Politics for me has to be personal. Specifically, to feel an emotional reaction to a news item, I have to look at things in the context of being a father. For example, Trayvon Martin reminded me of my son because both wore hooded sweatshirts. Both would head out at night, hands jammed in their hoodie pockets, off to buy snacks and energy drinks. And like my now 20-year-old son and many other young men, Trayvon probably was happy and eager to prove himself in a confrontation with a stranger. My boy at 17 probably would have survived an encounter with George Zimmerman, not because my boy is tougher (though he is tough), but because he is white. But Trayvon Martin was black, so Trayvon Martin is dead.
Also: If my son had stolen a box of Swishers, shoved a clerk on the way out of the store, and scuffled with a cop in a police car, he would have received a well-deserved ass kicking and maybe a night in jail. This post is not an expression of righteous white Leftie ideology. White Leftie ideology makes me break out in hives. All I am stating is verifiable fact. The biological differences between my son, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown are ridiculously superficial, but their variable treatment at the hands of police, the school system, and the business community is provable by reams of data. This fact is not up for debate. Also, it is horrible. I am not angry. I am ashamed. We can argue about whether the Ferguson cop should have stood trial for shooting Michael Brown. In the end, though, this detail is a distraction. My white friends and family can express anger about the particulars of last night all they want. This accomplishes nothing. The perpetual devaluation of 44 million Americans—many of whom have been my teachers, friends, heroes—or a mix of all three—is the thing to get mad about. Ferguson is merely the latest symptom of our national sickness. Each of us knows it. I’ll bring this back around to my son. Like a lot of good-hearted, law-and-order white kids, he wants to argue the prosecutor’s side in the Ferguson case. He wants to get caught in the same eddy as everyone else. So, it is my responsibility to explain how, with his strong personality and sense of fairness, he is lucky to be alive when so many other boys have died. I have to testify to my neighbors, my co-workers, and my son about income disparity, fear-based policing, and excessive prosecution. This teaching is all I can do. For now.