By: Erica Thurman
“Excuse me young man, are you lost?”
It may have been just that simple. Seven words may have made all the difference in the world to the family of Trayvon Martin. As the nation — and much of the world — looks for answers, it may be more beneficial to focus less on why George Zimmerman acted as he reportedly did and more on how he came to internalize the idea that young, black, male and hoodied equaled suspicious. Any number of isms could have been present (racism, ageism or classism).
As people across the country proclaim in unison that, “we are Trayvon Martin” we would be remiss to forget that we are also “George Zimmerman.” We have all been socially conditioned to some degree, each guilty of prescribing or ascribing to stereotypical behavior. While many of us have been on the receiving end of discrimination and oppression, we often perpetuate the same by jumping to conclusions and prejudging others based on physical characteristics.
How does this affect us locally? What does this mean to us here in McLean County, Illinois? It means that if we remain quick to judge our youth, refrain from expressing a genuine interest in their well being and concern, we will see the intellectual, social and even physical deaths of many more Trayvon Martins right here in McLean County. The approach is just as simple as the seven words this post began with. Rather than assuming that our youth are up to no good when they roam the malls in the typical teenage fashion or ride their skateboards after dark, perhaps we could talk to them, and, most importantly, listen to what they have to say.
Had Zimmerman done so, he may have learned that a young man was simply returning from a snack run, wearing a hoodie to shield himself from the misty weather. The difference in showing such concern could be life or death for some of our children.
Erica Thurman is director of Stepping Stones, YWCA McLean County’s sexual assault program, where she is responsible for counseling and advocacy services to survivors of sexual assault, and sexual assault prevention outreach in McLean County, Ill. A Chicago native, Erica is an alumna of Illinois State University.