On Trayvon Martin: My Son is African American

It is time to confront the whole Trayvon Martin mess.  I have taken too long to do so, and can only plead that the issue hits too close to home for me to have written calmly about the issue.  You see, I have an African American son.  There he is in his cowboy hat from our synagogue Purim festival: my Jack. 


Sure, Jack’s just three years old, and I should have no more worries than whether I am using bribery too heavily while trying to get him potty trained before vacation this spring.  I should be worrying about potty training, getting him the best schooling, kissing booboos and the like.  But for the past few days I’ve been worrying about Jack when he reaches 17, when he is like Trayvon Martin, walking the streets while being black. 

Those who read Bloggingblue know that racism is real.  We’ve seen racism directed towards President Obama and his wife, and I don’t have time here to list the incidents proving those racist attacks.  Racism is real.  We also know that “Stand Your Ground” and “Castle Doctrine” legislation is a very real danger to all citizens, and probably more so to African American youth.  But this isn’t really about blame.  I won’t write about Jeb Bush signing the “Stand Your Ground” legislation in Florida that doomed Trayvon Martin.  I won’t point out that Jeb Bush just endorsed Mitt Romney.  I won’t discuss Florida Senator Marco Rubio, who is continuing to defend his support of the “Stand Your Ground” law.  Nor will I note that Jeb Bush is pushing Marco Rubio as a Vice Presidential pick for Mitt Romney.  And I won’t point out that Mitt Romney has yet to make his feelings known concerning what is easily one of the most important issues concerning race and crime in our country today.  I’ll let others shame these men.  I’m more concerned with my son.   

I’ll note that there are voices out there discussing, once again, the dangers young black men face routinely, just because they are black.  Eugene Robinson, for instance.  Jonathan Capehart of the Washington Post and MSNBC has been particularly vocal, both on MSNBC and in his column, here and here.  I particularly liked his “rules” for survival as a young black man.  These are indeed times for mothers and fathers to worry about their African American sons, and they are worrying, picturing their sons lying on the ground with a bag of skittles next to the body, as eloquently delineated here in the Washington Times.  As the Miami Herald notes, this is terror to the parents of black children.  This whole issue makes me terrified. 

But let me be realistic for a change.  My African American son does not live in a rough neighborhood.  He has two white parents and lives in a very white neighborhood.  We’re sending him to private school.  Jack will be a privileged boy.  But do we still need to teach him, as Jonathan Capehart’s mother taught him, never to run in public, especially while holding anything?  Man.  What is it like to teach your son never to run free?

There’s why I haven’t brought this topic up on Bloggingblue.  This issue is hard to face.  Sure, I’ve encountered racism while with Jack.  No, not in the city where Jack was born.  Philadelphia has its share of racism, but I never encountered racism when I took him for walks when we lived there.  But in Wisconsin?  There is racism here.  I have been stopped on the street and confronted by an African American woman who grilled me about whether my son, sitting in his stroller and calling for Daddy, was my son.  I have also been confronted by a security guard in a restroom after Jack followed me there, a situation that wouldn’t have happened if Jack wasn’t so. . . black.  Racism is certainly alive here in Wisconsin.  There’s no escaping racism anywhere in America. 

I don’t know what to do here except to live life and teach Jack . . . what?  That he is immediately suspect?  That he is in more danger just because of his skin? 

My Jack is named after his grandfather, who was a Republican and who never would have harmed a soul.  Jack carries the Hebrew name of his other grandfather, who would also not harm a soul, but who bought a gun after Barack Obama was elected President.  Yeah, our nation has a long way to go.  I want Jack to be proud of both his namesakes, and I want him to grow to be a fine young man, prepared to take his part in society in a productive way.  But this is hard work.  This is really hard work. 




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35 thoughts on “On Trayvon Martin: My Son is African American

  1. You are welcome, Lisa. I’m not so mushy, and even here I’m not. But this Trayvon Martin case paints such a bleak future for us. . . it makes me realize, all the more, that Jack can never have the life I had, of an unexamined white privilege. By that I mean that even in neighborhoods where I didn’t belong I knew I didn’t have to worry.

