Early this morning I was drafting a guest blog post about what it is like to be a new wife and mother. The wife version I completed, and just when I was to start drafting the part about raising a son, I read several posts and articles about Trayvon Martin’s murder. And I read Sheree’s FB post that ignited my heart and fright.
What a tragedy of life and travesty of justice.
I then heard my son crying and went to check on him. He drifted back to sleep, except for grabbing my thumb which he would not let go of even while sleeping. After reading of this event, it moves me even more that my son trusts me to comfort him, even in his sleep.
But I don’t trust the world to protect him. Or my husband.
I asked hubby while eating breakfast today to be careful, for he is someone’s son. And he is someone’s father.
George Zimmerman’s father advocated on his behalf, yet I wonder if George thought of the impact of his actions on Trayvon’s mother and father who would be affected by what he was about to do to their son. About the dangerous stereotype he was about to reinvigorate and perpetuate because of his skewed vigilantism (how can you claim self defense when you pursue someone despite the police dispatcher’s admonishment to not do so?). About the permission he took that was not his to take in the taking of life.
As he walks free. While many of us hold sons, husbands, fathers, uncles, and brothers tighter in our grasp.
It’s 2012, and black men continue to be a hunted endangered species.
I think I will be writing a different piece about what it is like to be a mother . . .
For the weeks and months to come, many will write about the tragedy of the murder of Trayvon Martin, and the travesty of justice they foresee as imminent. The contemplations, discussions, and emotions will be broadened to encompass indignation toward Geraldo’s flippant “hoodie” defense (what happens when you dress a certain way), the desired resignation of the neophyte Sanford Chief of Police and examination of his department’s shoddy execution of investigation and due diligence, and musings over how long the slaying of a yet another Black youth will dwell in the nation’s conscious after mainstream media no longer broadcasts it. Yet what’s begun to stir within me is an investigation of me, of the inner workings of the new intimate space within me called parent, of what I am responsible for doing in rearing my newborn son to endure (and survive) a current and post-Trayvon Martin era.
The excerpt above was the first of two Facebook posts I wrote emotively on March 19th after hearing about this young son’s death. The holding of my own son, who arrived just a few short months ago, has suddenly become more intense, an honest reaction to a hellish circumstance. But while my arms can for now shield his growing body, the eventuality is that he will outgrow them. Although he will practice his first steps within the preparation, guidance, and sanctuary of my arms, the eventuality is that he will walk away from me into and within the world outside them. If I have done my job well, he will be learned and equipped in how to stand on his own. On his physical legs, yes. Yet I contemplate how best to support his standing with strategies for straddling his inherited duality; although he is spiritually and ancestrally a temple, he is a target socially, culturally, and historically.
The scrimmage fought between being a man-child of great potential and the caricature misinterpreted as being executable is a stark reality. It is alarming that prisons are built at a rate proportionate to students’ performance on elementary literacy tests, the notorious cradle-to-prison pipeline. And many of us are now resorting (rightfully) to practicing with our sons how to interact with law enforcement (how to speak, how to posture, how not to exude being a “threat” or “menace”). The gravity of protecting and harvesting a son (both my own and our collective) weighs on me. I vacillate between which should “weigh” more—helping him to harness his holiness and hopes, or conduct regular drills with him on how to interface with the outer emboldened and armed law enforcement representatives and fanatics. For this brief moment, I feel parenting duties prioritized to preserving his physical life, and once out of my arms’ reach how to effectively (ideally) do so on his own. As my role as a parent daily unfolds, so does my quandary and question over what takes precedence in what to teach and educate.
Without Sanctuary, Lynching Photography in America, chronicles the epidemic lynching of yesteryear and its commercialization through postcards (yes, people could send well wishes to family on one side with the image of an incinerated and castrated body on the other). Lynching, this cultural attitude legitimizing the denigration and objectification of black males and the abhorrent act manifesting from it, seems to be rearing its ugly head, with strange fruit again populating our nation’s fatigued trees (Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham, and those whose lives ended suspiciously as chronicled by filmmaker Keith Beauchamp in “The Injustice Files: At the End of a Rope” to name a few, regrettably). Trayvon’s death eerily echoes and harkens back to this era, as Zimmerman’s 911 calls serve as the prelude to the semi-automated lynching he was about to conduct. Or has the era ever left us?
This is my initial reaction as a parent. To save my offspring from harm. To guard what is of my flesh, my incubation. To prepare him for a hostile world. We know the risks of bringing forth a man-child in this land of promise (though not always of promises kept). He is a native son, born into the milieu of fear, flight, and fate that is disproportionately slated for our young men. He will have to make strategic decisions in his navigations and negotiations as an invisible man in these states. Therefore, I wonder how much I must teach my son how much his body is and is not his. What places he can and cannot be (and at what times). What he can and cannot wear. How he can and cannot speak. I feel the pressure of teaching him that daily he will have to walk and breathe in duality. To know it is his right to live by his own construction, but that such living will intersect and conflict with, as well as disrupt, others’ construction of him (and how people may consequently act on those constructions regardless of his innocence or best intentions).
Though Trayvon’s parents did not will his son to be a sacrificial lamb or martyr (nor would any parent of their lamb), they took the risk to release their son into the world; an innocent who went into the world alone was returned to them in a body bag. However, his life and death harnessed and galvanized an insurrection and reflection bigger than himself.
But I/we as parents must be and remain brave and bold.
My infant son’s favorite position is being perched on my shoulders. There, he steadies himself, hands and forearms braced against my shoulders. His routine is first to peer over my shoulders, then emboldened, begins his ritual of incessantly searching out the world around him. Rapidly rotating from side to side, his eyes and head venture then fixate. Venture, and then fixate. Quickly that shoulder’s geography becomes a bore, and like a rock climber ambitiously leaping to a new rock, so does he. I catch and cradle his search, support his navigation, lest he lose balance and fall from pursuing and practicing his ambition.
But this is the point. Instinctively, he trusts (and ideally all children trust in their guardians) I will support his ambitions and protect him in his pursuit of them. Though in these recent weeks I feel intimidated by the possible taking of my son’s life by others armed myopia, faith reminds me that the most selfish thing I can now do is cage my son. It is important to teach him what Jesse Washington dubs “the Black Code” of conduct (1) when having to deal with law enforcement representatives and in situations that challenge his life, but he was not born or purposed solely to fulfill his or anyone else’s fear. I would be less than a parent to teach him to cage himself because of the cowardice and inner conflict harbored and festering in others. He trusts me that while in my arms and upon my shoulders I will bolster his investigations of the world, and support him venturing into it.
The second post I wrote on March 19th is my ideal, my illustration, of how I am trying to raise my son.
After playing on our alphabet playmat, my son in exhaustion drifts to sleep. Resting his head on my thigh, he found his comfortable spot and relaxed. Both of us breathing heavy. Him as he descends into deep sleep. Me as I descend in thinking about Trayvon Martin.
Will he grow from “native son” to “invisible man” (pun intended on Wright’s and Ellison’s seminal works)? Are sons and statistics interchangeable? Synonymous?
I am thinking on the world in which my son is born into, and what we will need to do to steel, strengthen, prepare and guard him. And also what we will need to instill in his imagination as chords for an (ideally) melodic world he will have to create.
And I wonder what fellow parents raising sons are wondering too . . .