Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Trayvon Could Have Been My Brother.....

I have stayed mainly silent during the whole Trayvon Martin case.  Not because I didn't have opinions on it but rather, because I did and speaking those opinions would just bring up a whole set of emotions I wasn't ready to deal with.

See, I am a white woman who lives in a Stand Your Ground State (Arizona).  We were the dead LAST state to recognize Martin Luther King day and sadly, we are known as the state where you can purchase an assault rifle in a WalMart parking lot. 

However, I am from Michigan and I grew up with extremely liberal values.  When I was five and a half a great gift was brought home to me in the form of an adopted baby brother.  His name was Steven Matthew Martin and he was perfect!  He was six weeks old, smelled really good and was the most interesting color of olive/brown I'd ever seen!  He had loose curly black hair and he was a very happy baby!

 I remember the day when Stevie came running out of the bathroom where he'd been looking at himself in the mirror.  I think he was three.   "Mama, I am a different color than you are!"  He stated. And while he knew he had been adopted it was in that moment that he began to understand that he was "different".

 My sister and I became extremely protective of our little brother.  We lived in a very small town at that time and I remember people staring at us and I had no idea why.  I did know that at family gatherings, things seemed to shift.  There was an unease when my aunt and uncle were around.  Eventually, they no longer showed up at gatherings or would just be leaving when we got there.

Mama said it was because Uncle Red was from the South and he just didn't think the same way as us.  I wasn't sure at the time what had changed or how his thinking would change the family but we got used to not seeing that set of cousins anymore.

I remember going to Florida one year, which was normal for spring break and driving through Georgia one morning there was the smell of burning wood.  Finally we saw what the smell was from.  Erected in the middle of a lawn was the remains of a burnt cross.

 My dad had us take Stevie to the back of the motor home and put him on the floor with some books, we then took the pull out bed out over him to hide him.  Dad told him no matter what he heard, not to come out until dad told him to. We then drove straight through Georgia without stopping except maybe for gas.  And we didn't get out for a walk that time because were all too scared.

As Stevie grew up I started learning that there were people who thought little boys with black, curly hair and brown skin and dark brown eyes were somehow bad.  I heard a word that I had never before heard applied to my brother and my Mama had to try to explain that it was just a very uneducated word which some white people used to put black people down.  Hmmm.  I decided I didn't like that word.

Sometimes Stevie would get in fights at school and he said that kids would say things about him and he could handle it but when they started in about the family and how we were bad because we adopted him and called my Mom names he just couldn't stand it and would fight. What is a parent to do in this case?  Tell their son to just turn the other cheek?  But of course my parents did.  They told Stevie that there would always be people who just didn't understand our family.

We ended up moving from the very small town in the winter of 1980.  We moved to East Lansing, Michigan which was home to Michigan State University.  In many ways it was night and day to the small town life we'd previously encountered.  For the first time ever, in the middle of second grade, my brother went to school with other minorities!  I can only imagine how it must have felt for him.

Most of the time living with Stevie was just as normal as any other family getting on with their lives. Then. when you least expected it. we were reminded that we were different.  Steve got a moped for his birthday one year.  I remember the first time he got pulled over by the cops.......who asked if this was his moped and did he have an ID  His white friends never got asked for ID for their rides.  Steve was probably pulled over at least twice a year and asked to prove he owned his moped.  He would even be with white friends on theirs and they wouldn't be questioned. 

I remember Steve being really upset by this and my dad telling him that whether it was fair or not the fact that he was black meant that he had to be twice as good and twice as understanding of things because unfortunately that was the way the world worked.  I can only imagine as a parent who is white trying to explain to your child that just because his skin was different that some of the world viewed him as "LESS THAN."

I could go on through my brother's life pointing out areas where he learned life lessons that were much different than those my sister and I were learning.  We learned a few lessons which most white girls never have to learn due to having Steve as a brother and for that I am humbled.

I never realized what my parents chose to take on back then in 1971 when they adopted Steve.  I don't know if they were fully aware of the impact that decision would make on all of us.  I am grateful that they did it and that I had my brother in my life for so many years.  I know that his journey was much different than mine and that he lived through much more bigotry than we bore witness to.  I can only imagine some of the things he endured while we were not around.

He WAS Trayvon Martin at seventeen.  A good kid who was living his life.  Going to the 7 11 to buy a Big Gulp and some candy.  I guess we are lucky that there wasn't a Zimmerman around then.