    Back 13 years ago I used to go out in Philadelphia to photograph, sometimes in rough neighborhoods. I used to think, and perhaps with merit, that the huge camera I had with me made me look like “press,” and that nobody would mess with the press. That’s the closest analogy I can find to what my son will have to face in a white and often racist world. But he would not be protected by carrying a big-assed camera. Someone would likely mistake it for a gun. . .

    This hurts.

  2. Beautifully written. I hope nothing but the best for your son. He seems to be in good hands.

    I’m often reminded of another writer when discussing issues like these. That writer is the late Ralph Wiley. His musings on race and his son are fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time.

    1. I remember Ralph Wiley. A fine man and writer. Thanks for the comment, Mark. It is a difficult issue with no solutions, unless one can find a way to magically erase racism. No legislation will do that, alas.

  3. This is what happens when you have Stand Your Ground and Castle Doctrine laws. It’s one person’s word against another, but the “other” is dead. Hard to defend yourself and explain that you were just walking home with your Skittles when you’re dead. Two peoople (so far) have been killed in Waukesha County because a homeowner felt “threatened.” Never mind that the dead men were unarmed and harmless. The gun nut becomes judge, jury and executioner in a matter of seconds, and they no longer have to hesitate or care who they kill because of the Wisconsin Republican Party and its allegiance to the NRA uber alles. It is only a matter of time before these laws get overturned because of a rash of racist and senseless killings.

  4. Thank you, Kristin. You show the NRA idiocy well. Thanks a lot. But this is about racism, primarily, though it is also about such laws. How do we stop the racism?

  5. You can’t stop it. No one knows the facts but the guy has been already condemned especially by the black community. I’ll tell you how this thing is going to end, Zimmerman is going to be fed to the wolves to appease the black uprising, the blacks are going to have their lynching and resentment towards them is going to grow.

    1. Perhaps he will be “fed to the wolves” bwcause he murdered a young man in cold blood. Some would call that justice.

    2. @ Thomas

      You’re an ass, Thomas. People of all backgrounds are condemning Zimmerman’s execution of Trayvon Martin. It has absolutely nothing to do with appeasing anyone, and everything to do with seeing that justice is done.

      Of all that you said, Thomas, what was the most stomach-wrenching was your mindless use of the word, “lynching”, and the suggestion that “resentment” toward the African-American community was going to grow simply because it has spoken out against Trayvon’s execution by Zimmerman.

      Thomas: “I’ll tell you how this thing is going to end, Zimmerman is going to be fed to the wolves to appease the black uprising, the blacks are going to have their lynching and resentment towards them is going to grow.”

      How dare you you even think about using the word, “lynching” in this context. In doing so, you dishonored those who were actually lynched simply because they were black by racist whites who saw them as less than human.

      Your disgusting use of that term is but one example of the racism that courses through your comment.

      You assume that Zimmerman is innocent, and Trayvon is responsible in some way for his own death, based upon little more than the respective colors of their skin.

      You assume that only African-Americans feel differently, and do so simply because of the color of theirs.

      You assume that Zimmerman will be judged on something other than the facts of the case for no better reason than your belief that the African-American community is only interested in appeasement, your belief that everyone else is only interested in appeasing that community to avoid a black “uprising”, and your belief that NO ONE, the African-American community, in particular, is interested in justice.

      You have the temerity to callously and mindlessly misuse the word “lynching” in connection with a racist assassin like Zimmerman who referred to Trayvon as a “fucking coon”, and hunted him down even after he was told to cease and desist by law enforcement.

      You use racially coded language like “black uprising”, language usually relegated to racist literature from the Ku Klux Klan or white nationalist organizations.

      You assume that “resentment” will grow against the African-American community from every quarter simply because it has demanded, not appeasement, but justice.

      You’re a racist asshole, Thomas. Plain and simple. And you disgust me beyond measure.

      Shame on you!

      Next time, try doing a little research on the things about which you may shoot off your mouth, instead of letting your racism get the better of you.

      A Florida criminal defense attorney’s take on the case:


  6. An important post, Steven. Certainly one of the most important I’ve read here, if not the most important, because it strikes to the heart of who we are as a country, of who we aspire to be.

    Only when Jack can walk freely, can any of us.

    We all need to think about that, and do something about it.

    You have my eternal respect and support, brother. And I will do what I can at my end to make sure that Jack’s life is better at his.

