Wednesday, September 03, 2014

The Hoodie

The hoodie that prompted the conversation with the boys.
It's part of our annual summer tradition. Take the boys to Kohls to do some clothes shopping. Upstairs to the boys department,"Miles and Evan, here, try these on..." as Eleanor and I showed them clothes that we thought they would like and needed; in addition to the clothes they were picking out on their own. T-shirts, jeans, button down oxford shirts, dress pants, and then the hoodie in the picture.

The boys were in the changing rooms trying on a variety of clothes, while Eleanor and I were assisting and shuttling back and forth, taking back clothes that didn't fit and getting new ones. Then, the last item to be tried on was the hoodie that Miles selected. Prior to trying on the hoodie, Eleanor had thought this article of clothing would put Miles at risk. I typically like Miles' style. He pushes boundaries with his clothes, shoes, and his hairstyles as kids often do. But, this hoodie was pretty garish. Then, he tried it on. He put the hood over top his head, then there was a flap with a skull that covered his eyes, Eleanor and I could barely see his face. Miles then pulled down the hood and excitedly asked, "What do you think, can I get it? I looked at Eleanor and she looked at me. Without words we shared the same thoughts. I looked at Miles and quietly said, "No." Miles implored, "Really, c'mon, why not?" Again, I looked at Eleanor, she returned my somber glance and I said to myself, "It's time, this is a teachable moment." So, in the changing room I began in a calm serious tone, "Miles and Evan because of who you are, what you look like, who your parents are, how you appear..., people are going to think certain things about you, assume certain things about you. It's not fair, nor is it right, but it's life, this is the way it is. Miles, this hoodie, Mom and I don't want you to wear it based upon how people may view you in it. We want to keep you safe." Then two incidents came to mind that I shared with the boys. The first one was about an Asian international student in Louisiana years ago who was trick-a-treating and wore a costume that obscured his face. He went to knock on a door and the homeowners could not see his face, didn't know who it was, told him to go away, he either did not hear them or did not understand them and he was shot and killed. Then, I told the boys about Trayvon Martin and his hoodie. And, the history of boys/young men/adults who look like them in America and how many people may/will view them with a suspicious eye, including the police, sometimes based on clothing, but many times based on fear and prejudice. The boys could tell by my tone that I was serious. Eleanor was in tears, she was very upset by the topic. It's never my intention to scare my children, I do not want my children to live in fear, but I do want to them to be informed. Both boys understood what I was saying, they got it. Miles looked at me and said, "I'll put the hoodie back."

Then, as we left the changing room and were leaving the boys department, the boys asked me, "Dad, when did the Trayvon Martin shooting take place?" I stopped walking, looked at them and answered, "Two years ago." The boys looked at me incredulously and repeated, "Two years ago?!" They thought it took place as Evan likes to say, "Back in the 19's (Meaning any year that began with 19....)."

The time had come to begin having, "The Talk."


Laura Trairatnobhas said...

This is good, Ryan. I wish it could be shared outside of your blog, disseminated more widely as part of the discussion the US needs to have about race.

Ttfredmond said...

I hate that we live in a world where anyone has to have that conversation with their children. Heartbreaking. I wish your kids (all kids for that matter) could be free to be kids and remain innocent to the horrors of the world's ignorance and hatred