I wanted to write this post a long time ago when the incident that I’m going to describe happened, but I was busy then and later forgot about it.
Now the thing came back to my mind due to the news about the death of Trayvon Martin in Florida. I can’t say for sure that race was the main reason why Trayvon was considered a suspect worth to be followed and harassed by Mr. Zimmerman, but it probably played a big part in the whole incident.
I’m very worried about the future of my Ethiopian children, how they will be perceived by the American society due to their skin color.
I grew up in a society where almost everybody was a “suspect”, the 70’s under the military regime in Argentina. Being young and attending university was considered reason enough to be detained, frisked, questioned, and even worse.
So I know how it feels to live in fear. We were terrified of the police, no matter if you were a model citizen and never committed a crime. Everybody was considered guilty until proved innocent.
An innocent incident that happened last summer made me think a lot about race and how people act according to skin color.
We live in a middle class neighborhood where almost every house has a big back yard but most of the owners are retired people. We sometimes leave the back patio door open during hot days so that the children and the dogs can go play outside in our fenced yard whenever they want. It was around 4 PM of a really hot day and we were all inside with the doors still wide open. My older son came rushing to get me because he saw someone walking in our yard. I was a bit scared but my adrenaline made me run outside without thinking to see who could be the intruder. I saw what seemed to be a man crouching in the bushes but couldn’t really tell anything else until I got nearer.
It turned out it was a tall boy about 15 years old that was looking for a baseball that he said fell into our garden. Apparently he was playing in the neighbor’s house and had no better idea than to jump over our 8 ft fence to fetch his ball.
I had never seen him before. Our neighbors are an old couple that lives in a house at the beach and are almost never home in in the city, and it seemed that the kid was one of their grandchildren visiting during a family gathering.
I must say that I was pretty mad at the boy, since he scared the heck out of me. I scolded him saying that next time, please ring the bell and I will let him in. I have two dogs that are good with children and people in general, but imagine if one of them decided to attack the boy trying to protect the house?
I don’t have guns in the home, but many people do, so a simple incident like this one could have ended in a tragedy.
So, I let my imagination run wild, and thought about a parallel situation. Let’s imagine it was my black teenager son the one who in an impulse jumped the fence and entered the neighbor’s yard uninvited to fetch a lost ball. How would my neighbor react?
Chances are that my son could have ended shot. Put in a middle class quiet white neighborhood a black teenager, unknown to the people living in the house, jumping a fence and apparently hiding in the bushes, and you’ll have a perfect recipe for disaster. What a white kid felt not fear of doing, a black kid has to know better before trying. This is what in America is called “driving while black”, that means that your skin tone is reason enough for suspicion, for being detained, harassed by police or shot by a vigilante.
Parents of white children never need to teach they kids to be extremely careful when moving in the outside world. Parents of black children however teach them well how to behave so they don’t end up dead like Trayvon, and after that they just pray.
If you are the parent of a black child, please read the book Driving while Black, it could save you child’s life.