Tuesday, February 5, 2013

1 What will Alvaro tell Alvaro Jr about Trayvon Martin?

I have had this on my mind for a long time and this piece needs some polishing but I wanted to publish it on the 5th instead of later.  Hopefully this is just one of a few pieces I'll produce about Trayvon Martin and his death and its implications.  His murder affected me a lot more over the ensuing months than I anticipated.  That said, happy birthday, Trayvon.

I started thinking about this piece a little while ago, a few months or so.  Today is February 4th, 2013, and I'm fixated on flushing out this feeling.

Today is February 4th, 2013, and today is my 22nd birthday.  Mondays are my worst days in terms of workload.  I have three classes and I work on Mondays and the brunt of my assignments are due early in the week so tonight I probably won't be getting drunk.  I'll save that for tomorrow night or the weekend.

Tomorrow, February 5th, 2013, is Trayvon Martin's birthday.  He would have been 18 years old this year and may or may not have gotten drunk with his friends, sipping their local brand of cheap shit-vodka out of water bottles in his parents' basement or trying to sneak a birthday kiss from one of the girls at his high school.  He would have been 18 if he was still alive, still breathing, still smiling, still able to walk freely down the street with a can of Arizona Iced Tea and a bag of Skittles.  Travyon would have been enjoying his senior year of high school and justifying youthful indiscretion by citing the doctrine of "YOLO" just as I am now but in college, trying to suck the marrow out of campus life before I have to depart.

Unlike Trayvon Martin, I've never had a gun pulled on me.  I have seen a gun on a few occasions, seen it brandished in the hand of a man as the sunlight reflects off the barrel.  I have seen that same gun kick back in revolt after being squeezed underneath and I have seen people collapse to the ground and cover their heads with the composure of a second-grader during a fire drill.  I have seen the blood-on-brick-wall-graffiti of that gun, the limp rag doll in a puffy Roca Wear jacket whose eyes have seen God but failed to be see the nine-millimeter bullet.

But still, unlike Trayvon Martin, I have never had a gun pulled on me.  Unlike Trayvon Martin, I was not gunned-down by an overzealous and unstable neighborhood watch guard.  Unlike Trayvon Martin, I am lucky enough to be alive.

Last May, my best friend from home told me that he was going to have a kid, a son it turned out.  Alvaro and his girlfriend-now-fiancee had not been dating for long and looking back on it, I think his son (Alvaro III) was conceived on Valentine's Day.  I try not to think about the specifics of that though.  Alvaro is a light-skinned Mexican-American guy who gets shit from his darker-skinned cousins for being the "Spanish one."  His fiancee is darker though and is routinely referred to as "la morena," the dark one.  So you can imagine where the child's complexion will be.

Trayvon Martin was shot in the same year as Alvaro's son was conceived -- on February 26th, to be exact.   In the months following the drama of that tragedy, I remembered thinking of Trayvon's shooting whenever Alvaro and I had a quiet moment to talk about the fact he was going to be a father.  I remember that every new detail of the case was unsettling to me as I tried to figure out what exactly to make of this.  What is the teachable moment that every tragedy is supposed to be saddled with?  And, on top of that, what is the lesson for Alvaro when he is about to have his own son in a society that routinely criminalizes black and brown folks?  The question I couldn't shake was: "What and when will Alvaro tell Alvaro Jr about Trayvon Martin?"

Seriously, I'm not asking for dramatic effect.  I genuinely don't know.

How do you, as a parent, synthesize a lifetime of hard lessons about how blackness is dangerous, non-whiteness is criminal, how the police and the government and your neighbors are probably going to profile you on the basis of nothing but your skin?  How do you tell your kids that America is the land of opportunity, a place where you can make yourself into what you want, but also school them on the fact that they are going to be subject to harsher penalties for the same infractions as their white peers?

How do you show your child -- or maybe shelter them from -- the fact that if you're a 7-year old Latino boy at the playground and you get into a scuffle over $5, that the police may handcuff you and interrogate you for over 10 hours. What do you tell your kid when he or she, just like little Wilson Reyes, didn't even steal the $5 and the police department plays it off as a "standard juvenile arrest"?  How do you explain to them that this is probably only the first of many abuses they will suffer on the basis of race.

Or what about when your child asks to borrow the car.  What is it like to be the parent of a 22 year-old named Rodrigo Diaz when you are informed that your son was left slumping over the steering wheel of the red Mitsubishi because he made the fatal mistake of turning into the wrong driveway en route to going ice skating with his girlfriend?  Do you even tell him -- or your remaining children since Rodrigo is dead -- that they shouldn't turn into the wrong driveway because their race will be perceived as a threat to any of a number of paranoid white folks who wouldn't think twice about killing a brown or black boy?

How about Salecia Johnson?  What did her parents do when they had to explain to their daughter why she was handcuffed over a temper tantrum?  A teacher saw a six year-old and decided that it was imperative to call the police -- to spend tax dollars and time and resources putting a six year-old girl in handcuffs and driving her to the police station before giving her a soda pop and acting as if everything is peachy.  Are we embarrassed yet?

