As much as it has been fun writing about sex and the various shades of gray on the market right now, lately I’ve read a great deal about Trayvon Martin, but paused at the article written by Michael Skolnik (http://bit.ly/GJHotM). I couldn’t stop thinking about the real ACE kids. While Shades of Gray is fiction, so much of its story happens every day. Although I am not Olivia (Shades main character) – no matter what anyone says, I did once teach in an inner city high school and felt the same sort of devotion to my students that Olivia lives for. I also can recall with great repulsion a time when I stood on Amsterdam Avenue trying to hail a cab. Two of my students, two rather tall African-American teenage boys, stood beside me holding a tattered umbrella above me, as one empty taxi after another sped by. Rob turned to Ty and quietly said, “They ain’t gonna stop with us standing here,” and the boys sauntered away, handing to me their umbrella. Young and naïve, I turned to them and thanked them. It didn’t occur to me until I asked why they were still waiting, leaning against a nearby building twenty feet away out of the drizzle, that they knew what I didn’t. As they succinctly explained in no uncertain terms, I needed to get to a doctor and a taxi wouldn’t stop with them by my side. They would wait to be sure I got picked up. Almost immediately a yellow cab pulled up and being that I felt pretty ill, I got right in, feeling as though someone had just punched me in my already upset stomach. The reason the boys were with me in the first place was, because they were concerned when I turned somewhat green during class earlier. They were protective and caring. The color of their skin had nothing to do with it, but the cab drivers – many of which were people of color as well, didn’t seem to care.
Twenty-five years later I am still appalled by the truth that I learned that afternoon. Worse yet I am saddened to think that not much has changed for their children. I wonder if a taxi would stop for those same boys that are now men and I believe I know the answer. It doesn’t matter that those men are honest gentlemen, hard workers, involved in their communities and devoted fathers.
Skolnik wrote about Trayvon Martin being shot simply, because he looked suspicious. I too wonder what suspicious looks like, because, just like the next guy, I have been paranoid in a parking lot, concerned about the look in the eyes of the guy across from me on the subway and crossed a street before I actually needed to. I can’t explain why though. And, I can’t stop thinking about Trayvon’s mother and how she probably bought those oversize clothes for her son, so he could go to school feeling like he fit in. Is she any different from the parents who buy their children clothes that scream Juicy or True Religion or whatever the flavor of the day may be? She wanted her child to go off to school with that same confidence and sense of assimilation that the rest of us do. I am positive it never occurred to her that those invariable jeans and hoodie would contribute to his demise. Trayvon’s attire could have been different. The color of his skin, the color of all our skin, is part of what Skolnik calls, “the card I was dealt.” How many of us will admit that the color of one’s skin determines whether or not we should cross the street? Pick up a fare? Pull a weapon?
It is funny; my book was originally titled Colorblind. Somewhere along the way it got changed to Shades of Gray. Of course, that too has created its own frenzy. (Thank you E.L. James for your Fifty Shades of Grey as I am enjoying the ride on your coattails.) When I began writing my Shades of Gray, its main focus was to somehow defuse the world of this unnatural state of paranoia. Ok, so my goals may be a little lofty, but you can’t blame a girl for trying. Perhaps if we all started to think like Olivia and Tom and became a little more colorblind, Ms. Martin wouldn’t be mourning the loss of her child. Possibly, there would be fewer orphans in this country. And maybe when I walk down the street with my tall dark friend in baggy pants and an oversize sweatshirt people would smile and mean it, rather than worry for my safety, because truth is; I couldn’t find a more morally upright friend than my friend from the hood. “If you prick us, do we not bleed? if you tickle us, do we not laugh? if you poison us, do we not die? (Shakespeare). Trayvon did. Too many faceless, hoodie wearing others will too if we remain quiet.