    Thanks for sharing this, Steven.

    1. Well, of course he’s cute. He takes after his mother’s side of the family.

      Thanks, Zuma. Your comments mean a lot. I won’t be around next week because we are on vacation. I expect to suffer no racist problems on a cruise, where we stop in Honduras and Belize and Mexico. Imagine that.

  7. Racism will be with us for a long time, but increased diversity, especially in schools, will make a huge difference. So will the “browning of America”. As more children are born with racially diverse backgrounds skin color will become a moot point. I have many biracial people in my family of Norwegians, because some cousins and neices married African American men. And my nieces, nephews and step-daughters just don’t see race and sexual orientation like older generations. They have friends of all races and they don’t think being gay is a big deal. Your (adorable) son will grow up to a different era. BTW, I have a coworker who has a biracial son (biological) and an adopted daughter who is African American and she has some the same concerns you do — if her daughter has a melt down in the grocery store will they believe she’s her mom? Police departments need to have regular training for officers on racial sensativity and realities of mixed-race families.

    1. Just for the record, Kristin, unless she is a robot, the adopted daughter you speak of is still biological, no matter how you look at it. She may not be a birth daughter, however. Be that as it may, I worry so much about that meltdown situation that I keep a packet on me at all times with copies of Jack’s birth certificate, our adoption decree, and a set of several pictures with all of us in them. It is a real issue.

  8. I certainly hope your son doesn’t end up looking like this.


    Trayvon Martin was a 6’3″ thug from the ghetto of Miami Gardens. He was shot and killed because he was sitting on top of George Zimmerman, punching him in the face while Zimmerman called out for help.


    The shooting happened just after 7 p.m. Sunday evening on Twin Trees Lane. A man who witnessed part of the altercation contacted authorities.

    “The guy on the bottom, who had a red sweater on, was yelling to me, ‘Help! Help!’ and I told him to stop, and I was calling 911,” said the witness, who asked to be identified only by his first name, John.

    John said he locked his patio door, ran upstairs and heard at least one gun shot.

    “And then, when I got upstairs and looked down, the guy who was on the top beating up the other guy, was the one laying in the grass, and I believe he was dead at that point

    And Zimmerman had a broken nose and a deep gash on the back of his head, according to his attorney.


    Zimmerman’s attorney said his client was injured on the night of the killing.

    “I believe that his nose was broken; he sustained injury to his nose and on the back of his head he sustained a cut that was serious enough, it probably should have had stitches,” he said.

    Sonner said the injuries “were from Trayvon Martin, I assume.”

    People are being misled by the media. It would help if you had accurate information before you posted your opinion.

      1. No, but having a mouthful of gold teeth sure does. Way to ignore EVERYTHING I posted which shows that the story the media has been presenting is not accurate. Zimmerman has a legitimate self-defense case. Maybe not a “stand your ground” case, but being violently assaulted while you are in a supine position fits the legal requirement for use of lethal force. Unless you think Zimmerman was required to lay there and be beaten to death.

        This case is being used to rile people up into a frenzy, and it’s not a race thing. Zimmerman mentored black kids in his neighborhood. He also has black relatives. And to top it all, he’s half Jewish/half Peruvian. So he’s TWO minorities.

        Trayvon Martin, unfortunately for him, fit the profile of the criminals who had been targetting that neighborhood for the past year. The community in which Zimmerman lived was undergoing a crime wave, and if you fit the profile of the people who have been victimizing the neighborhood, you will receive extra attention. If outlaw bikers were selling meth in the neighborhood, people on Harleys would be suspect, and rightly so. How is this any different? If groups of skateboarding white kids were regularly vandalizing the facilities, kids on skateboards would be viewed with suspicion.

        If Trayvon Martin had told Zimmerman he was visiting his father instead of pulling up his hood and running, none of this would have happened. If he hadn’t beaten George Zimmerman severely enough to break his nose and severely lacerate the back of his head, he wouldn’t be dead.

        1. So wait….having gold teeth makes someone a thug?

          That’s absolutely asinine.

          Oh, and I’d argue George Zimmerman is a thug, based on the fact that in 2005, when he was 21, he was charged with assault on a police officer during an altercation over the arrest of one of his friends for underage drinking in a bar.

