Cosby Hunt works at the Center for Inspired Teaching. He is a native of Washington, D.C.
Trayvon Martin's death frustrates me — perhaps, in part, because my two boys returned from visiting their grandparents in Florida just before he was killed there. It also frustrates me because his death could have happened anywhere in America.
My understanding of the story is that Trayvon was walking through a gated community to visit a family member — armed only with candy and some iced tea. Mr. Zimmerman is a neighborhood watch volunteer who thought the young man looked suspicious, followed him in his car, got out of the vehicle, and eventually shot and killed him.
My wife and I expect to have many talks with our boys about the fact that their mother and father have different skin colors and that their hair and their hues are a wonderful combination of us both.
I don't remember my parents telling me what I could and could not do because of our skin color. I am 40 years old and a native Washingtonian; I grew up well aware that I was black, but the times I felt uncomfortable about it were few and far between.
I recall one beautiful summer's evening when my father's mother threw a fit. I — her young and only grandchild — had dared to eat my ice cream on her front porch. That was something that "good Negroes," at least the ones in Danville, Va., simply did not do.
There was another time when my father was dropping me off at a country club; he asked the doorman a question and was greeted with, "Hey, man, this is the Chevy Chase Club ..."
To this day, if I am trailing behind a white woman on a lonely street at night, I will cross to the other side just to cut the tension — and I know that this tension sometimes resides only with me.
These things matter.
The detail about Trayvon's death that stands out for me is that he was wearing a hooded sweatshirt. My youngest son, Ellington, who turns 3 tomorrow, wears his Batman hoodie with the ears as much as a he can — sometimes to bed if we'll let him. Freeman, our oldest, prefers to battle his bad guys as Captain America.
Every night at dinner my wife and I ask the boys what their favorite part of the day was. As they get older, the dinner table may also need to serve as a place for cautionary tales.
We did not plan to give them advice about hoodies, but now I see we'll need to have that talk, too. We will have say, "You know how you used to wear your hooded Batman sweatshirt when you wanted to fight the bad guys as a kid? Well, now that you're older, some people will be confused and think that you are the bad guys if they see your hoodie and your skin color. It's silly and wrong that anyone would think that you are the bad guys, but we don't want you to be hurt. We don't want the real bad guys or even some guy playing superhero to hurt you."
My wife and I don't dread having this talk, but we do need to make sure that we have it.
Related NPR Stories:
- Was Trayvon Martin Targeted For Being Black?
- Rep Brown: Teen's Death "Not The Picture We Want"
- Trayvon Martin's Last Phone Call Contradicts Shooter's Claim, Attorney Says
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