From Native Son to Invisible Man: Reflections on Trayvon Martin and Rearing a Black Man-Child in America

8 thoughts on “From Native Son to Invisible Man: Reflections on Trayvon Martin and Rearing a Black Man-Child in America”

  1. This was a very powerful piece, considering this topic has been weighing heavily on my heart for weeks. It is frightening to realize that America is moving backward to an era of blatant disregard for tolerance instead of forward into the realm of acceptance of difference.

  2. There is nothing racist or prejudiced about you in this blog. I have had similar feelings from the time my son was born and even now that he is about to turn 21. I dreaded having a male child for the same reasons why Trayvon’s mother now cries. I have two older brothers and have watched them go through the same types of changes. Fortunately, they did not lose their lives but they did lose the battle. Remember you are not raising your son alone and your husband will be an invaluable resource to helping your son find the path towards manhood along with all the lessons that are to be learned along the way.

    I could sense all the anxiety of how things will turn out for him and whether or not he’ll be safe and I’m here to tell you that fear will not go away. There is always a knowing that his freedom to be exactly who he is and experiment along the way does come with the acknowledgement that someone will misinterpret him for something else. That’s what happens when a piece of us grows up and develops a personality of its own. Your fears are real and you will not be able to control the outcome. What you can do is teach your son and impart all of the wisdom and love you can on him. When he is of age, you can have teachable moments with him and find ways to help him cope with the reality that he will eventually be profiled by someone. If there were such a thing as a magic wand that could wipe away all of the anger that all the young black males carry for having been profiled and treated with such unfairness I would wave it….but I can’t.

    I’m just saying that your poignant post reflects feelings of my own and I know that we can’t change how the world sees us let alone our children. Most of all, don’t allow this reality to cause you to make decisions based on fear because it will rob you of all the joy your child was meant to bring to you. This is a good place for faith to come in. You’ll need it every time he walks out of your door because otherwise, your protective thoughts just might drive you insane. I remember the anger in my son’s sixth-grade eyes when he came home and told me he was called a nigger by a fellow classmate. It horrified me but the best I could do was to instill a sense that he has a rightful place in this world too. Of course the school officials didn’t handle it properly at all but I was more concerned about how my son internalized that experience…so I dealt with that.

    My son wears a hoodie all the time. He has tattoos and wears his pants sagging. He’s extremely bright though and I’ve taught him how to handle himself well and how to speak well. That helps. Even at age 20…I worry when he’s gone for a few days and no one hears from him. I don’t think that cycle ever stops and I can’t quite fault him because he doesn’t know what it’s like to live as a parent who has the fear of losing a child. He’ll understand one day though. I can’t force him to call me but all text messages are welcomed. You will do fine and I’m sure your baby boy will grow up to be something great.

  3. TMY, thank you for raising a very real fear of parents of Black and Brown boys. We live in a country where it has been permissible and tolerable to use violence as a means to protect person and property from the attack of Black men. As the father as a young Black 8-year-old boy, I am clear that he is in danger because law enforcement has historically sanctioned the use of brute force to police, subdue and punish young men that look like him. I am clear that the image of young black men as violent, criminal, suspicious, dangerous, and uneducated make them more prey to violence from members both inside and outside of their own communities. None of us is immuned to the social messages that communicate that black men carry a much lower threshold of reasonable cause when harm, suspicion and violence are inflicted upon them. So Jonolan, it is no surprise that there is wanton disregard for the value of life of young black men, even in their own communities.

    That being said, I have to be sure that my young son is aware of that truth. I must also be sure that he is aware that “that inconvenient truth” was constructed for him and me and his grandfather and great grandfather long be for we came on this Earth. So he must not own it but merely be aware of the notions, beliefs and actions that people have when he shows up Black and male. He must be clear that there are those who are equally intimidated by Brooks Brother suits as they are hooded sweat shirts and feel that same fear, intimidation, and need to create their own safety in our presence. This is even more true for those of us who work in the executive suite as those who work in the mailroom.

