WE NEED TO TALK

It all started with gluten.

 

My three kids and I were driving to Maine to visit a friend. As she is one of the most prolific writers, bloggers, publishers, feminist, moms that I know, I was looking forward to having a conversation about life post-verdict.

 

It didn’t seem right to just turn off Radio Disney, interrupt the Cups song, and dive into the facts about Trayvon Martin. So instead, we started with gluten.

 

“Kids, my friend Patricia and her daughter have allergies to gluten,” I started. “Do you know what gluten is and does?”

 

I truthfully know very little about gluten and celiac. I just know that I can’t use the same cutting board to cut my bread as I use for my friend who has a gluten allergy. I know that she doesn’t eat bread products. And I do know that I have to check labels and look for “gluten free.” That’s about it. I have no idea what type of pain it causes, what the impact can be, or how it is diagnosed (though, since writing this, of course, I have looked it up….).

 

It started with gluten.

 

It ended with “Well, that’s just ridiculous,” said my 7-year old. “What do you mean he killed a teenager, said he killed a teenager, and then didn’t go to jail?”

 

Rewind.

 

ME: “Jada, read me the labels on the cookies we are bringing to Patricia’s house.”

JADA: “They say gluten free.”

ME:  “So, if I know that Patricia gets hurt when she eats gluten. And, I accidently bring something that has gluten, and she eats it, and she gets hurt, what does that mean to me?”

JADA: “It means that, even when it’s an accident, you might still hurt someone. Even if you didn’t mean it.”

ME: “What do you think should happen to me?”

EVAN — my 4-year old son: “You should go to your room and sit on your bed until someone says you can come out. But if it’s me, you should let me play.”

** insert laughter **

ME: “Okay, seriously. Now, if I accidently hurt someone, and even if I hurt someone because I think they are mean, you’re saying I should be, well, punished or, in my words, held accountable, for it?”

JADA: “Yes.”

EVAN: “Yes, but only if I have candy.”

****

Our conversation went much like that for the next 20 minutes — a mix of laughter, seriousness, content they could relate to, and “what if” scenarios.

And, because they have grown up around conversations about race, we talked about Trayvon Martin, a young teen with Black skin.

 

Throughout this conversation, I was so thankful that this was not their first introduction to race. This was not their first time hearing about fairness, punishment, race, and gender. This was not the first conversation they have engaged in about skin color, about hair, clothing, or even being multiracial.

 

I’ve used the analogy about “crossing the street” many times when I discuss diversity and conversations with kids. I remember pushing my daughter’s stroller, waiting at the cross walk, and saying, “Okay, honey, now we look both ways and cross.” She likely had no idea what I was talking about, but as her mom, I knew to say it. I knew to warn her about cars. I knew to say the words, “Look both ways.” When my kids could walk on their own at a quick enough pace, I no longer picked them up when I crossed the street. I let them wrap their fingers around my pinky, cross with me, and said, “Look both ways.” As adolescents, I still say the same thing. To my daughter with one eye, I say, “Look both ways …. ALL the way. Turn your head ALL the way until you can see to the other side.” She gets special directions. My one-eyed daughter gets special directions that the other kids do not get. These directions keep her safe.

 

Yesterday, in the car, at that moment, we were at the crosswalk.  A dangerous intersection. Except the cars were race; and the traffic lights were broken.

 

And, I held their hand. We looked both ways.

 

They are 9, 7 and 4. So, no, we did not talk about the legal system. We did not talk about jury selection, the message this has sent, and we didn’t even talk about the pain I feel. We didn’t talk about my perverted relief that my son is light skinned. We didn’t talk about my fear that even as a college administrator, a soon-to-be-doctorate, and being a highly educated diversity director does little to protect the many young Black men in my own life.

 

But, we talked. And, friends, I have to believe — in order to wake up each morning — that even talking about race prepares my children to cross the road. They do not have to agree with me. They don’t even have to believe me. But they do have to talk about it. They do have to engage with it. They do have to see it. 