          That sounds awfully thuggish to me, and it sounds like a guy with a serious anger problem. If he’s willing to put his hands on a police officer, it’s not hard to believe he could easily justify shooting and killing an unarmed man.

        2. @ “Steve Stevens”

          Look, I realize that, for some reason, you have an extraordinarily heightened interest in a certain outcome in the Trayvon Martin Case. Given the curious intensity of your “coming out of left field” interest, one COULD think that there’s more than a little racism afoot in your mind, body and soul, and that your doing a whole lot of mindless projecting.

          Why not just let the Grand Jury do its thing, and see what happens (unless, of course, you were at the scene of the crime and witnessed it)? Otherwise, your “version” of relevant events, one based on cherry-picking and/or inventing certain facts which suit the narrative you WANT to be true, doesn’t mean sh*t, and you’re just another wild-eyed, racist wingnut popping off.

          Congratulations, though, “Stevens”. While you don’t know sh*t about any of this, you have, in just a few paragraphs, and for no better reason than to get your racist rocks off, demonstrated that racism is alive and well in white America, you’ve shown that your racist head is well up your racist ass, and you’ve sullied the larger and more important point that Steven Reynolds was making in his post. Well done, assh*le.

          The thing that makes me feel better when I see someone like you spout your bullsh*t is the knowledge that there are guys like Steven Reynolds out there, raising their kids proudly, and to be proud, and the knowledge that “whiter than Caspar the Ghost” racist pricks like you are just going fade away. It’s just a matter of time, and no amount of “raging against the light” is going to change that.

          @ Steven Reynolds

          Your story meant something, Steven. To me, to a lot of people. It will resonate with all of us for a long time to come. Thank you for sharing it.

  9. I appreciate more than words can say for Steven’s words about his darling son, Jack. My partner Donald has a nephew who is adopted, and is from Ethiopia. His name is Aiden. I have had the same thoughts Steven has shared about Jack regarding Aiden. Racial hatred from the Right has become blatant and violent in the last few years. The murder of Trayvon Martin by this self-important asshole with a gun is, sadly, not an isolated incident. All you have to do is write a column about fears of danger for your own child to bring out some ignorant, loathsome monster like the one above and his disgusting comments. I have no doubt “Steve Stevens” will end up in the newspapers after having committed some sort of hate crime. The thought precedes the deed.

  10. When I first read this post I was touched (and still am)….but then I began to think about it. I’m wondering if you aren’t overly sensitive to the way people act and automatically assume they are being racist? I don’t see racism in the examples you gave in the below paragraph. I see concern for a young boy.

    “There’s why I haven’t brought this topic up on Bloggingblue. This issue is hard to face. Sure, I’ve encountered racism while with Jack. No, not in the city where Jack was born. Philadelphia has its share of racism, but I never encountered racism when I took him for walks when we lived there. But in Wisconsin? There is racism here. I have been stopped on the street and confronted by an African American woman who grilled me about whether my son, sitting in his stroller and calling for Daddy, was my son. I have also been confronted by a security guard in a restroom after Jack followed me there, a situation that wouldn’t have happened if Jack wasn’t so. . . black. Racism is certainly alive here in Wisconsin. There’s no escaping racism anywhere in America.”

    1. I didn’t fully flesh out the incidents, anon. For instance, the woman who stopped me on the street actually said she did so because there had been a rash of white men kidnapping black babies recently (Jack was 20 months old at the time). No, there is no such rash of kidnappings anywhere in the US, but that was her rationale for accosting me on the street.

  11. From an article entitled: “The Truth About Hoodies And Race From A Middle-Ages White Male”:


    “You know what makes someone suspicious to me. If that person (e.g., George Zimmerman) had a history of violent acts. If that person followed a young man in his car and made specific references to the race of the teenager, whom he considered “suspicious” to a 911 operator. If that person then got out of his car and shot the young man with a pistol after being told not to get out of his car by a 911 dispatcher. If the young man who was killed weighed 100 pounds less than the person who shot him to death. If the person shot dead had no weapons on him. If the shooter claimed he was justified in killing the smaller, young black teenager because he was acting in self-defense.”

    Word, my brother.


