Police Privilege and Conflict with Diversity Initiatives

On October 01, 2010 Sam Houston State University (SHSU) student Aman Abdulaziz  was stopped by campus police for a parking violation that quickly escalated into a police brutality incident as shown in the officer’s dash cam (and in the image below).


(Aman Abdulaziz image from here.
Used with permission from Isiah Carey of Fox 26 News, Houston)

Abdulaziz is battling the charges against him and suing SHSU for civil rights violations and failure to train its officers properly. Below, students from Sam Houston State University react and offer their analysis.

As a structural phenomenon resulting from racism and other biases deeply engrained  in U.S. society, we connect this incident with the larger national racialized landscape as a social issue focused on the following questions, 1: Whose interest’s does law enforcement and security serve ? And 2: Is law enforcement and security as it currently operates in everyday operations qualified to work with diverse populations and adequately serve and protect all people? Continue reading…

Mapping NYC Stop-and-Frisk Data

This short video (3:51) presents data of stop-and-frisks in an interactive, visual format:

This video was created by the really amazing Morris Justice Project. The Morris Justice Project brings together people affected by the NYPD policing practices together with academic researchers to resist criminalization in new ways. This map is just one of those ways.

The Morris Justice Project is an initiative that is part of the Public Science Project at the Graduate Center, CUNY. You can follow updates on the Floyd case at the Morris Justice Project Tumblr, and on Twitter, @public_science.

The [Drug] War on African Americans and Latino/as in San Francisco

On April 12, 2012 the San Francisco Human Rights Commission held a public hearing on “The Human Rights Impact of the War on Drugs in San Francisco.” I attended upon the request of the Commission for a report authored with Mike Males (Research Fellow, CJCJ) for the Center for Criminal and Juvenile Justice. The pews of the hearing in SF City Hall were packed, and the room charged with howls and cheers immediately upon the first testimony of the evening by California NAACP President, Alice Huffman: “I will submit to you that the War on Drugs has destroyed many African American men and women and has not protected us at all.” Notably, the NAACP solidified their fundamental and universal opposition to the drug war in a 2011 resolution.

President Huffman, along with many others offering community and expert testimony declared their agreement with the 2011 Global Commission Report on the War on Drugs. The Report explicitly labels drug war policies utter failures, and calls for an immediate pivot toward legalization and regulation of illicit substances, and for public policy to define and treat drug abuse, addiction, and overdose deaths as public health issues. Further, the report recognizes legalization as a viable strategy to combat the violence and state corruption that regulates the illicit drug trade, as was the case in the (alcohol) prohibition era recently illustrated in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire.

In my testimony with CJCJ’s Selena Teji, we summarized the findings of my report with Dr. Males:

• African Americans experience felony drug arrest rates 19 times higher than other races in San Francisco, and 7.3 times higher than African Americans elsewhere in California.
• San Francisco’s explosion in drug felony arrests of African Americans, during the 1995-2009 period, did not occur elsewhere in the state, nor for other measured racial categories in the city.
• The city’s African American female youth account for over 40% of the felony drug arrests of African American female youths in California, and have arrest rates 50 times higher than their counterparts in other counties.
• More than half of all youth drug felonies involved African Americans, who constitute 9% of the city’s youth; and one-third Latino males, who comprise 11% of the city’s youth.
• Despite disproportionately high drug arrest rates among young African Americans in San Francisco, of the more than 2,000 residents and nonresidents in the city who have died from abuse of illicit drugs in the last decade, 6 in 10 were non-Latino Whites, and more than 7 in 10 were age 40 and older.
• Such stunning and socially destructive practices and disparities arguably constitute human rights violations against African Americans in San Francisco under the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination and the anti-discriminatory clause of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In agreement with social scientific research on contemporary systemic racism that recognizes the institutionalization of racial privilege and oppression and the role of “color-blind racism” in the post-civil rights era (Feagin, 1977, 2006, 2010; Feagin and Vera, 2001; Bonilla-Silva, 2003; Alexander, 2010; Ostertag and Armaline, 2011), international law does not require proof of conscious, explicit racial animus in the legal definition of racial discrimination as do U.S. courts—discriminatory results suffice (see also Fellner and Mauer, 1998).

