KCTS 9 Connects/Trayvon Martin's Killing and 'The Talk' - March 30, 2012

CNX: Trayvon Martin
  • KCTS 9 Connects

Trayvon Martin's Killing and 'The Talk'

We discuss the controversial shooting death of Trayvon Martin and The Talk. Seattle Times editorial writer Lynne Varner explains what it is and why she is having that conversation with her own son.

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  • Transcript

About the Episode

The 2012 Legislature is stuck in gridlock. In the third week of the Special Session, Democrat and Republican lawmakers are far apart on a number of issues keeping them from ending the session. Olympia Correspondent Austin Jenkins of the Northwest News Network explains the disagreements. Plus, we discuss the controversial shooting death of Trayvon Martin and 'The Talk.' Seattle Times editorial writer Lynne Varner explains what it is and why she is having that conversation with her own son. Finally, our Insiders Roundtable weighs in the U.S. Supreme Court, the Health Reform law, and its potential impact on the Washington state Governor's race.

Chapter 1: Legislative Update from Austin Jenkins

Chapter 2: Lynne Varner and "The Talk"

Chapter 3: Insiders Roundtable

Related:
Read Seattle Times Editorial on 'The Talk.'

Enrique Cerna:
The investigation into the shooting death of Florida teenager Trayvon Martin continues. And so do the rallies and marches in his memory. Relatives of the slain teen joined with others at the greater Mount Baker baptist church last Sunday, calling for justice and for the arrest of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch leader who shot Martin.

Cedric President-Turner:
You come in at me saying that, oh, whoa, my cousin attacked you. Where is the evidence? The evidence clearly shows that you shot my cousin.

Enrique:
Also last Sunday, this column written by Seattle Times editorial columnist Lynne Varner, about The Talk, and how the shooting death of Trayvon Martin has prompted her to have an important conversation with her son. Lynne Varner joins me now to talk about "The Talk." Welcome. Tell me about your boy.

Lynne Varner:
He's 11. He's in the fifth grade. And he is tall. He's almost as tall as I am. And then he weighs, he looks like a young man, he looks like he could be 16 because of his height. He's got a serious attitude. He doesn't smile a lot, although he's smiling inside. And I have to tell you that when I heard about Trayvon Martin, the first thing I thought about was my son, and how he could be walking down the street very serious, thinking about something, and for him, it would be thinking about legos, but he could look to someone else like he's not friendly. And all I could hope is they would not prejudge him.

Enrique:
His name is Jackson?

Lynne:
His name is Jackson, yes.

Enrique:
Jackson, does he understand much of what happened here? Is he aware?

Lynne:
He is. He even has some historical context for it because in fifth grade, they just finished learning about slavery, before the slavery lesson, there was the middle passage. So he learned about the whole slave trade, how African/Americans came to America. So he has some historical context for it. I think what's hard for him and what's hard for most children is that they think the world is safe because we raise them that way, we tell them go out, be fearless, do what you want to do, be a very amazing person. And the world will embrace you. But then, on the other hand, we have to also say that the world can be dangerous, and they can be dangerous for you, and maybe not for your blond friend next door.

Enrique:
The Talk. What is "The Talk?"

Lynne:
The Talk is a series of discussions that happen in African/American families. And it's happened for generations. I had the talk when I was younger. I just finished giving the talk to my son Jackson, my husband and I did. And what it involves is explaining to them that there are some racial dynamics in this country that can make things dangerous for them, that just navigating, walking down the street, interacting with police officers can take on racial overtones, and that they have to be aware of this, and they have to be able to navigate it, side step, it defuse situations. And it can be a matter of life and death. So the talk is part instructional, but it's also trying to make sure they understand this is serious, you may not get a do over.

Enrique:
And as you're having The Talk, are you telling him, this is, this is the situation that many African/Americans face, or do you even bring that in?

