Thursday, March 22, 2012

Suspicious Minds

These are two two of my nephews:

Nic is six years old. He looks up to his oldest brother in a way that it would be fair to call a form of hero-worship. Derrick is 15. He's good natured, goofy, and funny. He's a really sweet big brother to Nic - very affectionate, always looking to do something nice for the baby of the house, and very protective of the little guy who always wants to tag along. If Derrick gets interested in something, Nic follows suit. Derrick loves to skateboard and is very good at it. Nic is frustrated because, at 6, he can't really do much with the skateboard he convinced his mother to get him. When Derrick gets new sneakers, Nic wants the same kind. Nic, who has naturally curly, fleecy hair, demands his hair be kept short, because that's how Derrick, who has course, African hair, wears his. 

One day, Nic was talking to his mom - my sister - and said, "I can't wait until I get older, so I can turn black, the way Derrick is. When is that going to happen?"

My sister was filled with a mixture of joy and sadness. How wonderful that her sons shared such love for one another! But, how sad for Nic that, try as he might, he couldn't will himself to be more black. Nic and Derrick have different biological fathers and, while our side of the family is of mixed race, we tend to come out with light skin and silky hair. It's the same with Nic's biological father. Derrick's biological father, on the other hand, is 100% African American, and Derrick takes after him, physically.  Nic is too young to understand that being black or African is not just about the color of a person's skin. He's too young to understand that, yes, he's also part African, but his European traits seem to have emerged triumphant in the genetic lottery. All he knows is that his idol is his handsome, good-natured, dark-skinned, nappy-headed brother. He wants to be everything that Derrick is, in every way. 

Why am I thinking about this? Because of another handsome, dark-skinned, nappy-headed boy named Trayvon Martin.  

You see, my nephews live in Florida. In a predominantly white, gated community. Derrick is 15. In the last few years, he's come to enjoy some of the independence that comes with being a teenager. He can, for instance, get on his bike and ride off to the candy store alone. He does this often, because he's got a thing for Red Bull and chewing gum. The kid is just crazy for Red Bull and chewing gum. He's old enough to usually have pocket money, and this is often what he spends it on. 

He is a black boy, living in a white community. In Florida.
He bikes or walks back and forth from home to the candy store all the time.
He's immersed in skateboarding culture and can usually be found wearing a hooded sweatshirt.

Trayvon Martin could easily have been my nephew.
What happened to Trayvon Martin could easily happen to Derrick.

And just look at him. Doesn't he look suspicious? Do you trust that face? 

My nephews are not disposable. Their lives mean something. Children of color should not be treated as so much collateral damage.  Trayvon Martin was a human being. Somebody's son. Somebody's friend. He mattered. He had a future. I wonder if there's some younger sibling or cousin or friend who looked up to Trayvon Martin the way Nic looks up to Derrick? Where does this tragedy leave that child? How does one explain to a little kid how unjust the world can be? It's impossible, because we adults haven't fully come to terms with it, ourselves.  

Because he mattered. Because he could have been your son, your nephew, your big brother. 

1 comment:

Monique S. said...

You rock on so many levels.