My father-in-law, Joseph Level, wrote a powerful note titled, "Suspicious" in response to the murder of Trayvon Martin. I've re-posted it below:
I have been stopped by "law enforcement" in traffic, in public, and in retail stores before for being "suspicious". Yet, by the grace of God, I was able, to some degree, corral my anger enough to remain dignified and articulate enough through each humiliating encounter. I'm sure I displayed a bit of righteous indignation…even I couldn't help myself. Regardless of how much I have been prepped to expect these unfortunate situations to occur in my life, I was never quite prepared when it happened. And although I know I'm fearfully and wonderfully made, I continue to live and breathe in earnest expectation for the next time I suddenly appear suspect. However, it pales in comparison to the absolute terror that grips me when I consider my own four sons in light of the curious case of Trayvon Martin.
As the husband of one and the father of our seven children, most would consider me to be too tough on them. I plead not guilty. I haven’t been tough enough. Don’t get it twisted. They are great young adults, teens, and kids…every single one of them. Shanda, our oldest daughter, is married to a wonderful man she met as an undergraduate and both alumni of UNC-Chapel Hill; Brittani is a sophomore at Wake Forest University; Joseph III is a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill; Josh, a high school sophomore who attends a private boarding school in Asheville, NC (Christ School); Jeremy, an 8th grader; Jordan, 8, our youngest daughter; and infant son, Jaydon (hey, what can we say…lol).
As parents, my wife and I have spent countless hours helping to shape their character and social graces. No pat on the back wanted or needed. It’s what we’re supposed to do and I’m sure most of you, too, have the same testimony. We’ve talked about all the subjects that every mommy and daddy talk about. We’ve talked about all the subjects that mommy and daddy are afraid to talk about. We’ve talked about all the subjects that every black mommy and daddy must address.
And then, there are the daily “present” black father “heart to hearts” I must have with my black sons about what it means to be a black man in America. (I could take some time to differentiate black man vs black man of God; or even black man vs black male, but I won’t. I don’t think it’s going to make much of a difference regarding this topic, so forgive me). I’m not talking about those pep talks about how you’ve got to be twice as good as your classmates just to stay competitive (cue the righteous indignation!). I’m referring to those “suspicious” talks, and I’m bothered by the thought of even having these conversations with my sons in 2012…all these years after slavery, Jim Crow, MLK and up to Obama!
Why must I talk to them about being hyper sensitive about how they walk; their posture; when and when not to make eye contact; when and when not to smile; where to place your hands; their vernacular and tone of voice with police, security, coaches, teachers, and other authority figures? Must I teach them about the dangers of just being in upscale stores, ethnic stores, or even grocery stores? What about the dangers of being in a luxury car, SUV, station wagon, a “hoop-tee”, or on a bike? Can I forget about teaching them what slacks, jeans, t-shirts, jackets, shoes, caps and colors they’re safely permitted to wear? Do I teach them when to say “yes sir” or “yes-suh”, “yes maam” or “yes-sum”? Do I have to teach them when it’s safe to get in the water, when and where it's safe to “make water”, or when and where it’s safe to even come outside and play without being targeted and gunned down? And for what? Being “suspicious”? (O-M-G, forgive me for not teaching them to use the fork farthest to the left for the salad and to place their napkin in the plate only when they’re finished eating.) I mean, really?
If you have any suspicions about whether or not I am, you’re d--n right I’m angry. I’m terrified for our sons. I grieve for Mr. Martin, his family, and all loved ones left after such senseless tragedies.
But most of all, today, I’m grateful that my boys are alive and well, and able to know how their father feels for and about them.
I just pray that they also remember what I’ve taught them. I love them too much not to keep trying.