Traveling the I5 today, I picked up snippets of the Zimmerman verdict from checkings of facebook at various rest stops. A friend of mine changed her profile picture to the silhouette of a hoodie. My first thought was “would the same thing have happened if he hadn’t been wearing that hoodie?” Then I realized how similar this line of thinking was to another line of thinking with which I am intimately familiar. And I was sad; sad for myself, and incredibly sad for this world. When you’re a girl, your parents tell you not to dress certain ways, lest people get the wrong idea. Society tells you that men can’t control themselves, and so you need to plan for that. You don’t wear skirts of a certain length, you don’t walk alone, you don’t don’t walk certain places or with certain people. We’re taught to be fearful of groups of men walking together, even if they’re co-workers. It is so ingrained that, even now, as I get older and thus less of a target than I was when I was young and fresh, these things subsist. So I asked myself a really hard question. If I see a man alone, and he’s on the same side street that I am I, will I cross the street? Would I cross the street if he was white? Would I cross the street if he was black? Would I cross the street if there were more than one of them? Or two of them? Where are my lines? Where are the ugly places in my head? The answer, as much as my conscious mind could come to it, was “it’s based on how they’re dressed.” I ran through different scenarios in my head, and the consistent factor was presentation. If a man in a suit is walking down the street, I might not cross. If a young man in baggy jeans and a hoodie who is slouching is walking down the street, it is almost guaranteed that I’ll cross. All things being equal, the presentation is most important factor. And then I thought of Trayvon. Had he been wearing a button-down shirt, would this have happened? Did his parents not give the speech? “You have to be careful where you walk and how you dress, or people will think you’re asking for it.” Did Trayvon’s father give him the speech my father gave me? “I’m not worried about you. I trust you. I’m just worried about everyone else.” Did his mother not say “Looks like rain! Wear your raincoat. Looks like scared white men with itchy trigger fingers! Don’t be black. Or at least wear a button-down shirt.” Is his mother berating herself now, because she didn’t adequately prepare her child for the world in which we live? The fucked up, horrible world in which we live, the world that says that you have to protect yourself because of your appearance, because people can’t be trusted? I am so accustomed to living in fear of walking down the street, as is every woman I know, that I forgot to consider that there are a million applications of this, alive and well in this world. I realized I had been as surprised by my black friends feeling this way as my male friends are to hear my perceptions of the world.
Then I think of my nephew. Of watching him draw his first breath, and of his sweet face, and his dimples, and I forget that he is black. And I need to remind myself that he is going to experience the world differently because of it. I want this world to be better for him. Boys are so stupid already, drinking and riding motorcycles and falling out of windows and showing off and doing stupid, stupid shit. I cannot … my heart hurts to think of one more thing to teach him when it comes to his safety. I really wish it could be something about rollerskates, or swimming in shark-infested waters. As long as we have to watch what we wear, and where we walk, based simply on our parentage, and how we were born, we are not free.
*This blog approved by Jade, my black lesbian jewish disabled friend, who reviews all my potentially un-politiaclly-correct content, and tells me what to not post…and then I post it anyway.
**I am, no shit, writing this at a Starbucks JUST after crossing into Seattle, sitting outside poaching their wifi… and Redemption Song just came on. No shit.