 

There were many times during our brief conversation that I cried. I cried tears of sadness. I cried tears of joy. I cried tears of “that was the most hilarious thing I have ever heard” — mostly coming from my 4-year old son, whose solution to all of this was “Why didn’t he just take a sip of the ice tea, make a big bubble in his mouth, and spit it out a hundred ten hundred ninety-eight billion billion hundred miles at the man?” My son then proceeded to take a sip from his water bottle, create a big pocket in his mouth, and then spit it out all over the car….

 

Awesome.

 

My 7-year old said that the man should feel really sorry that the teenager was dead.

 

My 9-year old asked, “Do you think it would have been different if the teenager was a girl? Because if someone followed me and was driving slow near me, I would run fast and yell that someone is following me.”

 

My 7-year old replied, “But, the teenager was had skin that was black. If he ran, that might look like he was running away because he did something bad. Even if he didn’t do anything bad.”

 

And then I just listened. I asked if they had any questions. I asked them how they felt about all of this. I asked them what they could do so things like this wouldn’t happen.

 

And, because they are kids of color, I began to tell them what they should do if someone is following them.

 

And then I realized, it was the exact same advice that Trayvon had, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

SILENCE

I take pride in the fact that I am quick writer – dare I even say, a witty writer. My thoughts move quickly from brain to fingers to keyboard to screen to publishing. I’ve written about disability, cancer, diversity, gender, love, anger, parenting, race and racism. I’ve written about the every day antics of my children, the peacefulness of a long run, and the joys and frustrations of doing diversity work.

 

But I just can’t write about the verdict that found George Zimmerman not guilty of the murder of Trayvon Martin.

 

I just can’t.

 

On a long drive just hours after the verdict was announced, I thought of all the angles and I wanted to write about. I thought about the opening paragraph, the structure of the blog post, the funny stories that I would connect, the emotion I would attempt to elicit through careful positioning of words. But, I just couldn’t. Nothing made sense. Nothing flowed. Nothing felt right.

 

And, so, today, I do not offer a witty blog post on the state of race in America. I do not offer up a commentary on the importance of young Black men in our society and the urgency with which we, as Americans, need to value them, their families, their contributions, their talents, their struggles and their successes. I do not offer up any solutions to long standing institutional racism nor to dismantling my own earliest messages of Black men and Black boys (or lack of) in my childhood. I do not offer up my sadness and fear for my own nephews — who vary in shades of brown and black — nor the twisted sigh of relief that my own son is light skinned and with hair that does not require a wave cap.

 

No. I simply offer this as a marker of time. That something so sad has happened not just a year ago, not just this weekend, but in the daily lives of black and brown men and boys, and the women and girls who both love them and who have watched them figure out the rules of a game they didn’t create. For the ways in which we have tried to “raise ’em right” by valuing education, using manners, never walking alone never walking in groups, not carrying candy not carrying weapons,  live in a safe neighborhood live with good neighbors, don’t run run, trust people don’t trust anyone.

 

 

I offer this as a way for my kids — who one day might actually read what I have written while they have sat in the living room in a bouncy seat or sleeping in a crib or reading books — to know why the sounds of keyboard clicking and crying have occurred in our home.

 

I didn’t want to be silent. And, once this passes, I will likely kick back into activist mode, engage in dialogue about race, racism, oppression, value and all the stuff that usually energizes me. All the stuff that needs to be discussed so that my children know the reality of our world and our society.

 

I haven’t told them that a young man named Trayvon Martin was killed. I haven’t told them that the man who killed him will be given back his gun.

 

Because they believe in fairness.

 

They believe that our laws protect us from being killed.

 

They believe that when you do something wrong, you get sent to your room or have your privileges taken away. Even when it’s an accident.

 

They believe that their mom has always spoken up when things were wrong, that their mom always talks about important issues in our world — issues that they need to know about in order to help create change in our world.

 

They will come to learn that their mom’s inability to even talk about it,  says more than her blog post.