Parental Responses to Trayvon Martin’s Killing Prove That America is Not “Post-Racial”  

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March 22 2012 5:15 PM

Parental Responses to Trayvon Martin’s Killing Prove That America Is Not “Post-Racial”  

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NEW YORK, NY - MARCH 21: Supporters of Trayvon Martin rally in Union Square during a 'Million Hoodie March' in Manhattan on March 21, 2012 in New York City.

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Read Slate’s complete coverage of the Trayvon Martin case.

J. Bryan Lowder J. Bryan Lowder

J. Bryan Lowder is a Slate assistant editor. He writes and edits for Outward, Slate’s LGBTQ section, and for the culture section.

Over on her parenting blog yesterday, Janice D’Arcy wrote a fascinating post collecting the “rules” that some African-American parents feel compelled to teach their children regarding how to deal with a racist culture, especially possibly hostile white authorities. In the wake of the tragic death of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin at the hands of George Zimmerman last month—a shooting which increasingly appears to have been racially motivated—many parents have felt the need to reiterate these “proverbs,” as one mother calls them, in order to arm their children against prejudiced attacks. Here’s a sampling that D’Arcy obtained from the blog “Black and Married with Kids,” by Michelle Johnson:

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1. Don’t touch anything when you go into stores…

2. Always ask for a bag for the items you purchased. ... My mom didn’t want anyone thinking that we walked out of the store without paying for our merchandise. …

3. Know who you are. You can’t do everything they do. In other words, just because your white friend does something that doesn’t mean you can do the same. Whether it’s hanging at the mall or going to a house party, police, teachers, and other authorities treat white children differently than black children. …

These are all chilling, but the last one really gets to the heart of the matter. People of color are simply not able to walk through the world blissfully free from suspicion, a privilege that white people enjoy every day. I live in a predominately black neighborhood in New York, and I can report from first-hand experience that beat cops’ eyes do not follow my white skin, but they certainly fixate on my neighbors who are merely walking home, same as me. From accounts of the story, we know that Martin, with his “suspicious” hoodie and candy and iced tea, was deemed a dangerous trouble-maker by his shooter for apparently no other reason than being a black teen walking down the street. And now he’s dead.

While the demand for justice surrounding this case continues to grow—a petition calling for the prosecution of Zimmerman has reached over a million signatures and the Sanford police chief stepped down amid the furor on Thursday—parents of color will understandably trust the outside world even less, because they recognize that this is tragedy is not some crazy outlier. These sad rules will be revisited, and a whole generation of kids will be programmed with a sense of self-consciousness and self-policing that in some cases may well be necessary for survival. For anyone who has fooled themselves into believing we live in a “post-racial” country, this glimpse into the besieged lives of people of color should quickly correct that misapprehension. 

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