Have You Talked To Your Child About Trayvon?

Written on July 19, 2013 at 10:59 am , by

If you are a white parent of an older child or teen, have you discussed the Trayvon Martin tragedy with them? When the verdict came in over the weekend, I realized that I had not.

For a moment, I was shocked and then ashamed. I realized, as I have many times before, that my experience as a white parent raising a white son is a very different experience than it is for black parents raising a black son. I was reminded yet again, of what race “privilege” as a parent really is: the freedom to believe your child will be seen as a person, not reduced to a reflection of people’s fears and biases.

About six months before Trayvon’s death, I had a conversation with a group of high school boys about when and how they sneak out after their parents go to bed. At first the conversation was light and revolved around the boys comparing funny stories. But everything got quiet when one of the boys said:

You guys have no idea how different it is for me as a black man. So my parents don’t get suspicious, I wear sweats and a hoody so if they see me it looks like I’m in my pajamas. But what if someone on the street sees me trying to get in or out of the house like that? They immediately will think I’m robbing the place. Or if I do sneak out, then I have to walk down the street…a black man wearing sweats is not a good thing late at night in a suburban neighborhood. You know it’s only a matter of minutes before the police stop me and ask me if I live here. I could be wearing my school sweatshirt and they’d still question me.

As he related all the complexities of sneaking out his white friends were speechless. He was a good friend of theirs and they had no idea how walking through the world was so different for him. I remember one of the other boys saying, “If I ever get stopped by the police, all they assume is I’m high or drunk.” Another boy said, “I had no idea it was like that for you. I got caught in exactly that same situation last weekend but the police gave me a little lecture and then drove me home.”

If you’re a white parent and you haven’t talked to your children about Trayvon, please ask yourself why not? Does it seem too ugly and violent? Are you not sure what to say? Do we not see this as our issue?

It is our issue. Not only because we probably have friends of other races and/or our children do but because we need to teach our children to empathize—that there are people in our country who feel like their children are first seen as a problem and threat rather than a kid walking down the street.

Yesterday, I asked my boys what they knew about the case and they did know the basic facts. Then, we listened to the radio and read some of the newspaper accounts and opposing op-eds that followed the verdict as in USA Today or Wall Street Journal. We talked about racial stereotyping and fears that we all develop; whether we are aware of them or not.

But like much of parenting, the teaching moment came in an instant when I wasn’t expecting it. Not an hour later I was in the car with my boys when a guy in another car honked his horn and obviously cursed me out. Immediately my older son said, “Mom, that guy just swore at you, can I middle finger him?”

“No.” I replied. “We have gone over this a thousand times. No.”

“Why? He was cursing you. Come on, just one time,” my son said.

Then it hit me how to connect our conversations about Trayvon with this seemingly unrelated and ridiculous request. This is what I said:

Here’s one difference between you and Trayvon. As a young white man, you have the luxury of being foolishly rude without the other person assuming that you’re violent. Boys like Trayvon don’t have that luxury. They can’t middle finger someone without being seen as an angry black man. Now imagine that the guy who you get into the argument with, the one who just cursed me out thinks all young black men are punks who need to be taught respect. And you, as a young black man have had enough experience to know this. Sometimes you’re so mad about it you want to scream. Sometimes you’re scared and want to defend yourself. Do you see how easy it is for you to want to flip off that guy and not think anything of it? Can you see how different it is for other boys? Just think about it.

It got very quiet in the car and then my son said, “I get it.”

Have you talked to your child about Trayvon? What did you say? Post a comment and tell me.

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the best-selling Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to www.rosalindwiseman.com. Do you have a parenting question?
E-mail askrosalind@familycircle.com.

17 Responses to “Have You Talked To Your Child About Trayvon?”

  1. Thank you for having an open mind, and open heart to teach your children about the diversities, and sub cultures of our nation. Thank you, Thank you, Thank you.

  2. Why are any of the boys sneaking in or out of the house that might be past curfew. White or Black, that is wrong. I have 2 boys, 18 and 19, and not once have I worried that they are “sneaking” out of the house. I have 2 girls who better not be sneaking in or out of the house. Our family is a mixed family. Our social circles is of black, Asian, and Hispanic. I expect my children and the children of my friends to follow the rules and not be in situations that could raise suspicion no matter their skin color. It’s the attitudes and respect that matter. That’s what is taught in my home.

  3. I’m 21 and my brother is 19 (we’re white) and we hardly ever talk about stuff like that. Even just political stuff. It’s just not talked about. If it weren’t for my friends and tumblr I would probably be SOOOO ignorant of so much.

