Zimmerman Trial: How Do I Talk to My Son About Trayvon

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(The Root) — I am in a deep, deep well of sadness and loss. And anger, too. When my husband woke me up to tell me that George Zimmerman was found not guilty, I felt like I was still sleeping, like I was lost inside a nightmare. Ghosts swirled around me. So many children. And now one more. Five hundred years full of ghosts. Swirling around us all.

I turned to my husband in bed and whispered: “Let’s just move.” He breathed out. “Let’s just move,” I said again. “Let’s go someplace else. Someplace where we don’t have to worry so much …” My husband gazed out the window, then he turned and gazed into me.

We had never talked about moving, about leaving the country, before. Before becoming parents. Before this verdict that stunned us into a mute stillness. We lay there, together, in the bed, staring up at the ceiling, not saying anything more. Listening to the quiet streets. I heard a siren off in the distance, and then I heard nothing as we fell asleep together.

Hours later, our son, our innocent, precious, 4-year-old son, jumped into our bed, cuddled, snored softly against my body and my husband’s, safe and warm in our loving arms. I breathed across his curls, kissed his crown. Watched the morning sun light his quiet face.

 

He is so innocent. He has never watched an entire news broadcast. Has not watched more than the weather and morning traffic reports. I have not had to explain words like murder, homicide or manslaughter to him. He does not understand the meaning of words like courts, jury and trial. We have yet to define white supremacy, racism, profiling. I have not deliberated with him the nuanced meanings of justice and Just Us. We have no vocabulary to build a discourse about young Trayvon. About himself.

Our son is 4. He waves at firemen as they zoom past in their big red trucks, and they always wave back. He is deeply interested in the pantheon of American superheroes. Spiderman is his favorite, but he can name almost all the “good guys and bad guys.” He knows their mythological origins, knows why they were created for good — or for evil. For him, the line between good guy and bad guy is clear, impossible to cross. So, how do I explain Trayvon to him? What do I say to prepare my son for this world, where a neighborhood watchman who is supposed to be the good guy kills an innocent child who looks so much like my son does?

What do I say to my son, who wields sticks to chase and be chased with his laughing friends as they race through our local park? When I ask him what their sticks have become, he says they are guns. When I ask him what comes out of them, he says pee and poop and fire. He does not know what a bullet is, does not know, really, what guns do. How do I explain that a gun was aimed, fired and discharged a bullet that entered the heart of a boy named Trayvon?

My son is a Brooklyn kid. He knows that grown-ups should never ask him for high-fives or pounds or anything else when Mamma is not close by. “Grown-ups should not approach kids for anything,” I tell him. So, how do I explain that a grown-up did follow a boy, a boy who looks so much like him? That this man scared the boy, fought the boy, killed the boy. How do I explain that this man who killed that boy is now free, that it was the boy who was put on trial, who was blamed for making the man follow him. How do I tell him this at age 4?

He is just developing a sense of right and wrong. So, what can I tell him about the boy who did nothing wrong? What can I say that makes sense to a 4-year-old?

It has already become time for us to have The Talk. But I have to develop a more sophisticated discourse about his safety. He needs to begin to know things now. But, the truth is, there is nothing we can say to our children to protect them from men like Zimmerman. There is nothing young Trayvon could have done differently. There is no playbook for how to handle gun-wielding men who profile boys, boys whose pockets are stuffed with candy.

I woke up in a state of mourning for Trayvon. I signed the NAACP Department of Justice petition asking for a civil rights trial. I shared the information about the peaceful rally planned for this afternoon in Union Square. I did things. But I could not shake the sadness, the heart-wrenching grief that poured into my soul and was filling me up like water in a well.

We do things, we black women, as we work through pain like this. We keep going. That is why we are still here. That is why we still exist. So many of us are already speaking out — in protest, via social media, in our homes — the words are all around us. Words of shock are turning into expressions of yearning — for justice. But also for safety, for our children’s lives.

Trayvon’s  family is united, strong, and very very beautiful. We have all admired this mother and father so very much. They model the power and resilience  that has become coded in our DNA, that those swirling ghosts imprinted  in our biological material. It is this strength that I will pass on to  our son. We meet them in our mourning clothes, and we honor them with our persistence, with our will to keep on living.  To stay alive. To live.

When I chatted with my friend Stacey this morning, she told me to hug our son for her, and I did. I whispered into his ear, “This is from Auntie Stacey,” and I held him close.

“There’s a little cutie in my building named Apollo,” Stacey typed on Facebook before we stopped chatting. “He’s 6. The next time I see him, I’m going to give him a hug, too.”

“He’ll like that,” I typed back. “Kids like love.”

Eisa Nefertari Ulen is a Brooklyn, N.Y.-based writer and the author of the novel Crystelle Mourning. She can be reached at EisaUlen.com and on Twitter.

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