When the president of the United States recounts his own experiences as a Black boy in America: suspected, feared,vulnerable to violence, just like 17 year old Trayvon Martin–it is a remarkable, even historic moment.
I was recently reminded by the brilliant feminist, activist writer Robin Morgan of a conversation we had years ago about raising our sons. She recalled that she said she felt she had done the best she could in cultivating in Blake the right values to take him into manhood. I responded that I really hoped that my boy Mike would still be alive as a man. Thankfully, he is.
But I remember one night that I–usually a rational, hoping for the best type–lost my mind. Mike was late getting home and despite what that rational mind should have convinced me–that he was out having fun–I was certain “something” had happened to him. No response on his phone, 2AM in New York City. I actually rushed into the street from my apartment and stationed myself at the corner, to be sure of his approach. I called my (truly rational) daughter who persuaded me that I was “way over-reacting”–and that I should go home. Giving it a few more minutes, to be sure, I do indeed see my son ambling towards home–and not happy at all to see his crazed mother on the corner.
That night the undercurrent of fear that rides in the chests of mothers of Black sons bubbled to the surface for me. I know women who have lost their boy children in the streets–to thugs, to drugs, prison or to the police. Immeasurable sadness. Unbearable grief.
I would hope that I would have the faith and fortitude and grace of Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sabrina Fulton. I doubt I would. Here she was today in New York City, a week after her son’s killer was declared innocent, defending her son’s character and declaring she would work to make sure no other children fall to Trayvon’s fate: a victim first of violence –and then faulty laws.
There’s no ‘Stand Your Ground” in New York City, but we have a police force free to “stop and frisk” anyone, but who mostly employ it against Black and Latino men, I am sad to say that my biggest fear for my son is his inevitable encounter with a “frisking” policeman. We have had the conversations–the why, and how to respond (meekly)–but I have not yet been able to break the pride and confidence of this young man who feels it is unjust to be targeted because of the color of his skin. I am afraid of the testing of wills in that meeting.
Like many others, I found President Obama’s unscripted and personal comments about the Trayvon Martin tragedy and trial profoundly moving. Yes, he could have been Trayvon Martin–but he survived and flourished and became this country’s first Black president. And I deeply appreciate his speaking up for the lost boys of our country, generations now of young men being taken from their mothers, one way or another.
I feel like rushing out into the street again, standing on the corner, frantically looking for our boys. We all should. We should be panicked. We’ve been rational way too long.