  4. I wholeheartedly commend you for bringing up this tough issue with your kids. Perhaps if more White parents did the same, we would begin to see tremendous progress on this country’s race issues. Thank You!

  5. Rosalind, this is a truly brilliant article. Well thought out, and very honest. Far more honest than many other white people would see it. Your approach is fair and balanced. It is a shame that fear will cause some to deny your truth! As said by E.J (July 19th), this is the way to make progress! Thank you for what you have done!

  6. Rosalind, Excellent article and point. I am ashamed to say that I have not had that conversation with my children. I find the thought intriguing as to why I haven’t. I do not shy away from difficult conversations with them, and, in fact, encourage “heady” topics, including race and treating everyone equally. We have tried to raise our children to be color blind and I think we have made great progress in our family from where we, as adults, began. I know that I discuss more than most with my children. So why haven’t I discussed this? Why hasn’t the mother who tries to talk openly with her children and encourages them to explore new ideas, not had this conversation? Perhaps it is my own lack of experience with the issue. We live in a place where “white” is the majority and it is rare to see a “black” person. Six years ago we moved to Massachusetts from a suburb of Detroit. I think if I still lived there, I would have had a conversation with my children about this case. I imagine I would have felt that it concerned them more. When we are removed from a situation, I think it becomes easier to not see it as affecting us and we do not involve ourselves. When the reality is…if we are going to improve the racial divide and make progress we must understand that the issue affects us all. Thank you for reminding me that I need to have a conversation with them.

  7. Such a poignant piece, Rosalind. Thank you for modeling the courageous conversations that we must have with all of our future leaders regardless of race.

    My 18-year-old son actually approached me to talk about the violence in the after-math of the verdict. He said that he was disturbed by news of the riots in San Fran, Chicago, and LA and wondered how violence in any way honors Trayvon’s memory.

  8. I really can’t believe I just read this article. I have 3 boys and yes, I did have a talk with them about this case. I told them when an adult speaks to you, respect them and don’t cause a ruckus. Don’t walk around looking like a potential threat, especially at night. I as a white woman, regardless of somebody’s race, if I notice anything off the norm, I get nervous – whether it is a black boy in a hoddie or a white boy wearing his pants down to his knees and has a dirty look to him. It’s the truth. If I saw anybody coming out of a home in a sweatsuit with a hoodie, I would call the cops and get suspicious of it. Give me a break America. We see the pictures of the poeple that commit crime – it forces us to profile. And if I am in an elevator by myself and yes, even a man in a suit, would get me nervous. Get over it already. Read the facts of the case and if Treyvon would have just taken the hoodie off and answered George Zimmerman with respect, it would be an entirely different story.

  9. It’s sad I have to tell my children to run the other way. I guess you missed the riots where black young teenagers were trying to pull white people out of cars. I guess you missed the beating of many white man and I guess you missed the 15 month old baby shot in the face and killed while his mother watched and was shot too, all because she had no money.My kids don’t sneak out at night either. Did you ever hear the old saying, nothing good happens after 10:00pm. Let me take a guess your a liberal, right!

  10. I agree with Liz! No one is rioting for that 15 month old white baby shot by 2 teen black kids. No one is rioting for the white girl killed by 2 black teens for her bike in NJ. Hmm wonder why people are profiled. Let’s take a hard look at statistics. They are the facts. They don’t lie.

  11. WOW… I can’t believe Robin and Liz both tried to quote a couple of instances of black against white crime in a way to undermine the thoughtfulness and insight of this article. I commend her for having the courage to have such a difficult conversation with her children, there is nothing wrong with that. Anyone can go on and on with examples of black on white crime, black on black crime, white on white crime, or any other race against any other race. Do you know how many crimes and injustices are never even mentioned in the media??? While the 15 month being shot is extremely sad – and I hope they catch the guys who did it if they haven’t already, it is definitely not the only thing that hasn’t recieved media attention. And while the percentage of the black population in jail is higher than the percentage of whites, have you ever thought that it could be because those blacks were stereotyped by police while a white person doing the same thing got by because no one suspected anything of him or her? Not everyone in jail is guilty. We ALL as a society have a long way to go in regards to crime, but singling out blacks as the more “crime prone” is unfair. Remember, whites committed crimes for centuries during slavery. They were just in a position to make it legal! And yes I am a black, Ivy League educated woman. Not all of us are on welfare or out committing crimes (or whatever other stereotypes you want to associate with us).

