally, I would teach my child this:

    There is racism around the globe. In countries around the world people are denied civil rights, harassed and even killed in huge numbers because they are of different races or ethnic groups than other people. I would teach that the United States is one of the least racist countries there is. I would teach him that racism is evil, and thus before you accuse someone of racism you are obligated as a matter of morality and honor to make very sure that you are right and know what you are talking about first. Finally, I would tell him that quick accusations of racism are the province of liars and scoundrels these days, and that this case proves you cannot trust the national news media to tell you the truth.

  • RonF

    “While it is likely that George Zimmerman’s prejudices led him to follow Trayvon in a neighborhood where he assumed Trayvon did not belong”

    How dare you say this? I ask you to tell me what evidence you have that this is true.

  • Jen

    Wow. These posts are really poorly argued and seem to spend more time attacking the author than the statistics. I do have a daughter and if she was near anyone who made her feel unsafe I would tell her what the police told Zimmerman, to leave the area, not to pursue the person. And she states that.we don’t know what Zimmerman thought, but clearly his lack of judgement leaves room for speculation. Also, what reputable member of any media.outlet trolls the.message.boards.on blogs to make statements like that? None. Lastly, regardless of what Zimmerman did, to me this.whole situation has highlighted.the.fact that the race issue in our country is not healed, and the fact that the.writer.is trying to start a.dialouge with her children about it.in a way that is loving and kind is admirable. I, for one, am happy.for the conversation.

    • regular joe

      Jen, Please identify the elements of the posts that are poorly argued. I see several making detailed, fact based claims: please note which facts are in error, or which claims do not follow from those facts. Your one semi-counter argument is that Zimmerman did not do what you would tell your daughter to do when feeling threatened. This is an excellant example of poor argument, as this is a non sequitar. Nobody has argued in any venue that the confrontation between Zimmerman and Trayvon involved Zimmerman feeling like a pedestrian nervous of a mugging. Zimmerman was on the neighborhood watch, and pursued Trayvon as a suspected burgalar, so advice to daughters feeling threatened by muggers or rapists only applies to the degree that size, age, sex, and race should appropriately be used to assess someone’s suspiciousness.

      It is also a non sequitar to jump from the contents of this article, which base this children’s dialogue on the presumption of this case being an example of Black victimization by Whites, both individually in the case of honorarily white Zimmerman, and in the legal system, to this article merely ‘starting a dialogue’ due to the race issue not being healed. And nobody is suggesting that one shoudl discuss it with children in unloving ways to those children, merely accurate ways. I am happy for the conversation as well, but I believe it has to have a basis in facts both about this individual case and about the realities of race in this country, and the article evinces neither.