Someone called the police on my stepmother when we were shopping at Smart & Final when I was a kid. She was Mexican and we were white and even though there was no signs of distress, it looked “suspicious.” My father said we should be grateful that people are watching, that others care enough to call. I didn’t feel grateful. Another time, a very large man in Kmart screamed in my stepmother’s face that she should go back to Japan, after a dispute over line order. When we moved from California to Ohio for a brief time, where there didn’t seem to be any other races besides black and white (on separate sides of town, in the 1980s), people openly stared, asked crazy questions. “Do you eat hot tamales for breakfast?” No, but I did eat chorizo sandwiches for lunch. The unfamiliar smell made other kids shift away.
There are a range of reactions to the Zimmerman verdict. Many of my Facebook friends are torn up. Others insist race had nothing to do with it, that guns are still good, that it’s unfortunate, but these things just happen. One implied that the media cares more about dead black people than dead white people.
Earlier this year, we had a rash of break-ins in my suburban neighborhood. No one took anything from us because we don’t have anything too enticing. But the neighbors were very upset. Our next door neighbor, who is nice–with her smile and her curly brown hair and her garden clogs–rushed over to me as we were getting out of the car. She told me she had seen a suspicious man outside of our house. This suspicious man was my darker-skinned, half-Jewish, half-Mexican brother-in-law, who pulled up in a Prius and wore running clothes and a CamelBak. He was meeting me to go on a run. What do you think made my neighbor suspicious? The pouch full of water strapped to his back? Or the extreme wicking nature of his technical shirt?
My neighbor spoke to me about the rash of crime in front of my anxious son, and he couldn’t sleep for a few nights after.
Eight-year-olds aren’t the only ones. We convince ourselves to be scared, even in our gated communities, our stucco tract homes. We buy guns and we practice. We imagine we are heroes in our own movies, that everything we are suspicious of is out to get us. We are stupid, we are isolated from one another. We don’t know what we are really talking about. But people still die, all of the time, as a result.
Zimmerman says he needs his gun now “more than ever.”
Stand your ground laws say you can follow a person, a teenager, into the darkness and terrorize him and kill him and get away with it.
My black friends have black children, black boys, who they know will grow up to be black men who will be in danger because someone will always be suspicious of the color of their skin. And that someone might have a gun. He might imagine himself to be some arbiter of justice and safety, as Zimmerman did. And he might be wrong, as Zimmerman was, but it wouldn’t matter. My sister, too, has a black son. This is my nephew Cameron:
Let’s be honest. We have a race problem in this country. And we have a gun problem, too. And there are lives at stake. Stand your ground laws and the verdict in this case and all of our own suspicions, legitimate or not, guarantee this sort of thing will happen again.