Though a full report from the hearing in April awaits decision, that if adopted by the Commission would initiate review and public response by SFPD and the Board of Supervisors at the very least, the report’s adoption and publication are currently stalled. Populations of color, victims of the drug war, and the civil society that pays for this long expensive policy failure deserve an end to the drug war—perhaps faster than the system can or will deliver absent considerable resistance and political pressure.


Alexander, M. (2010). The New Jim Crow. New York, NY: The New Press.

Bonilla-Silva, Eduardo. (2003). Racism Without Racists: Color-Blind Racism and the Persistence of Racial Inequality in the US. New York: Rowman & Littlefield.

Feagin, Joe. 1977. “Indirect Institutionalized Discrimination: A Typology and Policy Analysis.” American Politics Quarterly 5(1):177-220.

______. (2006). Systemic Racism: A Theory of Oppression. New York: Routledge.

______. (2010). Racist America: Roots, Current Realities, and Future Reparations. New
York: Routledge.

Feagin, Joe, Hernán Vera, and Pinar Batur. (2001). White Racism. 2nd ed. New York:

Fellner & Mauer. (1998). Losing the Vote: The Impact of Felony Disenfranchisement Laws in the United States. Washington D.C.: Joint Report from Human Rights Watch and The Sentencing Project. Retrieved on 03/30/12 from http://www.sentencingproject.org/doc/File/FVR/fd_losingthevote.pdf.

International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination [ICERD], 660 UNTS 195, entered into force Jan. 4, 1969. The United States ratified ICERD on October 21, 1994.

International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force March 23, 1976, Art. 25. The U.S. ratified the ICCPR on June 8, 1992.

Ostertag, S. & W. T. Armaline. (2011). Image isn’t everything: Contemporary systemic racism and anti- racism in the age of Obama. Humanity and Society, 35(3).

William Armaline is the Director of Human Rights (@SJSUHumanRights) and an assistant professor in Justice Studies at San Jose State University.

Observing Racism in Texas: The White Frame Again

I feel frustration and disgust when I hear racial epithets and see stereotyped images of rage thrown at President Obama during the pre-election period. Political cartoons worse than Thomas Nast’s nativist drawings appear almost daily in regional newspapers and on Facebook pages in south Texas. Pictures dominate the Internet depicting him with ape like features and some with huge ears and crossed eyes in awkward positions. Letters to the editor are filled with lies and hate about Obama with pledges to vote him out of office. Racist jokes and snide remarks are repeated in social settings, as well. Full – length ads in newspapers depict him as a socialist enemy and someone who is important to eliminate. What is happening to our society?

The Republican Texas Legislature wants to suppress voting with what Gilberto Hinojosa, the Texas Democratic Chairman, says is modern day poll tax and modern day Juan Crow laws and, “Republicans say to the Hispanic Community: Here’s your border wall: show me your papers now: and the dreams of your youth are illegal.” Furthermore, Texas Governor Perry says he will not honor President Obama’s decree opening educational opportunities to thousands of undocumented young people. Hinojosa says what keeps Texas Republicans up late at night is that Hispanic Texans make-up 28% of the eligible voter population, and that percentage keeps growing. And overwhelmingly Hispanic voters vote Democratic. He also points out that in a short time, Texas will change from a red state to a blue state because of these demographic changes.

In the past few weeks, Lubbock has experienced a high level of vandalism targeting Democratic yard signs. Hundreds of Obama signs have either been stolen or marked with the letter N, some wrapped with double chains, others sprayed with mustard or shot. This past week a Hispanic young man waited late at night to capture the vandals on his video camera. A group of young white men saw him and chased him in an attempt to take away his camera. Then he was assaulted. The following is a film of the event captured on camera and released by the police.

