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In the Wake of Trayvon Martin: A Paranoid Artist Mom's Internal Dialogue With Her Son

Jul 17, 2013 | Updated Sep 16, 2013
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Son, you're only five now but I can see that I need to make some important decisions for you. I didn't think in 2013 we'd need to talk through this but I shouldn't be shocked as my dad always warned me nothing much has changed. Still, I'm feeling guilty because I was sheltered by the arts and I'm hoping I can do the same for you. Sure, I faced my share of racial stupidity but nothing like what you're destined to endure. Playing classical music has given me this whitewashed free pass. I can be black and tall and glamorous in gowns and play Beethoven and I'm instantly labeled a "good one." An old man from my native South Carolina even patted me on the head after a childhood performance of the Moonlight and marveled aloud what the world would be like if only "the rest of them" were more like me. But what will we do with you? You will be tall and dashing, I can tell, but I fear that on a rainy night dressed in a hoodie this will cause you some issues. So how do I shelter you from a fate sealed by ignorant misunderstanding and prejudiced overreaction?

First things first, I must take you out of Tae Kwon Do immediately because you're becoming too confident. You'll feel capable of defending yourself when you should just be still, be quiet and take it if you want to come home alive. So I'll put you in ballet instead where surely in public school you'll suffer intense ridicule in your early years. But then, once you're gracefully pirouetting and leaping across stages, everyone will deem you talented and harmless. Or maybe not, because you'll have the muscle-bound body of a god, and remember you're tall, so when you're not in tights you'll look threatening and your toned physique will be someone's excuse to see you as a deadly menace. Geraldo says you should use common sense and know better than to go into neighborhoods that are already having problems with other young black criminals. So we'll need to eliminate some of that STEM study time to be sure you're studied up on which neighborhoods are okay for you to cut through. Plus, dance would make you stand too tall. I'll teach you to walk with your head hung a little lower so you'll appear smaller and less intimidating.

You already have a large vocabulary so I know you'll be a good speaker, but for the future, we'll need to reduce your hand gestures so you don't come off as too aggressive in the workplace. I'll teach you to smile a lot so people won't think you're an angry one. And for high school, I'm not so sure about allowing you to join the debate team. Outside of competition, you might dare to rebut someone saying something ignorant to you and your words might go over their heads. They in turn will think you're making fun of their lack of education and feel disrespected. Things could escalate with you being tall and all, plus wielding fiery, intellectual stingers could make you appear more of a tough guy than you are. We can't give them a reason to want to put you (and your smart mouth) in your place.

Wait, I got it! You'll play the violin, no one's scared of a violinist! Just carrying around that dorky case will let everyone know you couldn't possibly be mistaken for a thug. Oh no, never mind, on a dark night someone might mistake that case for a gun-carrying tote. So that's out. I guess I could keep you locked up for now in a studio armed only with paintbrushes and art supplies; you could learn to paint like Basquiat and Picasso. But then, in your early 20s, if you ever got searched by the police on the way home to your artsy loft apartment and they found those art supplies in your trunk they might mistake you for a troublemaking graffiti artist and take you down for questioning anyway.

So let's see what's left? Aha! I got it! You'll be an opera singer, a world-famous baritone. And if you're ever away from the stage and find yourself in some dangerous situation, you'll bust out a few arias and show your stalker you can sing in Italian, French and German like nobody's business. Who could beat you then with that Euro beauty spilling out of your mouth? They'll see then that you're "different," "special" and "articulate" and the simple fact that you're skillfully practicing an art form not normally associated with "your kind" will get you off the hook. And you'll get to come back home to me. Yes, that's it. Opera it is.