What do you see in this picture?
Trouble-makers? Delinquents? Thugs?
The picture shows Herdest and Ian with the knives Charlie put in their Christmas stockings last year. It’s a guy thing, apparently. I don’t pretend to get it. There was another photo of Ian shooting targets on our land, but I chose not to show that one for the same reason I cropped out the faces in the above photo.
What the pictures don’t show are how Ian works 40+hours on the night shift to save money for his citizenship test and a trip to Africa to see the family he left behind seven years ago. What they don’t show are the 18 hours of college classes Herdest takes in pursuit of his animal science degree. They don’t show the boys who cheerfully help clean dinner dishes or play dolls with Ellie. They don’t show raucous games of Catch-phrase, family movie nights, cookouts in the backyard, and Nerf-gun wars in the living room. They don’t show the intelligent, hard-working, big-hearted, gentle young men that I have the privilege of counting as family.
And I worry sometimes about what others might not see.
The Trayvon Martin case has been hashed and re-hashed, and I realize I”m unforgivably late to the conversation. However, I believe there can never be too many honest and open discussions about race in this country, so allow me to share a small thought.
I noticed in several articles that people were quick to point out that Trayvon wasn’t the perfect kid based on his social media profiles. There were pictures on his cell phone of him smoking (possibly marijuana) and holding a handgun. His Twitter handle was NO_LIMIT_N!GGA, and certainly, many of his tweets and retweets weren’t exactly choir boy material.
And my response is…..so what?
People, as a former high-school English teacher and the mom or mom-like figure to three young adults, let me tell you, social media doesn’t paint a complete picture. While my guys have a fairly sedate on-line presence (that I’m aware of….), in general, today’s teenagers and young adults (and heck, many older adults) live completely different lives on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook than they’d ever dare to do in real life. The kid with profanity-laden posts responds with a polite “yes ma’am.” The kid who writes paragraphs in barely-legible text-speak crafts flawless essays for class. The kid throwing gang signs goes home to cook dinner for his younger siblings before tucking them into bed. Many kids are lost, lonely, confused, or depressed, and social media allows them the ability to try on different personas without having to deal with the real-world implications.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m certainly not saying it’s good practice for people to create disturbing or offensive pseudonyms and share grossly inappropriate pictures and words to make themselves look more “mature” or “badass.” As technology continues to advance, it becomes more and more urgent that we teach our kids about the dangers of social media. Studies show that nearly 40 percent of employers will consult social media before hiring, and many of those employers will turn away applicants due to evidence of drug use, drinking, or unethical character.
And yet, we need to be so wary of using social media to judge character or, as in Trayvon’s case, to justify injustice. Think of your own social media history. Have you “liked” a slightly inappropriate joke? Is there a picture of you holding a beer or a glass of wine? Ever express a political stance that may not jive with your current place of employment? Take a picture with your hunting rifle, handgun, knife, etc.
What about this picture?
My husband doing some posing with his handgun. (No, I’m not a fan of guns. At all. Thankfully, since we’ve become foster parents, they no longer reside here. #MomWin)
Not as frightening to you? Why?
Charlie would think little about the consequences of sharing this picture on Facebook. He has few worries it will come back to haunt him down the road. But if we’re completely honest, Ian and Herdest don’t have that same freedom, do they? I talked to the boys before publishing this post (I always get permission before using images or personal stories), and Ian said, “Yeah, I posted that picture to my Facebook, but then I took it down. Because of the reasons you say.” He feared someone might see the picture and see violence instead of seeing him.
I didn’t personally know Trayvon Martin, and chances are, neither did you. Maybe he really was an angry, volatile, drug-using, juvenile delinquent. Or maybe he was a normal kid who made some unfavorable social media choices in his attempts to fit in with peers.
It doesn’t matter.
When George Zimmerman decided that Trayvon looked dangerous, he didn’t have his Twitter account or his school records. He knew the color of skin and his clothing choices, and he decided that was enough to go after him.