Gilberto Hinojosa is appalled at this behavior and says that while sign stealing is not unusual, what has happened in Lubbock is a violent statement and is racism. Racism, “we also saw when an Austin man lynched a chair after the Clint Eastwood talk at the RNC.” It drives voter suppression as does Voter ID laws that disproportionately disenfranchise voters of color. The Republicans deny that the vandalism and hate crimes are happening. They say the Democrats are doing it themselves. However, it is interesting that last week’s non-partisan AP poll found that 79% of Republicans harbor racist views, compared to 32% Democrats.

Voter suppression is happening in other southern states. Is it a coincidence that the same red states are those that were confederate states 150 years ago? In these same states, Jim Crow laws and violence prevented minorities from voting until 1965 when Congress passed The Voting Rights Act. Now Republican state governments are pushing to rescind the Voting Rights Act, they say is no longer relevant. However, George W. Bush enthusiastically approved its renewal a few years ago. Why are Republicans now against it?

Considering the AP poll above which points out that negative racial attitudes have failed to improve the past few years and could manifest in policy we definitely should renew The voting Rights Act (1965). To understand why this is happening and we continue to see racism in this society, we need to look at the history of the “White Racial Frame.”

The “White Racial Frame,” according to Joe Feagin, is the manner in which whites view themselves, and was firmly set with the founding of this country. With the history of American slavery it’s become “systemic racism,” Feagin reveals. First centered on African Americans, the oppression by the dominant white hierarchy continues to use racial stereotypes, metaphors and images of other people of color, as well. The purpose is to stir emotions that create prejudice and bigoted discrimination so whites can remain on top of the hierarchy. Today, with the demographics favoring the Hispanic population, propagation of discrimination is occurring toward the Hispanics. The AP poll found that 52% non-Hispanic whites had anti-Hispanic attitudes and with the threat of whites becoming a new minority racism will not go away anytime soon. It’s happening in Texas and it is very disturbing to Republicans. To understand better “The White Racial Frame,” please refer to Joe Feagin’s article.

“You’re a Mutt” : Racial Policing Practices

On June 3, 2011, three plainclothes New York City Police officers stopped a Harlem teenager named Alvin, one of 600,000 mostly Black and Latino young men who are stopped for no reason except their race (and gender) each year in New York.

The stop and frisk of would have been unremarkable, except that Alvin secretly captured the interaction on his cell phone, and the resulting audio, part of a new video released by The Nation, is one of the only known recordings of stop-and-frisk in action. When Alvin asks why he is being threatened with arrest, the other officer responds, “For being a fucking mutt.” Later in the stop, while holding Alvin’s arm behind his back, the first officer says, “Dude, I’m gonna break your fuckin’ arm, then I’m gonna punch you in the fuckin’ face.”
The video about stop-and-frisk (13:15) is here:

The audio was recently played at a meeting of The Morris Justice Project, a group of Bronx residents who have organized around the issue of stop-and-frisk and have been compiling data on people’s interactions with police. Jackie Robinson, mother of two boys, expected not to be surprised when told about the contents of the recording. “It’s stuff we’ve all heard before,” she said at the gathering. Yet Robinson visibly shuddered at one of the audio’s most violent passages. She had heard plenty about these encounters, but had never actually listened to one in action.

Although perhaps not surprising, part of what is compelling about this short video clip is that includes interviews with two members of the NYPD. With their identities disguised, two officers from two different precincts in two separate boroughs speak about the same types of pressures put on front line police from higher-ups to meet numerical goals or face disciplinary action and retaliation. Most chillingly, both officers use the word “hunt” when describing the relentless quest for summonses, stops and arrests.

The racial pattern of these stops – something like 87% of the stops are of Black and Latino young men – and the utter lack of effectiveness in terms of ‘policing’ – only 1% yield any weapons – highlight the stark racial policing of these practices. It seems clear that the NYPD’s policing is intended to exercise control over young men of color in the city, and that these policies are guided by Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and Mayor Bloomberg. These unjust, racist police practices will remain in place until those at the highest levels of city government decide to take action to dismantle these policies.