  12. Thanks for the articles, Zuma.

    What’s amazing to me is that this issue really has no partisan basis. There are facts on the ground out there that young black men are far, far more likely to be shot by white men than are white boys, and that such cases are far, far more likely to be ignored or declared “self-defense” if the victim is black and the perpetrator is white. The facts of this case don’t matter in face of overwhelming statistics. So “Steve Stevens” goes out of his way to prove Zimmerman is faultless. . . for what purpose? I don’t understand any purpose other than to continue some pretty virulent racist stereotypes.

  13. Steven, you worry about your son as all decent parents do. And his race may well contribute to different treatment from others, sometimes good treatment, sometimes not. My suggestion is that, over time, educate your son – explain to him that, unfortunately, people sometimes make assumptions about others based on what should be irrelevant characteristics. And that there is nothing whatsoever he can do about other people’s irrationality. As such, he should not dwell or obsess about others real or perceived attitudes towards him, as this will lead to a dead end of bitterness and excuse making. Rather, he should focus on his own development and decency. He may win over some who are obsessed with his blackness, some he may not. But again, its their problem, not his. It is true and unfortunate that he may be treated poorly by some, but then, who is always treated perfectly? People discriminate all the time. As a shorter man, I, now happily married, sometimes jokingly note that nearly all women are heightists, ie, they won’t date someone shorter. It would be foolhardy for me to claim victim status and set out to end this discrimination. Now I am not equating racism with heightism except to suggest that one should not dwell on something that you have no control over. And lastly, I would suggest that you not react hysterically to the Trayvon story any more that you should swear off flying after a plane accident. You cited statistics stating that a black boy is more likely to be shot by a white person that a white boy is. Perhaps true but as a parent I trust you don’t have a preference about who is to shoot your son, rather, you just don’t want him shot, period. As such, you might want to look into just who it is that is shooting the most black boys. Hint, it isn’t white people. And some day, your son will need to try to understand why violence is more of a problem, statistically speaking, among black people here in America. And here, unfortunately, I suspect you will fail your child.

  14. Hey bro, I feel you 100 percent. I have been going through lots of emotions dealing with this Trayvon Martin situation. I have a 16 year old son who looks just like Trayvon. I cried so many times because we are always the victim of violence-our young men are being targeted on all sides. We need to have a national plan of action-an approach to change our condition-this incident is just a symptom of the larger racist and oppressive economic-political-social order.

    We must change ourselves internally FIRST-the way we think about ourselves and the respect we demand from others-the world is a mirror-we hate ourselves and lack self respect so who will love and respect us?

  15. Apparently what happened is Zimmerman followed Martin while calling 911. Martin called his girlfriend. Zimmerman stopped following Martin going back to his car. Martin then confronts Zimmerman and then Martin strikes Zimmerman. In the ensuing fracas, Zimmerman fires one fatal shot into Martin. This is what the facts up to this point indicate. Justifiable shooting. Now they’re bringing out pictures of “little Trayvon” (at like, 12 years of age) when his current photos show the 17 year old much closer to the thug Zimmerman had to deal with. Now the race-baiters Jackson and Sharpton have parachuted in to lead the “Black Community” and further divide the country. The timing couldn’t be worse for President Obama too. It’s much too far from the election for the truth of the matter not to come out. When it does, little Trayvon will be shown to be responsible for his own death. If it had happened in October, it might have helped Obama. As is – this will play out and his initial chomping at the bit for a race-war issue will be seen as immature. Just like when he foolishly chimed in on the professor Gates arrest in 2009. I still think this warrants investigation, and most likely arrest and trial for Zimmerman. Don’t be surprised if he’s acquitted though. Unless it can be proven that he committed a premeditated act (i.e. wanted to shoot Martin,) this will be a justifiable homicide. Just take race and age out of this entirely, and look at it objectively. It is totally possible that while tragic, Trayvon Martin may be responsible for his own death. The best thing that could happen now is for Zimmerman to reatain the services of the best high-profile African-American attorney he can possibly get.

  16. Thanks again for sharing this story with us, Steven.

    Kids just don’t come any cuter than Jack.

    And fathers don’t come any better than you.

    We’ve got his back, Steven.

    AND we’ve got yours.

    All the best,

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