I still remember an African-American colleague telling me what she warned her two sons, decades ago. When they went to a department store or a toy store in New York, they were under strict orders to keep their hands at their sides, lest somebody get the wrong idea.
Knowing how people love to touch things – and how hands-on is tolerated as a normal part of business – I could only cringe at the double standard my friend had to inculcate in her sons.
The perceptions are still out there, even with an African-American president in the White House. Or maybe because of it.
Take back our country. That sentiment careens around the Internet. What is worse is that versions of it are put forth by elected officials like Eric Cantor, the man with the most sour expression in Congress, who recently said Mitt Romney would “get us back on track.”
Everybody knows the code. It was no accident that Cantor echoed the resentful tone that has been going around since November of 2008. The Trumps and Palins and McConnells of the country have been treating the president as an interloper, an outsider. Wonder why.
I have no way of knowing what was bouncing around in the mind of George Zimmerman, 28, who allegedly followed and killed Trayvon Martin, 17, in Florida three weeks ago. Was this volunteer vigilante hopped up by the rhetoric in Congress and the campaign trails, that things are not quite right at the moment? Or does the traditional racist undertone of the country survive on its own, without blatant help from prominent politicians?
Any of us with friends and relatives of color know the double takes and the stares.
Children, particularly boys, are warned to watch their step when they go out.
The photos of Trayvon Martin will break your heart. The sweet trusting smile. Surely, this young man heard the warnings from loved ones to be careful out in public.
Even then, with the gun laws and the stand-your-ground law in Florida and the inflamed rhetoric going around, any caution Trayvon Martin had learned in his 17 years was not enough, as he ran into a stranger with his own notion of taking something back.