Racial Profiling in France and the U.S., (Pt.1)

On April 11, 2012, the special prosecutor in the Trayvon Martin case issued a second-degree murder charge against George Zimmerman who, in the affidavit, is described as having “profiled” the unarmed 17 year old teenager before firing the fatal shot. In that document, the word “profiled” stands alone without mention of race or color, casting doubt, for some, on whether race was involved.

That very same day, on the other side of the Atlantic, lawyers in France filed a landmark civil lawsuit, the first ever alleging racial profiling against the police force. All fifteen claimants in the suit are Black or Arab, and all but one is a French citizen. The word “racial” in the English translation of this type of profiling is however deceptive. Race in France is a highly taboo concept and word, expunged from political discourse and rare in everyday use. What gets translated as racial profiling, un contrôle au faciès, refers instead to an identity control or stop-and-search by the police, based not on race but arguably appearances alone.


(French Police Stop Unidentified Man, 2011. image from HRW)

Comparatively, these cases resonate on many levels and show how race-conscious and race-blind models still produce the same outcome: racial profiling. Although neither country has had the political will to confront this issue, the French lawsuit and one filed in New York in May represent major challenges to French and U.S. stop-and-frisk practices that have gone unabated. These lawsuits are also an important litmus test of racial profiling in stops-and-searches by police since primarily men of color in both countries are singled out.

France has long cultivated an official race-blindness, raising the maddening question of how to fight and document racial profiling when race itself is unacknowledged or evaded. Race and ethnicity are absent in the French census, and ethno-racial statistics are banned under French law, making it hard to document any form of racial discrimination. “If you mention ‘ethnic’ or ‘racial’ statistics to a French person,” states French sociologist Michel Wieviorka, “he or she will consider you to be a racist. The French do not consider ‘race’ as a social construction, they consider it to be a physical definition of human groups, and will not accept it.”

The new Socialist government under François Hollande acted quickly on this issue, introducing reforms that would require French police to give a receipt to people stopped. Doing so creates at once a paper trail where none had previously existed and a possible weapon in battling racial profiling. But Hollande’s administration faces a hostile police union that publicly denounced this initiative as racist and ferociously denies racial profiling, even though Arabs and Blacks are targeted.

Reports by Human Rights Watch and the Open Society Justice Initiative (OSJI) tell another story, one showing excessive, multiple, and abusive controls of people of color, in particular outer-city youth, in direct violation of people’s rights. Per OSJI findings,  “Blacks were overall six times more likely than Whites to be stopped by police while Arabs were generally 7.6 times more likely than Whites to be stopped by the police.”

But how can profiling that is actually racial be identified in race-blind countries without a social concept of race? And, how, in the pursuit of justice and equality, can the pernicious effects of thinking and classification in racial terms be avoided when using such a concept? Not only does race-blindness deny the obvious, but when it is law or policy, deprived of historical context, it strips anti-racists of the rhetorical weapons they need to battle racial oppression.

I address these questions in Part 2.


~ Trica Danielle Keaton, PhD, Associate Professor, African American & Diaspora Studies at Vanderbilt Unviersity, is the author, of several books, most recently the co-edited volume, Black France / France Noire: The History and Politics of Blackness (Duke University Press, 2012). This volume includes a preface by Christiane Taubira, who was recently named Minister of Justice by President Hollande. With thanks to Mamadou Diouf, Roy Jensen and Stephen Steinberg for their encouragement and invaluable comments on an earlier drafts of this work.

“Unaddressed Racism” : Alice Walker on Travyon Martin’s Killing

This is a long (45 minute), but good, interview from Democracy Now with Pulitzer Prize-winning author, poet and activist Alice Walker about the root causes of the Trayvon Martin killing. Worth a listen:

Walker observes that “We are a very sick country. And our racism is a manifestation of our illness and the ways that we don’t delve into our own wrecks. … As a country, we are a wreck.” Powerful words.

