When the Food Network fired Paula Deen, we fell back on hashtags and tittering. When Yeezy brought a whole lot of race to the forefront and told us to hurry up with his damn croissants, we fell back on the beats, the artistry. By the time the Supreme Court said the least-functioning Congress in recent memory was now partially in charge of making sure the Voting Rights Act remains relevant, well by then it was time for a big gay wedding and all we could do was laugh.
We as a country have gotten a free pass on race recently.
But now there’s this dead 17-year-old, and this free man, and we know that boy is dead, and we know that the man is free, and we know that something feels wrong, but we just can’t figure out what we could’ve done differently.
People are struggling, some more publicly than others, to figure out what the appropriate response is. The media are working on every end of the spectrum to express thoughtful and important ideas. They are sometimes failing.
And a huge trend that seems to have cropped up is the “white” response. Because when white people in particular struggle publicly with racially charged issues we become this man:
We also say things like “My son was Black when Trayvon Martin was walking down the street.” The ridiculousness of that statement aside, it turns the conversation in the easy direction. The argument becomes about placeholders. About imagining our own children with their packs of Skittles. About the people in our lives who stand in for Trayvon. We veer away from Trayvon Martin and substitute the things that are real to us.
Here’s the thing.
It shouldn’t have to be about how he could have been your child. It shouldn’t have to be that he was someone’s child. It shouldn’t have to be that he was a child, period.
It shouldn’t have to be about the biracial son you may someday have, and your inability to extend your white privilege to him. It shouldn’t have to be about the fear that you have for the people around you who don’t have your skin color.
It shouldn’t have to be Skittles. It shouldn’t have to be Emmett Till.
It shouldn’t have to be about putting yourself in his shoes.
It shouldn’t have to be this hard.
Trayvon Martin was a person. Simple. He was killed, and that’s terrible. We shouldn’t have to think of him as our own children, our own kin, our own future, to feel like something was taken from us.
We should also be able to deal with the fact that he was a real person, with real imperfections. I shouldn’t have to make the comparison to your hot-headed 17-year-old son, or your hoodie-wearing teenager, to make you realize he mattered, and this matters. We shouldn’t have to deal with the horrifying sadness of Trayvon Martin’s death, but we do, so let’s stop hiding from that with placeholders.