Last night the verdict came in that George Zimmerman was acquitted. Everyone agrees that he shot and killed Trayvon Martin. Everyone agrees that he followed Trayvon, that he confronted him against direct police instructions. But according to our justice system, he did nothing illegal.
How am I going to explain this to you?
This verdict means that what happened to Trayvon will happen again, and again. This time you’re too young for me to explain that a young boy was killed simply for walking down the street while being Black. But the next time, or the time after that, or any of the hundred or thousand times after that, you’ll be old enough to understand. Some day, probably sooner than I anticipate, you’re going to look up at me and ask, “Why?” Why did this happen in the first place? Why does our legal system say it’s okay? Why is there no justice?
We have a book out from the library right now called Shades of People. You like it because it has lots of pictures of children doing interesting things, like climbing on playgrounds and hugging their parents. I like it because I hope it gives you a good baseline to think about race in the future. That your default assumption will not be that some people look different from you and that’s scary, but that some people look different from you and that’s beautiful.
But if you have that as your baseline, like I hope you will, some day you’re going to be shocked, and hurt, and unable to understand how and why people are hurt and harassed and imprisoned and assaulted and killed because of the shade of their skin. I’m deliberately putting you in a position where you will have to feel as shocked and sick and hopeless as I do right now, and that’s hard to admit as a parent.
But here’s what I want you to understand: in our country, in our world, it’s not an inherent right to safely walk down the street. It’s a privilege. It’s a privilege to trust the police, or to fight back against an attacker. It’s a privilege to ignore the news, or to feel like a verdict like this has no direct affect on your life. It’s a privilege to think that what happened to Trayvon Martin will never happen to your own children. I want you to understand that deeply, with every level of your being. I want you to be furious about it. I want you to understand it so that you never, ever turn that fury on someone because they do not have those privileges. I want you to use every scrap of privilege you have, every privilege I hope to give you, to fight against these injustices.
If I expect you to do that, I’m going to have to step up. I’m going to have to do what I want you to do and use my own privilege to fight this fight. I don’t know how to do that right now–I feel helpless and hopeless and unsure of what the first step is–but it’s clear to me today that I need to step up. I need to figure this out, I need to come up with something to say when you someday ask me, “Why are people so awful, mama? Why does this happen?”
Because the only thing worse than hearing that question would be hearing you say, “I don’t understand, mama–why are people so upset about this?” The only thing worse than seeing your pain and anger would be seeing confusion about why it matters.
I still hope, with all my heart, that some day you will live in a world where we can talk about this as something that used to happen, and won’t happen again. I don’t think it’s very likely, though. So I want to be your partner in fixing it. I want you to know that even when awful things happen, I’ve got your back. I’m by your side. You won’t be alone fighting this hopeless fight.