Daily Texan Political Cartoon on Zimmerman/Martin Case

UT student Stephanie Eisner, a white Latina from Houston is the cartoonist behind a controversial political cartoon concerning Trayvon Martin. This is a description of the cartoon:

A woman sitting in a chair with “MEDIA” on the headrest is reading a book titled, Treyvon Martin and the Case of Yellow Journalism to a young child. Eisner reads the outcome of the Trayvon Martin case with this caption: “And then…the BIG BAD WHITE man killed the sweet, handsome, innocent COLORED boy.” The child’s mouth is wide open in shock at the portrayal of the characters in the media. (see here for cartoon).

Eisner’s use of “colored” and the fonts/capitals deployed by Eisner demonstrate her white racial framing of the Trayvon Martin case. Eisner perpetuates racism in the media and appears to assume Martin was at fault and Zimmerman not a serious suspect.

The white racial frame (WRF) is “an organized set of racialized ideas, stereotypes, emotions and inclinations to discriminate.” This white racist framing is normalized by systematized processes of racial oppression in various realms (economic, justice system, education, political, etc.) which artificially naturalizes white dominance in those sectors. The consequence is a material reality which justifies and synthesis the abstract WRF and ideology systemic racism to produce reality, white supremacy. White supremacy becomes “common sense” to whites due its cyclical occurrence in society which reproduces the dominance of whites not only in these life-determining sectors, but also the portrayal of whites and people of color in the media.

Mass media are a primary facilitator of this concept of synthesizing the WRF and racism perfecting white supremacy. Elite white men mostly own the media markets so they much of who people see themselves and the world. Media constitute a cultural object of human production which shapes our worldviews. W.E.B DuBois believes media shapes and reinforces the dichotomy of “Black” and “white”: “bad” and “good” respectively, which subconscious becomes subscribed in our daily thought “with a thoroughness that few realize.” Eisner’s cartoon also perpetuates this dichotomy with her racist language toward Trayvon Martin.

The text of the cartoon is important content for analysis of Eisner’s WRF for two reasons: differentiation of emphasis and exaggeration of the adjectives used to reference Martin and Zimmerman and the usage of “colored” to describe Martin’s race. Zimmerman’s adjectives were only bolded and in all capital letters in one font, while Martin’s were in different fonts in different sizes of varying degrees. This technique of “font play” between Zimmerman and Trayvon shows her likely racial bias toward Zimmerman instead of creating an “ambiguous cartoon,” her stated intended goal.

The use of “colored” to address Martin’s race is racist when used by whites. “Colored” is presented in all capitals and bold. Eisner, a “white Hispanic,” felt the need to use a racist term in her poorly executed tactic to make her case. Her biracial background does not give her a “I cannot be racist” pass, but only points to how “race” and “racism” are constructed within the WRF.

Eisner could not escape her WRF of the Trayvon Martin case. The synthesizing of the WRF and racism has resulted in a white-framed narrative of the Trayvon Martin case. I have demonstrated her “font play” of the text and use of “colored” both show WRF influence on her worldview. (See #IAMTRAYVONMARTIN)

Eisner, since the initial posting of her political cartoon, has apologized and been relieved of her position as a cartoonist from the Daily Texan. However, a petition at change.org is asking for the reinstatement of Eisner.

Walking While Black: The Senseless Killing of Trayvon Martin

The recent slaying of 17 year-old Trayvon Martin is yet another reminder of the every day presence of racism in the United States. I find it necessary to remind everyone that this is not an isolated incident, but one that occurs daily across America for most black men. The difference here is that the normal threats and harassment that Trayvon would typically encounter on any given day as a black man, turned into his innocent death. As Malcolm Gladwell discussed in the death of Amadou Diallo, an innocent black man in New York City who was mistakenly shot 19 times by 4 police officers (who fired a total of 41 shots), the decisions that George Zimmerman made about Trayvon Martin were done in a “blink of an eye”. His actions, on the other hand, were done in justification of his already conceived (and likely subconscious) thoughts about this young man rather than in response to Trayvon’s clearly non-threatening behavior. Any one of Zimmerman’s compilation of actions that fateful evening, if terminated, would have likely resulted in a different outcome, one where Trayvon would still be alive today. But Zimmerman is operating on societal-based stereotypes and assumptions of anti-black racial frames about black men that has been around since the mid-1600’s and continues in today’s white-dominated society.