  12. For Liz, Cathy and Robin…in no way can we ever know what it means to be a young black man in America. It is easy to say “get over it”…did you ever think that maybe there was a reason for Treyvon to feel threatened by Zimmerman? Do any of us know that Zimmerman said to Treyvon? No one really knows what exchange happened between them that night. But what I do see is that playing vigilante helps no one. Our society has a long way to go when it comes to profiling and race relations. And the worst case of it is when people can’t even see or admit that there is a problem. Why? Because of a lack of empathy…the inability to try to see things from a different prospective, the inability to actually walk in the shoes of…

  13. It’s sad that some folks here are bringing up stereotypical profiles of blacks to justify the Martin killing. The facts don’t hold up to that. People of color are often portrayed as bad on TV and in movies but in actuality it isn’t so. If Zimmerman HAD spoken to Martin and asked who he was it could have ended there. Instead he stalked him. (Thanks for a great article, and my 2 white sons and African American daughter did sneak out at night in the 80′s).

  14. My white teenagers often like to sneak out and toilet paper peoples houses at 12:00 A.M. I can not tell you how many times I have to bring up the Trayvon case to them. Black or white people will still think they are up to no good at that hour of the night.I will read this article to them again!!!
    Author of the teen book “In The Back Seat With Prince Charming”

  15. Great article!!! As the mother of two african american teenage boys no one understands the fear that grips my heart when they are out at night. I feel my husband have tried to raise decent and respectful sons, but just by looking at them unless you know them you wouldn’t know that. That why racial profiling is just WRONG!!!!My husband and I are very conscious of the clothing they choose to wear( no sagging pants) or anything that might give people the wrong idea about them.I have always taught my children espcially my sons to ALWAYS respect authority because I want them to come home ALIVE!!!I pray that one day these attitudes change and that we may all treat each other with kindess and respect, regardless the color of our skin.

  16. Look at the facts of the case the media won’t tell you. Trayvon Martin (TM) was going to the store to buy Skittles and Arizona watermelon to get a drink called ” purple drank.” (look up “purple drank” or “lean”). George Zimmerman (GZ) sees a suspicious individual and calls to police. He did not even know whether TM was black or not. TM approached GZ and anxious GZ tells the dispatcher “Please, get an officer over here.” TM left for 2 minutes and then came back to confront GZ. TM bashed GZ’s skull against the cement, injuring him, and was getting on top of him and he shot TM in self-defense. GZ was lying on the ground repeatedly calling for help. Why would GZ be lying down calling for help if he was determined to kill TM? That is why the police did not arrest him, because he was lawfully defending himself.

    Next, why didn’t the media use a 17 year old picture of TM? The answer is because they did not want us to see TM as a full-grown man druggie, fighter tattooed, gold-grilled, self-dubbed “No_Limit_Nigga. They wanted us to see him as an innocent child who went to the store to buy candy and was stalked and wrongfully killed by a racist.

    TM was suspended for 10 days for a bag containing marijuana traces when he went to stay with his dad. Previously in Oct. 2012, a school police investigator said he saw TM on a surveillance camera in an unauthorized area “hiding and being suspicious.” Then he said he saw TM mark up a door with “W. T. F” The officer said he found TM the next day and went through his book bag in search of the graffiti marker. TM had “statistic” written all over him. Text messages refer to his involvement in fights and reveal an interest in guns, including an exchange about possibly buying one. Social media posts revealed interest in mixed martial arts. Someone with this kind of record is heading down the criminal path, no matter what race.

    The FBI interviewed 3000 people who knew GZ and ZERO said he was a racist. GZ took a black girl to the prom and mentored black children. You compare TM’s case to a discussion about sneaking out. That is a false analogy, as TM was in fact a gonna be criminal based on his records and that cannot be compared to racial profiling. This case should not have gotten this much attention.

  17. GZ never thought all black men are punks. He used the term “punks” to describe criminals because the community he was guarding had histories of gang violence, burglaries, and crime. This was a multicultural community GZ liked.

    TM got on top of GZ, mounted him, started punching him, and repeatedly slammed his head into the ground. In self defense, GZ shot him.

    Everyone has prejudices. People tend to be more trusting to women then to men, especially with their children. Our media perpetuates this problem. Nobody wants to hear about 2 white college guys who were fighting and then shot each other in front of a college. But people do want to hear about the black teens that shot an innocent baby in a stroller because the mom had no money.

    The media can show a few stories about white college guys who shoot each other and label it a “trend” and manipulate us into believing it’s a trend. They can do the same thing with Asian college guys and people will be talking about Asians.