When I was young, my parents would tell my older brothers all kinds of things to do in order to protect themselves from racism, such as "Don't run at night," "When you buy something, always ask for a receipt and bag," "If you get stopped in your car by the police, keep your hands on the steering wheel and don't reach for anything without asking first. And don't mouth off." At the time I wondered, "Do white parents tell their sons the same thing?"
I don't know, but I know black parents do, at least those who have a realistic view of race in America.
We're not so post-racial in America that black boys can walk at night to get some Skittles and a can of tea without suspicion. Trayvon Martin paid with his life for no other reason than he was a black boy out at night going to the store to get some Skittles and a can of tea. Because, in America, black boys are automatically suspect. Especially if they're out at night.
And if the killer lives in Florida and he's not black, he might be able to get away with shooting a black boy who just happened to be out at night going to the store to get some Skittles and a can of tea. So far, that's been George Zimmerman's fate, at least until tonight when it was announced that the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice opened an investigation into Zimmerman's shooting of Martin and his claim of self-defense. Left to their own devices, the Florida authorities had not seen fit to question or test Mr. Zimmerman. They probably think that black boys out at night going to get some Skittles and a can of tea must be suspicious, too.
I'm all for the presumption of innocence in our criminal justice system and giving the system a chance to do what it does. But from all accounts, the Florida system has failed Trayvon and his family thus far. But for the media attention, the Florida authorities would not have been inclined to look deeper into Zimmerman's claim of self-defense against a 17 year-old unarmed boy out at night to get some Skittles and a can of tea. Would they have been so reticent, to put it politely, or indolent and unconcerned, to put it precisely, had Trayvon been white? Somehow I doubt it.
Had Trayvon been my brother, nothing that my parents told my other brothers when they were young would have protected him in the situation he was in.
Will our children ever be safe from racism in America?