    They other thing that is important for me to do is to teach my son the value of being able to openly discuss the origins of how we have been constructed. He must be able to talk to his friends who are not young men of color and to his college professors and to his boss about how he experiences the world differently as a young man in brown skin. It is only through raising awareness about how and why encountering brown skin, hooded sweatshirt, and baggy jeans means you get the opportunity to shoot now and ask questions later that we will bring about change.

    So in protecting my son, I will have the courage to talk about this with my peers, my colleagues, my boss, my political representatives and create a space where we don’t have to hide behind the taboo of race discussions. Silence on this issue equals death and in most cases it equals death of young men of color who never had a chance to understand how much they were living a dangerous world that they did actually have the ability to change. So I appreciate the dialogue that has now started between the three us and I welcome continued dialogue. It is through discourse that we will create new thinking, new behaviors and new possibilities for the young people in our nation and end the senseless slaughter of young men with promise for the future.

  4. Put your racism aside if you want to protect your child. He stands almost no chance of being killed by a White but stands a real chance of being killed by another Black since the number one cause of death of Black males age 14 -24 is homicide by another Black male.

    1. Hello, Jonolan. Thanks for reading my post. I am unclear about your definition of racism. Racism means having power to institutionalize prohibiting access and opportunity for others based on race/ethnicity, which was not all all the point,intent, or focus of my post. The point of the post was sharing aloud my reality, that as a parent I am faced with raising a son who will have to exist in multiple worlds and dynamics, and disclose what it currently feels like to know this and do this work with him. This reality is not isolated to just me, as recent news articles, broadcasts, and postings by other parents reveals. To your point, one of such challenges is supporting him in understanding the possibility his life being threatened (by myriad factors).

      1. On the matter of racism, there is no point in our engaging in further conversation. You bought into the false and self-serving “power+prejudice” (mis)definition whereas I didn’t.

        I brought it up solely because your “reality” seemed focused on the supposed threats Whites posed for your child when the greatest threats to your son’s life are from your fellow Blacks – just as the statistics show that the greatest threats to my children’s lives would be from fellow Whites, though that would be a far less likely threat in my children’s case.

        Teaching your children accurate threat assessment is part of protecting them and letting them grow to protect themselves. Teaching them inaccurate threat assessment is a good way of losing them, which is something I’d wish on only a very few.

      2. Jonolan, I am really unclear about why you are bringing such tone, hostility and particularized set of accusations to this specific post. There seems to be a whole other underlying intention, agenda, goal and platform you are promoting that has nothing to do with what I shared, and seemingly preceded this day’s post. To your point, Black-on-Black crime exists. News broadcasts and dramas like “The Wire” constantly portray such phenomena on our retinas and hearts. And both historically and worldwide, racial/ethnic groups are and have been in conflict with one another (Argentine against Argentine during the dirty war, Syrian against Syrian, Somalian rebel against Somalian refuge, IRA against Britain, etc.). If Black-on-Black crime is something you want to elaborate upon and urgently discuss, there are a plethora of forums and blogs that are hosting that discussion, that want to explore and compare Black-on-Black crime with what occurs within and across ethnic groups locally and abroad.

        My point in writing THIS post was about the underlying issues, dilemmas and heartaches of parenthood, particularly raising a child to have dual consciousness given Trayvon’s death, an important reality that gets less media coverage. Regrettably, an exchange of ideas and dialogue between us about similarities and differences in parenting issues and realities could have been potentially fruitful. Given your two posts, that is clearly what you do not want from me or this forum.

        You have vivified and made a clear case of the importance of threat assessment.

      3. Actually, you deserve my apologies and I offer them to you. I stand by my statements – and they’ve largely been born out by other comments here – but I could have, and should have, worded them more sensitively and with less overt hostility.

        I’m afraid that I let you bear some of the brunt of the anger I feel towards the various “Blacktivists,” grievance-mongers, and politicians such as Obama who’ve been profiteering off this tragedy, largely because it’s an election year with a Black incumbent.

        It’s a little close to home for me. My son would be of mixed-race so I tend to react strongly when people use such deaths for their own purposes.

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