The split picture


At a few readings from the book I told this story. We were all going to the New Jersey Seaquarium, meeting on the Philly side and taking the ferry across the Delaware.  The boys were only about 8. As they walked toward me, Lamarr ahead of his brothers and parents, I noticed a little dip in his walk. Looked like one of his uncles. I felt an aversion stirring in me, and a little fear. Was he going to start having some attitude, talking the white man this and the white man that.  He looked older, scarier. My joy at seeing them and my unconditional love were sullied.

When he reached me, he said "Do you know how to skip? Watch, I'll teach you."  And he skipped along the walkway, so cute, young really for 8.

one of Lamarr's facebook photos
Recently he changed his facebook photo (they're 15 now) to a camcorder shot of him close to the computer screen looking up, the small bedroom behind him, a bit rough, the light poor, his gaze serious.  And the same thing happened to me. A sliver of me recoiled. With adolescence his nose has taken on a little character, widening and flaring, and his strong wide jaw can make him look much older and bigger than he is.

In my mind's eye the screen was split. One side held 15 year old Lamarr, the baby whose diapers I'd changed many times; who earned the nickname Wah because he cried so much; who sucked his thumb; who didn't like to fight though his dad taught them all to fight and his mom punished any one who left the other two in a fight; who liked to teach random grown-ups how to skip; who was of the three always the most helpful to and interested in adults; who I loved with all my heart.

The other side held a scary young black man who was mad at the world and meant to get even. In that dim light and odd angle he could pass for 20. In fact, he looked older, scarier and darker than Trayvon. Indeed, he is darker, they all are; few of their great grandmother's Cherokee features have been passed on to them.
Little matter, any black is very black in some places, many places; and very black = bad and scary, violent, assumed guilty.

Is Lamarr violent? More so than the average white 15 year old who grew up in urban America? He may be. He lives with a sense of being under attack, because he has been under attack. And this sense was passed to him from his parents and theirs, who were all under attack. His mom's mom has told me about "kill a nigger day" at her high school, in the late 70's. But the attack didn't always come directly from white people. There was just much more violence when and where the triplets' parents grew up, with little or no help from any of the authorities that intervene in white neighborhoods when children are in danger. Big Lamarr had to fight to and from school as a matter of course. He saw several deaths close hand by the age of ten (I re-tell one in the book).  He felt he had to raise his boys to be tough.

He started early. For a punishment he had them punch a punching bag for long stretches of time. Hard. They'd punch away as the tears streamed down. This at 3 or 4 years old.  He spoke roughly to them, teasing and taunting, insulting, toughening them up, he said, against the insults and humiliation that would come.  How could I say he should not?

I don't know if Trayvon was raised to be that tough, that ready to defend himself. I know when anyone is cornered they may feel they need a burst of aggression to quickly disarm their attacker. I believe Trayvon feared for his life. People say he contributed to his death. Perhaps he should have run. Probably he could have outrun George. But could he have outrun a bullet? We might wish he had tried first to talk, explain. But he knew he'd already been profiled and that his words would likely be taken as lies. A different young man might have been able to "shuck and jive" and humble his way out of it. Yes sir, no sir. We might wish he had done that. Maybe his parents wish it. I feel certain that Lamarr, the most ingratiating but also the most hot-tempered of the triplets, would not have deigned to talk his way out of the fact that he was walking home to his father's house from the convenience store.  He would have been confrontational. Damear might have run; he's very fast.  Mahad might have gotten the larger man into a headlock; he's an excellent wrestler.

Or they could as easily have died there on that sidewalk where Trayvon died. A victim of racial profiling, the stand your ground law, and a picture split down the middle: 17 year old innocent young man, a citizen with rights, on one side; 20-something thug who deserve what he gets on the other.

Looking at Lamarr's Facebook picture, I see first and mainly the Lamarr I love, but I do glimpse the stereotype too.  I was after all raised a white American in a racist time and place, and no amount of reading, thinking, praying and changing diapers completely erases that. It's a daily struggle to see clearly and the work of my life to live in a love that can counteract or even erase the racism.

Which side of the picture did the jury see? Were they able to see clearly, when I who cared for those boys when they all three of them weighed less than four pounds cannot consistently see clearly? I think they saw Trayvon through George's eyes, but could not see George through Trayvon's eyes.  If they had, George would be in prison now, and millions of African-American boys and those who love them would perhaps start to feel that maybe America is becoming a place where Black boys don't have to be raised to daily defend themselves from attack.

Jobs in Triplicate

I guess the other two like the idea of cash in their pocket and being able to help mom with school uniform costs and fees. Because Damear and Mahad have jobs now too. Lamarr called me last night on his very first phone, bought with his hard-earned dollars. Amazing.

I AM old

Jammar just got his first job. Little Jamarr, aka Jamarr junior, aka THE BABY. It's helping out at a store on The Avenue. He's very excited. Me too, I think. Anyway I'll be down there on the 15th for the 8th grade graduation party. It's an all day affair; the block will be closed; the DJ will be loud. The boys will be on their way to high school, and other jobs, other milestones. Just wow.

To the next level

Ahmad and Jamarr (Mahad and Lamarr in the book) are in the state wrestling championship today. The whole family left at 5 AM for weigh in in Pottstown PA. Getting farther from the city. I hope they feel safe there and can concentrate on their matches. I know Jamarr senior did not let getting up that early. He's definitely not a morning guy.  I wasn't able to go thanks to the flu or some croupiness hanging on here and the hours and hours of grading awaiting me, but Tahayyah is keeping me posting by text. I'm excited they have something their passionate about and have good coaches. They'll stay at the same school for high school and so can really settle in, learn and grow. Amear likes the social aspect of the matches and of course roots for them. He says he'll play basketball or football once he's out of demerit trouble enough to be let to. The school is strict about that. One benefit of Mahddy and 'Marr being sports stars could be that the school will be more likely to keep Amear, who's likely to get more rebellious before he gets less.

The High School team (trips still in 8th)
The school by the way is Mariana Bracetti Academy Charter School, founded in 1999 and housed in a Save-A-Lot where tahayyah and I used to shop when she lived with us.  That makes it sound industrial and small. it's not. The grounds also cover a row of shops and the school looks quite nice. They're moving next year though to an old Catholic School much closer to Frankford, where the family lives now. Coincidentally, this school, North Catholic, had one of the top wrestling programs in the city.

2/3 are wrestling today

The trips are fourteen now. Today Mahad and Lamarr are at a wrestling meet, with Damear in attendance because, well, girls will be there. Mom and Dad too. I thought I might find the time to drive down there but my car started making suspicious grinding noises and a rental is just too much. But I'm getting point by point texts. They love wrestling and have great coaches -- a blessing. Their parents got them into an excellent charter school a short walk from the house where they were born (that you met in the book if you read the book). It goes right thought to 12th grade. Damear hopes to play basketball and the other two will wrestle and, if mom lets them (I hope not) play football.  Everyone has good grades with occasional runs on the honor role. Damear is his mom x 10, she says, when it comes attitude. He's the only one who gets in trouble, for sassing teachers and questioning their credentials and such.

Well, let me get back to the phone so I can see how they're doing. Thanks for stopping bye. Birthday next week.