It never occurred to me that when you were conceived, that while you were growing inside me, that I was about to give life to a child who would be in danger every day of his life. I don’t think it’s fair that I should have to think in those terms, but it is the reality. I don’t have to tell you that you automatically have a disadvantage to overcome because of your skin color, because you realize it every day.
It never occurred to me that your very existence would be a risk to your dignity and to your self esteem, let alone your safety and very life. I am not an idealist who is under the false assumption that racism is a thing of the past…we sometimes live among pure racists who feel justified and proud of their bigotry and hatred but we also live among people who think racism is a distant memory although it is anything but.
It never occurred to me that anyone could simply look at you and automatically deem you a suspect. Not of a crime that had just occurred or any specific crime, but of some imaginary crime, that hasn’t even occurred. I suppose I may have been naive to think that type of profiling and assumptions were a part of our unpleasant history that is neither noble nor esteemed. But, yes, I did think that the rush-to-judgment lynching of black males (both literally and figuratively) was not something you would ever have to imagine, or fear.
It never occurred to me that someone could see you and assume that if you hadn’t committed a crime yet, you would, sooner or later. I guess many have become automatically programmed to think that, because of the narrative we have become accustomed to — that black males are violent, that black males commit crimes, that black males are a threat to everyone’s property and personal safety.
It never occurred to me that your mere existence would instill fear or hatred or anger or frustration in others, people who know nothing about you and your gifts and your talents and your character. I suppose those were lofty aspirations that I held for you (and for others); that your accomplishments and personality and talents would speak for themselves, and would speak for your personal worth and value.
It never occurred to me that you could be in danger when you walk out your door, that any time you leave the sanctity of your home (and the solitary place where you might truly be safe), I might never see you alive again. Through no fault of your own, you might walk down the street and become profiled. And that the presumption is that you should throw your hands up in an act of submission to anyone who confronts you, out of fear that your life might end because of what you look like, not because of who you are or something you may have done.
It never occurred to me that if someone follows you and tracks you down because of their mindset — not your actions — that you have few, if any options to ensure your safety, or your very life. It doesn’t appear as though self-defense is a choice that applies to you. And it doesn’t seem like your safety is anyone else’s concern, and you might have to make a split-second decision that won’t cost you your life or your freedom.
It never occurred to me that a 17-year-old boy in Florida would make me realize this reality that is tragic and disheartening, to say the least…but he has.
It never occurred to me that when I look at you and see Trayvon Martin, that’s not completely a bad thing. Because I see his value and his worth and his gifts, just as I see them in you. At the same time, when I see Trayvon Martin in you, I also worry and fear for your safety.
It never occurred to me, though, that there are some who will look at you and also see Trayvon Martin, and that will be completely a bad thing. Because it means they see you as a suspect, and nothing more. Because it means they don’t see your worth and your value, but instead see a threat that isn’t really there.
It never occurred to me how much Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old boy I never met, would change my life and my perspective. I didn’t know that a boy who hadn’t yet realized his potential, who had his opportunities and dreams stolen from him based on assumptions that had nothing to do with who he was as a human being, would make me rethink my assumptions about your safety and security.
It has occurred to me that Trayvon Martin should not have to serve as a lesson or provide us the opportunity to talk about race and stereotypes and assumptions. But, without a doubt, I realize that his family would give anything to have Trayvon with them, rather than have to preserve his memory, seek justice on his behalf, and fight for his dignity and his legacy.
While that has occurred to me, I wish as your mother, that occurrence was not now part of my perspective. But it is. Trayvon Martin is the lens by which I now see your reality and your very existence. And I wish with all my heart that wasn’t the case, that there was something I — or anyone — could do to erase that perspective. But there isn’t. For that, I am sorry.
It doesn’t, for one second, make me regret bringing you into this unsafe and unfair world. But it does make me regret that you have to live with that reality, every day. It’s tragic indeed that I didn’t realize how much danger you face, or how much you were at risk, until this teenager was killed. And, for that, I am sorry. For you, for Trayvon Martin, and for every Trayvon Martin who walks out his door into a world of assumptions and danger every day.