It might be obvious, but let me say it in case: my skin is white. So is that of my husband and my daughter. Consequently, as Leonard Pitts so aptly noted in his March 24th column, we are privileged not to have to teach our daughter that she could be a victim of racial profiling, nor do we feel obliged to teach her strategies for dealing with law enforcement (nor law enforcement wannabes) in case she is stopped or detained. We can (and do) let her wear hoodies. We wear them too. We can (and do) let her eat Skittles from time to time. We have never viewed either as subversive or suspicious behavior. For black families, the situation is much different. Such topics are necessary-- simply for survival, it seems.
What impacts black men impacts us all. It is a blight on our entire society when a young black man, doing nothing more than wearing a hoodie and buying some snacks, is killed. And no, Geraldo Rivera, the hoodie is not to blame -- we are. The tragic death of Trayvon Martin, and the woefully inadequate response by law enforcement, underscores the persistent inequalities and institutionalized racism that characterizes the U.S today, some 50 years after the start of the civil rights movement. Far too often, young black men perish at the hands of overzealous law enforcement officials. And far too often, we do nothing to change the systems that allow this to happen. Instead, we thank the heavens it is not our kid and we move on.
My husband and I are both educators, though, and educators have a responsibility to teach about social injustices and inequality. While students have been active in calling for the arrest of George Zimmerman and accountability for the failures of Sanford law enforcement officials, staging walkouts at school, for instance, educators have been shockingly silent. Educators at all levels need to step up their commitment to diversity and inclusivity by talking about this case and the many others like it. Educators should point out the long and sordid history of racial profiling of black men, its impact, and, importantly, how we can all work together to create a better world, a world in which no young man is ever killed because he looks "suspicious." For those uncomfortable doing so, there are numerous resources to help, such as those provided through Teaching Tolerance.
On April 3rd, we call on educators at all levels, and the students and staff they work with, to wear hoodies to work to honor the life of Trayvon Martin. But more than that, use this opportunity to engage students in critical dialogue about racial inequalities and racial justice. Teachers for Trayvon will show our support for the family who lost their son. It will show that we care about the senseless death of a young black man. And it will show we are committed to using our educational pulpit as a tool for social change.
Show up. Speak up. Teach about justice. Even more, teach FOR justice.