On Trayvon Martin

My heart breaks today. I am weeping. This is a sad day for America. It is a sad day for all of us. What saddens me even more is the fact that immediately after the verdict there were several privileged and well educated white people going on Facebook and claiming that they didn’t want to judge because they weren’t in the courtroom, or that it was self defense. For people so admittedly unaware and uneducated about what was happening they seem to be pretty convinced that they are entitled to an opinion about what happens to other people’s children.

I teach Civil Rights. The way we teach it in this country means that our kids are given the message that it ends in 1965. I have to teach about the national tragedy that is Emmett Till. This year, I will have to have a very difficult discussion about what progress has been made. The intellectual arguments are difficult enough. Just as I became enraged when my white classmates told me race was no longer an issue after voting for Obama, I know have to be enraged because our justice system has apparently made no progress since the 50s

This rage is the least of my concerns however. We have lost so many children this year. As a teacher, you watch these deaths and you think about each of your kids and how it easily could have been them. But that isn’t the only thing either. I think as I sit in bed with my significant other who is a nonwhite male and I think about how at 16, how even today, that easily could have been him. That could have been any of the boys I went to school with. It could have been and could be my nephew. How many of our babies have to die because a group of privileged men is unwilling to give up some of their privilege?

Every time we talk about an “achievement gap”, we compare my kids and friends to white students who we use as the model. I want to flip that for once and suggest that perhaps we have a much more serious gap to worry about. I am going to call it an empathy gap. Privileged people (not all but most) have demonstrated time and time again that they lack the ability to understand and care for the emotions of anyone but themselves. The “achievement gap” might keep my kids out of school, but the empathy gap is costing my kids their lives. This is why I want our schools integrated because yes, my poor children do benefit from the resources their privileged friends bring, but MORE IMPORTANTLY my privileged students need to have people around them who don’t look like them so that they stop sending them to die, killing them, allowing them to die and refusing to honor their commitments to our country. This is just as important to the education of privileged, white children as it is to my poor and minority children. We can’t allow this inability to be basically decent to dominate our lives anymore. I am not willing to sacrifice anymore children so that a group of white men can hang on to their privilege. I grew up in a poor community, at a racially diverse high school and because of that I know that Trayvon Martin could have easily been someone I love, and until wealthy white people learn to love others we will continue to have this situation. I am not going to sugarcoat this anymore. I have seen the reality of this too many times. When we allow our elite to be removed from and to not have any responsibility for others, they dehumanize everyone else. And when you dehumanize everyone else, people die.

I wish I could end this with hope. But all I can do is mourn and grieve and pray that someday, with all of us working together we will finally be a nation that cares for its children.


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