Lynne:
No, you do. You do bring that in. I don't want to, I didn't want to scare Jackson, so that was the really interesting thing, was that I wanted him to walk away better informed, more alert but at the same time I wanted him to continue to live in this world where he's innocent, where he believes in the goodness of others. So it was a balance, but we did say for perspective, your father has experienced the same thing, he's been pulled over by the police. We were on Whidbey Island and my husband dropped me off and I was there for a writing engagement. The police pulled him over, just very nicely, just asked him, where are you going? Going back to the ferry dock. Okay. Have a nice day. That doesn't happen to most people. So we have to explain to my son, that could happen to you. If you're asked where you're going, what you're doing here, the answer is not as you may want to say, none of your business, I have the right to be here like anyone else, you have to answer because you're in a unique position. We didn't say it last week, but we will say as he gets older that there are F.B.I. statistics that back up the fact that young African/American men are more likely to be killed because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time than any other racial group. And we're going to say that because, just know, this isn't your parents saying it, it's something that the country, our society, has been preoccupied with for a long time.

Enrique:
You had the talk.

Lynne:
Yeah.

Enrique:
With your parents.

Lynne:
Yes.

Enrique:
But you have others?

Lynne:
Yes.

Enrique:
Three brothers?

Lynne:
Three.

Enrique:
So was the talk different and is the talk different for an African/American woman than for an African/American male?

Lynne:
It is. Men have a greater burden and that's that society for some reason sees black men as being threatening. Trayvon Martin was thought to be maybe there to burglarize a home. But a lot of other African/American men are thought to be about to harm someone. Women may cross the street, they may grab their purse because they think this is a mugger. And so my brothers were told that you may not feel like you're being threatening, but your body presence, your physical size, may be frightening to other people. And just be aware of those dynamics. The talk for me was more about just always carrying myself in a way that I could, I would be above reproach, when I talked into a store, no one would think I came there to steal or anything like that. So it was more benign than it was for my brothers. But it was the same in that it said, because you're African/American. Some people in this country will see you differently without even knowing you, just because of the color of your skin. I have to tell you one thing. I got this e mail earlier this week. I've been e mailing back and forth with a reader, and he said that because there are African/American youths who commit crimes, he is afraid of all of them. And he said, I'm sorry that I feel that way, but I am because I read the newspapers. And I said, don't you feel like you're losing a lot by painting this entire racial group with a broad brush? And he said, yes, but I don't want what else to do, but I need to be safe, I need to feel safe.

Enrique:
Your brothers, and actually, this will probably be the case for Jackson in a few years as he starts driving. And this is something I've had my talk with my son, if you get pulled over, don't be a smart aleck.

Lynne:
Right.

Enrique:
I've even said to him, keep your hands on the wheel.

Lynne:
Right.

Enrique:
Be courteous to the police officer. Be smart.

Lynne:
It's such a double-edged sword. One thing we did tell our son, because Trayvon was on the phone in the last few minutes of his life, we've told our son, never confront anyone, you take your cell phone and you call us. Well, if you're in a car, and the police officer can't see what you're reaching for, you could clearly end up dead. Sometimes you don't know what to tell your kids, but you have to have that talk, you can't let them go blindly into the world thinking that we're all treated equally and seen equally because it's not the case.

Enrique:
We have about a minute left. So much has been made over the fact that Trayvon was wearing a hoodie. How do you see that?

Lynne:
That's so ridiculous. My son wear as hoodie almost every day.

Enrique:
I wear a hoodie.

Lynne:
He loses his umbrellas all the time, he loses his hat, so the hoodie is the best thing. But you know, it's just really interesting, someone pointed out that Mark Zuckerberg, the co-founder of Facebook.

Enrique:
Eminem.

Lynne:
He wears a hoodie. So that's a ridiculous reason to suspect someone.

Enrique:
Lynne Varner, we'll post a link to your article on KCTS 9 Connects. And also, the talk will continue. Thank you for your time.

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