Childrearing

What The Trayvon Martin Case Means For My White Daughter

By  | 

I was a goody goody in high school. Literally a choir girl, I spent most of my teen years being wholesome and terrified of doing the wrong thing. Most of my friends, however, were decidedly not afraid of trouble and so from my early teens, perfectly well-behaved me was in close proximity to alcohol, drugs and sex every time I spent a weekend with friends. The point of this is not to share with the world that I was the kind of teen who attended booze-filled house parties and spent the evening decidedly sober and generally bored. But to point out that every one of us who has lived through our teen years — even those of us who would be considered perfect angels by society’s standards — would look guilty as hell if placed under the scrutiny of a media looking for a specific angle to spin.

This is why I’ve been so fascinated and horrified by the Trayvon Martin murder, why I’ve been so angered by the media response to this case and why I am more than a little terrified for my daughter growing up in our current climate.

I don’t know Trayvon Martin. I have no idea what kind of a kid he was, how he liked to dress or if he would have “given lip” to an angry man who confronted him. What I do know is that none of those facts matter. An irrationally suspicious, angry and armed individual decided to pull out a gun and shoot a teenager for walking in his own neighborhood on the basis of the fact that he was black and wearing a sweatshirt in the rain. So why are we even discussing anything else? Why should I care or even know about the fact that Trayvon had a tattoo or that he was suspended from school recently? My best friend in high school was once suspended for a week for cutting school to hang out with her boyfriend and another friend was gone for two weeks for having a bottle of vodka in her locker. If either of them had been shot by someone ten years older while walking home from the store, would those facts be at all relevant?

As parents I think there is a special burden placed on us to fight back against injustice. We are, after all, trying to make the world a better place not just for us, but for our children. Victim-blaming is perhaps one of the worst injustices I could ever imagine experiencing as the parent of a crime victim. Any parent who is being realistic will acknowledge that their child is not perfect and that there are going to be many incidents in that child’s life that will leave them looking less than squeaky clean. Now imagine all of the stupid or immoral or simply wrong headed things your child might do being dragged to the surface and used to assassinate his or her character and justify his or her victimization. That is exactly what is happening in this case and it makes me sick to my stomach, as a human being, but especially as a parent.

I know that because of Trayvon’s case — and others like it — some parents of black children are going to spend a lot of time worrying about their children doing normal, everyday activiess that they shouldn’t even have to think twice about. This high profile case will probably force quite a few black teenagers to fear being perceived as “suspicious” simply because of the way that they look or the area they live in. The pain that Trayvon’s parents must feel, to not only have their worst fears realized in the death of their son, but to then spend day after day hearing people’s twisted attempts to justify a murderer is unimaginable. I’ll admit that I’m not sure that I’d be able to call for non-violent protests the way that Trayvon’s mother has if faced with this sort of rhetoric.

There is something deeper to my abject horror at this treatment of Trayvon Martin’s case by the media and certain contingents of the population. While I know that my white daughter will never be confronted with this sort of ingrained racism and hatred, I see parallels between the way people are discussing Trayvon’s story and the way that many girls and women are victimized again when they attempt to pursue justice against a rapist. That is something that as a woman and the mother of a little girl absolutely terrifies me. Every time I hear a new “reason” why Trayvon Martin somehow asked to be shot by a gun wielding, power hungry, cop wannabe I think of all the ways the media could make me seem like the sort of person who was just asking to be victimized by a rapist or murderer. I think of all the things my daughter will most likely do “wrong” in her teen years and the fear I will hold forever in my heart that not only will something horrible happen to my baby. But that when it does, I will wake up every morning to read headlines about the clothing she was wearing or the time she got suspended from school for being an idiot teenager instead of headlines about the criminal being brought to justice.

(photo: kpic.com)