I thought I had said everything I needed to. I spoke to the boys about Trayvon Martin when he was killed, and we’ve talked about him many times in the past couple of weeks. I had the same conversation I assumed so many people have been having with their children.
And then I stepped into Walgreens. (That in and of itself is blog-worthy because our local Walgreens is truly Orwellian in its inefficiency and sheer chaos. Often there are a gaggle of pharmacists working, but they all seem to share one brain. The rest of the store is staggeringly understaffed.)
This week I went in to pick up the pictures that the boys had taken with their disposable cameras at summer camp. (Teaching them how to use the cameras was comic — the notion of winding up the camera after each shot completely blew then away. Not to mention the trick I showed them about not winding the camera until you’re absolutely ready to take the next picture, to ensure you don’t take one by accident and waste precious “film.”)
While I was waiting at the photo counter, two young African American boys walked past me eating bags of chips. They looked at me and then at the man behind the counter helping me.
“We paid for them! These are paid for!” They loudly announced to the man, referring to the chips.
To which he replied, “If I was worried about you two, you’d know it boys. No problem..”I still feel queasy when I think about that moment. I think of all the times my kids eat food in stores before I even pay for it (Hell, if I shop with the kids, 2/3 of my shopping cart consists of the husks and shells of food they’ve snarfed on our trek through the store.) It wouldn’t even occur to my boys that they’d need to explain to someone that they’d paid for the food they were eating in a store. And when I relayed this story to them, they still didn’t get it immediately. And then I realized that we are NOT all having the same “talk” with our kids. I don’t have to teach my boys about people being wrongfully suspicious of them, and how to deal with it. They know it’s wrong to steal, but they don’t know how to make sure people don’t think they’re doing it even if they’re not. My only consolation is that these assumptions we are all fighting are not in their hearts. They truly had no idea why one child would be more suspect than another, and they cannot for the life of them understand why any boy walking down the street in a hoodie would be a suspect to anyone at all. I suppose they are not alone in that.