“Have DJ wear his hoodie today,” Scoot whispered as he woke me up to say goodbye this morning.
“Huh?” I replied, still very sleepy.
“It’s the Million Hoodie March today for Trayvon Martin,” he replied.
“Oh, ok. Yeah,” I said.
One more snooze cycle later, I was up and in DJ’s room talking to both boys about getting dressed. “Wear your hoodie today, DJ,” I told him.
And so it began, a weighty conversation to be having with an eight year old at six-something in the morning. I explained to him the story of Trayvon Martin. That he was killed by an adult. That he was Black. That he was wearing a hoodie in a neighborhood where this adult didn’t think he belonged. That it could have been anyone with the wrong colored skin wearing a hoodie that night. I will likely never forget the look on his face when he asked if Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. got involved like after Bloody Sunday and I replied, “No, DJ, this didn’t happen back then. This happened just a few weeks ago.”
Just a couple weeks ago, as we pulled out of the parking lot following DJ’s baseball game onto a street in our somewhat diverse suburb, I did a double-take at the green truck ahead of us. “What the f**k?” I said in disbelief to Scoot as I flipped to the camera on my phone. The entire back of the truck was covered with racist, derogatory bumper stickers exactly like the ones you’ve seen reposted on Facebook. (No, that’s not my picture. Frankly, the one I took was even worse.) This didn’t happen in the Deep South. It happened in liberal California. In 2012.
Just a few years ago, Scoot and I were shopping at a mall. A display just before the entrance to a high-end department store caught my eye and I slowed. Not seeing me, Scoot walked into the men’s section of the department store, far enough ahead that no one could know that we were together. As I walked in behind him, I noticed a salesman tailing him. I watched as he, a twenty-something father stopping by the store to check out shirts and ties for his white collar job, was followed suspiciously.
Just a score ago, Black friends and schoolmates who lived in the same uber-liberal town that I grew up in were followed home from school by White administrators who were suspicious of their residency. They couldn’t fathom that these Black kids’ parents could possibly afford a home in this well-off city. In their mind, those kids must live on the other side of the creek, not in our district.
Sometimes it’s hard to do more than shake my head at these occasionally subtle, often overt expressions of suspicion based solely on the color of someone’s skin and the sense they don’t belong. I’ve been amazed by the conversations I’ve had and heard with and between other White people who won’t or don’t believe that these things take place. Still. Today. It confuses me why they walk around in ignorance or defiance, unable or unwilling to raise their voices, even in the safe confines of conversations with people who look like them, and say, “Yeah, I noticed that. It’s messed up.” And when I raise my voice, I get frustrated when other White parents act like I’m some hypersensitive wing-nut for talking to my children about such things, “forcing them to grow up too fast” rather than “protecting their innocence.”
There are seventeen year old kids out there, my nephews (who are Black) included, who walk around with hoodies on. They deserve to have their innocence protected too.
There is much that can and has been said about this atrocity. There will be much more said, I’m sure. Having my kids wear hoodies today won’t change anything. But talking to them about it, being honest with them about the world they live in, teaching them what’s right, and empowering them to do something, anything to keep this kind of tragedy from happening again? Not just today but everyday? Some day, that just might.