I find it hard to understand why anyone would be foolish enough to discount the continuing assault on the black male presence. Black men have always been public enemy number one in white America, and that has not changed much in 400 years. Since slavery times, African American men were seen as threats to white manhood. Unrelenting white racial stereotypes around black male bodies provided the perfect justification for the incredible violence directed at them, whether in the cotton fields or working for his master in the big house.

Black men were clearly not on equal footing with other men, especially white men for centuries. The conditions, stories, received wisdoms and other discourses created by whites about black folk constituted predictable cognitive road maps or frames that white folks enacted on black bodies. Frames are patterned ways of thinking about human differences such as race that apply generally to people at large and influence our legal system, schooling, healthcare, unemployment and housing to name a few. The white racial frames created around “Black” were and remains anathema, which is certainly the case with Trayvon’s senseless death. The shooter, George Zimmerman, a man of apparent Latino heritage and self-proclaimed neighborhood watch captain, mystifies many white observers. Given that both black and brown people in American are oppressed, how could this be? What’s happening here is that Zimmerman is acting on the existing white racial frames that operate as unconscious scripts on how to interact with racial “others” in our society.

White racial framing of black male bodies is a large-scale centuries-old undertaking that not only affects white behavior toward Blacks, but black and Latino behaviors toward each other and themselves. These racial understandings have existed ever since Europeans first stepped foot on the Western shores of Africa and began a long and tortuous relationship with Africans. And this continues today where the steady stream of media portrayals of young black men as “dangerous” predators is too prolific in our society to ignore. Anyone reading this blog can certainly think of one or more stereotypes about black men. When you think of the face of crime, it is easy to conjure the image of Trayvon or another young man of color as the scary and dangerous “other” or the boogey man. Minorities are not immune to this frame or thought process. Latinos, Blacks and other Americans of color receive and act on many of the same white racial stereotypes and impulses, and Mr. Zimmerman is no exception.

Now, take the context of white society from its historical vantage point and see how it continues the play out (albeit less overt at times). Floridians have instituted a law that has resurrected the Wild Wild West, which allows an individual to take the law into his/her own hands. A law seemingly provoked by the looting that occurred following several Florida hurricanes. After filtered media images following Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, the assumption is that the people looting are black. Thus, the law can be interpreted such that if a black man is stealing, a white man can shoot and kill him. And the onus is placed on the victim from prove he was innocent of a crime before being shot. We have now gone even beyond the egregious “eye for an eye” and moved to a place where a heart can be taken for the loss of a finger, but no one seemed to care that the law implied it was the heart of a black man until it was taken literally. What results is that someone like Trayvon Martin has become caught in the crosshairs of a nation that has yet to truly reconcile its profoundly racist past.

While the nation continues to mount an all out and justifiable assault on the circumstances surrounding Trayvon’s death, let’s not forgot the conditions that gave rise to this young man’s death in the first place: white supremacy, or to put it nicely, a white dominated society. Rest in peace Trayvon Martin; may your death not be in vain.

Please sign this petition and forward to all concerned stakeholders.

How Does it Feel to be a Problem? A Reflection on Trayvon Martin

My heart has been heavy since I heard about Trayvon Martin. I’ve read all the coverage and signed all the petitions. I’ve talked about it with family and friends and sat my own teenaged son down for yet another “talk.” I have read the commentary of a lot of very smart people on this case that make the historical and social intellectual connections better than I could have. Like Mark Anthony Neal, here. R. L’Heureux Lewis here. And the Crunk Feminist Collective here.

