Social Media, Trayvon Martin, and What Pictures Don’t Show

by Camille on August 29, 2013

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… 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.



Adam Sudduth August 29, 2013 at 2:16 pm

I know Charlie, and I would call that dangerous…… ok, so not really, but change his clothes to looking “muslim” and BINGO!!!! You have a terrorist!!!

Wow, that was a judgmental post, but sadly that is what most people look at in making a judgement, the clothes that are worn, not the color of the skin.

Race is not our problem in the world, it is the “Thugs”. I am just as suspicious of a white “Thug” as I am a black “Thug”. Muslim type clothing does not bother me, unless I see them with a gun. Does that make me racist or a bigot. I don’t think so, but I guess I am not the judge on that issue.

p.s. I may email you soon to bounce some things off of you about your process with Ellie and the boys. I am a foster to adopt father of 2 wonderful (messed up) kids.

Camille August 29, 2013 at 4:59 pm


Thank you for taking the time to comment. I follow your adventures as foster parents on FB, and I’d love to discuss anything adoption-related anytime. 🙂

I have to agree with you. Dang. That IS a pretty judgmental post. I’d say when stereotyping others, people look at clothes and skin, and both are pretty crappy ways to judge people.

I think race remains a huge problem for our society, and by pretending that we’re in a post-racist society, we avoid the conversations needed to bring about positive change. Did you read about the reactions to the Cheerios commercial with the trans-racial family, for instance? It got so ugly they shut down comments on YouTube. But race isn’t a problem?

Curious, how do you define thug? How do you know one if you see one?

Please understand, I’m not pretending that I’m without bias or judgment. I grew up in a society of stereotypes, and I probably have some of the same thoughts as you when I see different people dressed in different ways. I just make an effort to recognize those prejudices in myself, fight against them, and try to look at everyone as a child of God.

Nancy September 1, 2013 at 8:04 am

Your last paragraph is what I’d been thinking as Trayvon’s tweets, etc. came to light. George Zimmerman didn’t stop to check online before he made a judgement call . . . Trayvon *could* have been an honor student, he *could* have been an athlete, he *could* have been a marching band trombonist . . . you get the point.

I do know that we have to make judgement calls about our safety, and we have to make those calls based on a combination of place, time of day, behavior of the person we’re watching, And as women, it’s to our own peril if we ignore danger signals (and far too many women end up married to abusers after ignoring those). But we have to talk about the fact that race does play into those judgements . . . it’s so important for all of us, not to mention our justice system.

Thanks for posting, even if it does feel late to you. My fellow India-adoptive moms have to deal with the terrorist stereotypes for their sons, so it’s often on my mind.
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