The morning after the verdict in the Zimmerman trial, I woke up and read a text message from a friend. It consisted of one word: “heartbroken.” I felt as if a relative had died while I’d been sleeping.
“Stunned but not surprised” was a phrase I heard repeatedly from media pundits, as well as friends and family across the nation who have all experienced the humiliating and infuriating effects of racial profiling.
For hours, I was actually afraid to leave the house. But eventually, I went downtown to join two hundred other Vermonters a rally in honor of Trayvon Martin. Amidst embraces and tears, many people spoke bravely, testifying about instances of racial injustice they’ve experienced. The crowd represented a range of ages and consisted of people across the racial spectrum.
But the feeling in the air wasn’t just despair and anger. The same friend who sent me the text message wore a t-shirt with the word “hope” across the front. She reminded the crowd about the signal importance of hope, particularly now.
What happened to Trayvon Martin happened hundreds of miles away from here, but the chilling truth is that it could happen anywhere. What some people learned at the rally, to great shock and sadness - and what many others knew already - is that racial profiling is happening now, here, in Vermont.
I took my seven-year old twin daughters to the rally with some ambivalence. They found friends and played far enough away that they couldn’t see my tears. Later, they asked me what the grownups were talking about. I told them we were sad and angry because a black teenager had been killed when he was walking to his father’s girlfriend’s house. They didn’t say anything, but held my hands tighter.
After the rally, the girls and I met my husband at our neighborhood block party. “There they are! The girls!” exclaimed one of our neighbors. This is my community, I thought, and they’ve seen my daughters grow since we first brought them home from Ethiopia. Several of them, I think, feel a sense of kinship toward the girls. Certainly, they feel that my daughters are one of them.
Later, I walked home earlier than the rest of my family. I swung my arms and smiled, feeling the lightness I always feel after spending time with my neighbors. But then I remembered Trayvon Martin. I thought, is this what he felt like when he left the convenience store with his Skittles and iced tea? Did he feel as safe as I did? I dropped the smile and quickened my pace.
I don’t want to be afraid, and I don’t want my children to be afraid. But the question that many parents of black children have is how to teach our kids that the world is a good place, but at the same time, that they have to be careful.
Because what we know for sure is that “careful” isn’t always good enough.