LZ Granderson: Before verdict I'd discussed with partner how to keep our teen son safe
He says pop culture conveys negative image of blacks that draws some young black men
He says many are susceptible to buying into it; plays out in killings such as Trayvon Martin's
LZ: Hard to be parent of a young black son; you want him to roam free, but worry he'll be hurt
Editor’s Note: LZ Granderson, who writes a weekly column for CNN.com, was named journalist of the year by the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association and was a 2011 Online Journalism Award finalist for commentary. He is a senior writer and columnist for ESPN the Magazine and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @locs_n_laughs.
Hours before the George Zimmerman not-guilty verdict was announced, my partner and I were discussing ways to prevent our 16-year-old son from getting shot while jogging in the upper-middle-class, predominantly white neighborhood we had recently moved into.
I promise you, it was a very real conversation.
“Maybe we should get T-shirts and sweatshirts with the school’s name on it,” my partner said.
After the verdict – it came as a punch to the stomach – we thought maybe it was best if he only ran inside at the nearby gym.
This is what it means to be a parent of a young black man in America today: sleepless nights, courtesy of a cocktail of institutional racism, self-inflicted wounds and statistics.
Lots and lots of statistics.
About the too-high high school dropout rate among black youths, the distressingly high number of black men who are perpetrators – and victims – of violent crimes, the disproportionately steep incarceration rates for black men. Those who create our pop culture have learned to monetize that negative image, and some young black men are mesmerized by it, adopting it as their own. As a result, we are all susceptible to the same prejudicial thoughts that led George Zimmerman to view a 17-year-old boy with a hoodie on his head and a bag of candy in his hand as suspicious.
Trayvon could have been my son – and that scares the hell out of me. If, during this 16-month ordeal, that thought never crossed your mind, then you have no idea what it is like to be the parent of a young, black male in America. After the verdict, attorneys from both the prosecution and defense seemed to go out of their way in their press conferences to say race was not a factor, which sounded more like wishful thinking than accurate commentary.
After all, if Zimmerman were black, there would not have been a late night press conference afterward. When do you hear public outcry for the lives of young black males taken by other black males in cities such as Baltimore and St. Louis?
If Zimmerman were black, I doubt the NAACP would have felt the need to issue a statement.
If Zimmerman were black, Fox News would not have even bothered to show up.
I remember walking home from the store one day, back when I was Trayvon’s age. A white man in a sedan pulled up beside me, rolled down his window and said he wanted to talk. I was always taught to never talk to strangers, so I stayed silent and walked faster. He drove faster. I ran, yelling “Help!” as I tried to get away from him. That’s when he pulled over, got out of his car, drew his weapon and yelled he was going to shoot me if I didn’t stop running.
It was only after he handcuffed me that he showed me a badge. After it was determined I was not the black male he was looking for, he let me go.
The worst part of that story?
I consider myself lucky.
He could have shot first.
To be the parent of a young black man in this country is to be torn between wanting your son to see the world with no boundaries and warning him of the boundaries that are out there. Moving him into a safe neighborhood and then fearing for his safety. It’s nerve-racking, to tell you the truth. Anxiety grips my body each time he leaves home. Seeing the defense attorneys crack grim jokes and gloat after the not-guilty verdict does not help matters.
To draw so much satisfaction from the senseless death of a young black male going unpunished; to cavalierly absolve Zimmerman of any responsibility, as if Trayvon’s death did not come at their client’s hands.
But this is what it’s like to be the parent of a young, black male in this country.
This is what it’s like.
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The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of LZ Granderson.