Imagine your five year-old child with ADHD having his hands and feet zip-tied for hours because the school called in a police officer to scare your son straight -- imagine if in the process, your five year-old was charged with battery against a police officer for hitting the mysterious man who tried to grab him.  It shouldn't be hard to imagine, though, because it happened and it's real.

Mychal Denzel Smith had it right in The Nation when he said,
"The kids get the message at a very young age, and the rest of the world does as well, that they are potential menaces to society and will be treated as such.  That's why, in the Washington, DC, area, black kids are two to five times more likely to be suspended or expelled from school than their white classmates, and why in New York City, over the course of a four-month period in the summer and fall of 2011, all but four of the sixty-three students arrested in school were black or Latino.  They aren't disproportionately more disruptive, but their behavior is interpreted as such.
This is how you end up with Trayvon Martins and Jordan Davises.  We create these images of monsters and then wonder why people go out slaying them." (The Nation)
Or let's go back to Florida, the land of Stand Your Ground and Disney World.  Let's go back to the place where a seventeen year-old unarmed black male was shot by an older white man for being perceived as a threat when no such threat has materialized in subsequent investigations.  You might think I'm talking about Trayvon but I'm not.  Same year; same state; same dynamics but instead this is the story of another black boy who was killed: Jordan Davis.

This time, not for walking in the rain with a hoodie but for playing his music too loudly.  Seriously.  For playing his music too loudly in a parking lot and refusing to turn it down when asked by Michael David Dunn, the murderer -- Jordan Davis was shot.  And the only justification Michael Dunn's defense has offered is that somewhere in the car a shotgun appeared and Dunn reacted in self-defense.  But the thing is, there was no gun -- at least not with Jordan Davis.  The only person with a gun was Dunn and he knew how to use it and did so with deadly effectiveness.  Another day, another dead black boy and still no gun.

What do we tell our kids about this?

What will Alvaro tell his son?

Does he tell him that black and brown boys are incriminated from the day they are born -- that it isn't about the weapons you carry in reality -- all that matters is that folks, specifically white folks, perceive you to be "threatening"?

Does Alvaro sit his son down and explain that it doesn't even always have to be racially-white people who carry out the murder but, rather, people who operate in the mode of whiteness, that whiteness as property is very real and very much privileged here?

Does Alvaro relay what Melissa Harris-Perry said on December 2nd, that Trayvon and Jordan are no different than the murder of Emmett Till?  Does he unpack what she means when she says that for young black boys there is, "No presumption of innocence for young black men, no benefit of the doubt. Guilt not determined by what they did or said but presumed to be inherent in their very being. They need not wield a weapon to pose a threat because if you are a young black man, you are threat enough."  Does he explain that it isn't just black boys and girls who will be denied due process and the luxury of being innocent until proven guilty; does he explain to his son that walking down the street with a bag of skittles, a can of iced tea, and a hoodie may be cause enough for his own execution?

How will Alvaro tell his son about this?

How did my dad tell me?

How will I tell my son -- a son who, to folks like George Zimmerman, will look like Trayvon Martin?

And that might be the hardest conclusion to have reached and the most difficult truth to produce.  How do you tell your child that in this country, being black and alive is threat enough?

Trayvon Martin was supposed to turn 18 on February 5th, which is today since I couldn't finish this piece last night.  Somewhere in this country, Sybrina Fulton and Tracy Martin are neck-deep in the fact that Trayvon Martin will never, ever, again open birthday presents; he will not go to college and walk across the stage to receive his diploma; he will not pose for another picture or ask if he can stay out late or cry about having his heart broken.  And he will certainly never, ever, walk down a rainy street wearing a hoodie and carrying a can of Arizona iced tea and a bag of Skittles because he is dead.

And he is dead because George Zimmerman shot him.  And he is dead because this society is ok with that. And he is dead because when an unnarmed black boy is gunned-down outside of his father's home our society starts combing through the kid's Twitter and Facebook to find a history of "violent tendencies," as if that changes the fact that he was condemned to death for being a "threat," for being black, for being who he is and breathing.  And he is dead because we care more about Lena Dunham's self-aggrandizing shit festival on HBO than we do about the institutionalized and state-sanctioned abuses and mass execution of our black and brown children.

Rodrigo Diaz is dead.  Jordan Davis is dead.  Trayvon Martin is dead.

These three names of the countless who are dead because we, as a society, sentenced them to death before they were even born.  Why don't we see that yet?

I believe that birthdays should be a celebration, or at the very least a remembrance or a reflection, upon the life of the cherished person.  I hope Trayvon's family is doing that where ever they are because we, as a society, so readily wash our hands of these lives lost as if we aren't all complicit.

I don't know what Alvaro will tell his son about Rodrigo Diaz.

I don't know what I will tell my son about Trayvon Martin.

All I know is that right now, for me, and for those of us who are them and who know them and who love them -- all I know is that this country is no place for young people of color.


  1. I agree with this article in all its entirety except for the random attack on Girls.

    That show is helping to expose gender and body image stigmas within our Society just like this article is trying to expose the racial stigmas in our society.

    There was no need for that offhand comment, it simply detracts from your point and makes women less likely to support your arguments.



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