What is compelling me to write is much more personal than academic. I have a 15-year-old son. He’s 5’11” and football linebacker size (left guard, actually). He is sweet and kind and mild mannered. He is polite to adults and more courteous than your average teenager. What breaks my heart is that it’s not enough. There isn’t enough kind or polite or courteous in the world to outweigh the skin he’s in. This marker that he carries with him every day, that in his adolescent daze he is only partially aware of, sometimes… is everything. It was all there was when George Zimmerman decided that Trayvon was suspicious. It was everything when Amadou Diallo was gunned down in New York City, there was nothing more when Andre Burgess was shot in the city carrying a candy bar, it was THE thing when Jordan Miles was beat down in Pittsburgh. It is what led WEB Dubois to ask, “How does it feel to be a problem?”

The fact that my son walks through the world looking suspicious just because of who he is, because of his body, just destroys me sometimes. It makes me want to hold him close, to limit his movements, to tell him, no…you can’t go out.

“Mom, why? Don’t you trust me?” “It’s not you baby… It’s not you.” How many mothers and fathers have had this talk with their sons? Did Trayvon’s mother have that talk with him? “Son, when you’re out in the world, people don’t just see you as you are.” “Boy, when you’re in a store, make sure you don’t look like you could be stealing anything.” “My son, if the police stop you, make sure you cooperate.” “Baby, when you’re in public…not too loud, not too fast, not too slow, don’t look at them in the eye, step off the curb, shuffle your feet, cooperate, lay down, smile—but not too hard or too long, put your hands behind your back, pull your pants up, take your hood down BECAUSE THEY ARE KILLING BLACK BABIES OUT HERE.”

Most of the parents of black children I know have had that conversation with their children. “You’re black honey…and that means certain things to certain people.” We do it to protect them, to give them a lens so that when they’re treated out of line they don’t think they’re crazy, or that something is wrong with them. We do it so they can survive this world that encodes crime and drugs and lust and danger on their bodies. And yet, there’s Trayvon, there’s Jordan, and hundreds of others beaten and killed because they wear the ‘suspect’ suit as their birthright. It’s not new—of course. It’s old. It’s Emmett Till old. It’s slavery old. Both the racism and this talk, this lesson, is as old as black dirt.

And despite the fact that I’m a sociologist and generally avoid individual level tomes on race, what I’m really thinking about right now is “How does it feel to be a problem?” How does this knowledge affect our sons? The ones we have left. What we know is that our children go to schools that look more and more like prisons. That have punitive cultures where sagging pants, facial hair and braids earn behavior demerits. Where they are asked to walk along lines painted on the floor. Where they are more likely to be disciplined, suspended and labeled special needs than their white classmates. (This study has the data and more references.)

I’m thinking about all of the potential mindspace that is stifled or lost because of the need to not draw suspicion or negative attention from school or legal authorities. I wonder what it must feel like to walk through the world without so many damned unearned restrictions. I’m also thinking about how tragic it must be to not be able to see Trayvon Martin’s humanity. How limiting it is for someone like George Zimmerman to walk through the world in fear of black children. How truly sub-human it is to not be able to see humanity. And how the entrenched anti-black sentiment we live with every day is to blame.

I guess today I’m thinking of these two sides of the coin, what would the world look like if black boys had all of their available ideas and dreams and hopes and could walk through the world in a way that reflected them? And what if the rest of us could open up to our full humanity by being able to see these sons in their full humanity?

But mostly, my heart is heavy and I’m having trouble sleeping, and I have a headache because my son is Trayvon Martin. Because I have participated in limiting my child because I know that George Zimmerman exists, and that some of them have badges and the authority of the state behind them when they kill black boys. Because, “It’s not you baby…It’s not you.”

So please sign the petitions, go to the protests, call the Sanford County chief of police—I’m sending him Skittles at Chief, Bill Lee. Sanford Police 815 West 13th Street, Sanford, Fl 32771. I also invite you to join me in thinking creatively about parenting as activism and activism as parenting in a way that combines the lessons we teach our children with the larger struggle against media misrepresentation, racism in the criminal justice system, unequal policing, racial inequality in education and the rest.