“That he needed to be careful with white folks. That they couldn’t be trusted and that he was going to have to work harder for everything he got in life. He would need to be twice as good to make it. The system was designed for him to fail and racism still exists. He could dress like them, talk like them, and act like them but at the end of the day he is still just a nigger in their eyes.”
These are comments I heard throughout my childhood, not necessarily by my parents but throughout the general community. I learned very early that being black meant I would have to watch my back, work harder, keep my eyes wide open, and expect to be mistreated and overlooked for promotion.
When I got older, I experienced some of the exact same things that my community had warned me about, and I experienced the exact opposite. Some of my worst experiences with class and race came at the hands of other African Americans. Some of my best friends were white and they welcomed me into their homes and families with open arms. By the time I entered college, I was ignoring the warnings of my ancestors and community. Yes, racism, classim, and sexism existed, but I was going to make it because of my hard work, attitude, and apitude.
I even begin to challenge how I wanted to raise my own kids. Would I give them the speeches that I had heard growing up? When they came home from school and said someone else was chosen as captain of the team, president of the club, or scholar of the year, would I tell them that the decision was due to racism? In my mind, I quickly respond no. I will not develop a system of racial inferiority in my children by explaining to them why their skin tone makes them cursed. This is 2012 and people are not still judging others by their skin tone right?
Well…when I read about Trayvon Martin being shot in the gated community where his father lived because he looked suspicious and was wearing a hoodie, holding a pack of skittles, and drinking an iced tea, I realize that now, it is really hard for me to answer that question. I want to believe that I grew up in a better racial environment than my parents who grew up in a better racial environment than their parents, and that my children will grow up in a better racial environment than me. Yet, is that wishful thinking? Am I just being foolish to think that I can raise my kids to believe that they will be accepted by the content of their character and not the color of their skin? That there is no neighborhood where they can casually walk the streets, talk on their cell phones, and not be shot? That regardless of their first name, they will not be profiled on their job applications? That a certain dress code is not necessary and that policeman will protect them if they ever encounter trouble?
I really, really want to be optimistic, but honestly, I am just not sure. I want to think that when the time comes for my husband and I to enter parenthood, we will know what to say to our children about racism, profiling, and opportunity.
I just have to wonder, when thinking about my own situation, what Trayvon’s parents said to him when he was growing up. Better yet, I wonder what Mr. Zimmerman’s parents said to him when he was growing up. This is 2012, right?