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Moms Talk: On Trayvon Martin, Skittles and Hoodies

In the wake of Trayvon Martin's death, what do we tell our children?

No matter the mother, she cannot ignore this story.

It begs for your attention. So, put your parent hat on, sit your children down, and explain -- if you dare -- how a pack of Skittles and a hoodie can get them killed.

Explain Trayvon Martin. Explain George Zimmerman.

Many mothers have already had this conversation. For them, it's called "the talk," and it sits right alongside the birds and the bees chat. It goes a little something like this:

You are black in America. Society will not let you forget it, so don't you forget it. People will not like you because of that; in fact, they will fear you. You will be maligned and marginalized, so beware at all times. Watch what you say, and don't do anything stupid.

This isn't fair? Yeah, life's not fair. But, don't let it get you down. Let it inspire you. Be smarter. Be better. Be humble, too. Because many people came before you, and died, so that you could have this chance you're getting. So, if you forget everything else I told you, don't forget where you came from.

Set to repeat. 

I'm 32, my sister is 29, and my brother is 22, and my mother is still re-affirming "the talk." Times may be different, but it still rings true, unfortunately. Ask Trayvon Martin's mom.

Trayvon, a black teenager, was walking around his parents' gated community in Sanford, Fla., when he was shot and killed a month ago. He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt, commonly called a hoodie. He had a pack of Skittles, an iced tea and a cell phone. In New York City, a "Million Hoodie March" took place Wednesday to bring more attention to the story.

Georgia Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch leader, saw Trayvon and some kind of confrontation ensued. Police were called. Before it was all over, Zimmerman had shot the unarmed youth. He hasn't been arrested. He says it was self-defense, using Florida's "Stand Your Ground" law. Zimmerman proponents say he's a nice guy.

I don't know who was and wasn't the aggressor. I wasn't there, and we do not have all the facts. Every time I turn around, there's another dizzying news account about all of this. Social media is all over it. A grand jury will convene April 10; the federal government is swooping in, as well.

Sanford, Fla., isn't looking too good on the map right now.

But, even if you take the element of race out of it, you're still left with an unarmed, dead teenager. You're still left with what we've become very good at here in America -- preconceived notions.

So, what do we tell any of our kids?

Don't go to corner stores?  Don't walk around by yourself? Don't wear sweatshirts? Don't pack Skittles, pack pepper spray? Don't leave the house? Don't do anything that could bring attention to you, period? Just, don't, OK?

Add to that list: don't play in the street, don't talk back, don't play with fire, don't eat too much sugar, don't forget sunblock, don't hit your sister, don't stay out late, and any other "don't" you can scrounge up, and pretty soon, there's nothing to do. 

I think the overall message is clear. We want to, but we cannot protect our children from everything. Anything at any time could happen to them that is completely out of our control.

The best, it seems, we can do is to teach them to be good people who value the lives of others -- even if they are walking around in a hoodie with Skittles in their pockets. 

So, let's hear it. What long-held advice do you give your children? How do you teach them about pride and prejudice? (Any parent can respond.)

Tracy Lee April 01, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Maybe they are waiting for all of the facts to come out like everybody else should. Any loss of life is bad.
David Brown April 01, 2012 at 08:58 PM
Tracy, it would have been great if Mr. Zimmerman had waited "for all of the facts to come out like everybody else should." He should have heeded the advice of the 911 dispatcher to not pursue Trayvon Martin. By the way, Christian author and Pastor Rick Warren still has not responded to a request for his thoughts on the situation. Pastor Warren initially tweeted that he was in Rwanda and wasn't aware of the case.
Judy Anderson April 02, 2012 at 02:41 AM
I am a white grandmother of an 18-year-old bi-racial grandson who is the love of my life.His father has been out of the picture since he was 6, so he was basically surrounded by white people almost exclusively his entire life.We all just recently helped his mother move into one of those gated communities, and on the actual evening of the move he kindly offered to run up to Safeway and get us all some treats. He put on the hoodie I had just bought him and walked up to the store.Just before he left, he put down the screwdriver he had been using to put together a shelf for his mother. When I later heard the story of what happened to Trayvon, I just kept seeing my grandson, innocently walking along with our candy in a little bag as he ate his own candy bar. I literally could not sleep that night, and cried every time I imagined how this poor young man felt - then, his family. It's just unbelievably painful. I've seen a huge outpouring from the black community and a few sprinkles of white voices, too, but wonder why we aren't ALL MORE UPSET about this?! Why do we not see more white leaders out there? I put on a hoodie today and took my photo, (something I NEVER do), and uploaded it, (took me a half hour to learn how to do that), to the MomsRising.org to join the group of women's faces peeking out from the brims of hoodies in order to show support. But, it just feels too easy. I've been paying attention to civil rights since I was 14. What more can we do?
Tracy Lee April 02, 2012 at 01:15 PM
So if Trayvon charges him and starts beating him to a pulp and bashing his head into the pavement, then that is ok. The media needs to quit showing Trayvon as a 12 year old in his pictures, The media will not be happy until there is a riot and more loss of life. Wait for the facts people, quit trying to make this a black white thing.
Tracy Lee April 02, 2012 at 01:17 PM
How about waiting for all of the facts to come out before attacking certain people.

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