July 15, 2013

Just need to write

Posted in Uncategorized at 9:56 pm by Erin

So, I’ve been pretty upset by the Trayvon Martin case. Most of the people I know have been as well. When Zimmerman was acquitted the other night, I posted that I didn’t understand how it could happen and one emotion I feel is that I fear for other black children who may be killed walking home from stores because there’s apparently no consequences. I’m the mother of a black son. It’s not like I didn’t know that he will be viewed as more dangerous than his white brother when they’re in similar situations, but I was still hoping that the justice system wasn’t so flawed that a man could get away with stalking and killing an unarmed young black man who was doing nothing more suspicious than talking on a cell phone while walking home one night. But apparently being black is not only enough to be suspicious, it’s enough to make you such a threat to the armed man stalking you that he’s within his rights to kill you and then claim it was self-defense.

Then I got an e-mail from my MIL. Over a year ago, a white family member of hers (whose relationship I won’t explain here, because most of you know me on FB and might see who it is) was mugged by two black men. It was, legitimately, an awful and painful and terrifying experience for this family member. The police in his area didn’t really investigate much and my MIL is justifiably upset about the way it was handled. However, the e-mail she sent basically said that I was a lousy person for feeling that the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case was wrong without also expressing that this white family member had been a victim of this crime at the hands of black men. Also, I should have called the family member to tell him how horrible it was. (For the record, J and I didn’t know it happened until she sent this e-mail because the family member didn’t choose to share it with us. My MIL claims she told us. I have a hard time believing that BOTH J and I forgot something like that had happened, but she’s just convinced we’re awful people at this point.) She said that racism happens on both sides and that both sides need to take responsibility for it. And that she was a social worker for many years, so she was qualified to express her opinion.

Since she copied J on the e-mail, I insisted that the response come from him and that we both needed to agree on what it said. He and I talked about it for a while. I mostly wrote the response and said that we agreed that what had happened to the family member was awful. I tried to, without being obvious, make it clear that we didn’t really see the same comparisons but that I believed that it must be in the hope that the assaulters in both cases would be arrested, given a trial, and imprisoned for their wrongdoings. That we lamented the lack of justice in Trayvon’s case while still hoping that it might be served for this family member’s case.

Her response was that they basically felt it was more ethically and morally wrong for the family member’s attackers to be out with a loaded gun than someone out on a neighborhood watch. I thought about responding to ask if she was saying that it was OK for Zimmerman to racially profile Trayvon Martin in Florida because this family member had been attacked by two black men in another state? I suspect that’s exactly what she was saying. She also wanted to know where was the outrage and press and police coverage for this family member. Never mind that a) this family member is still alive, which is a pretty huge difference, and b) it was Trayvon’s family who pushed for the public outcry against the failed police investigation in that case. She not only didn’t push for media coverage or police responsibility, she didn’t even tell us (not that she’d admit it).

I’m not responding and neither is J. His parents have always been borderline racist—not that I’m sure there’s a border, so I should probably just call them racist. My MIL once told J not to date anyone who was Jewish or black (it must burn her a little to have a Jewish DIL and Jewish grandkids, one of whom is black). J says they’ve never had friends who were minorities—and since J’s mom was a social worker for years (the ones of a certain ethnic refugee population who were always “those people” anytime she talked about them), she was in a position in which many of her co-workers were themselves minorities. Ideal situation to have friends of other races! But apparently not. They expressed racist concerns when we wanted to adopt K. They firmly believe affirmative action is a crock. And on and on. My FIL is worse but he knows my attitudes on these things and chooses not to address them with me, which is fine.

I asked J what I was supposed to say and he said I’m apparently not recognizing my MIL’s victimhood in this. That we’re not be sufficiently sorrowful that she had to deal with this. That this is pretty much her MO—everything is about her and we should clearly recognize it and beg her forgiveness, and try to get word out to the press that this happened (this was all tongue-in-cheek, of course).

I should know this about her by now. It’s always that she, the white Christian woman, is the victim. She was the victim of us being lousy parents to her grandkids at Thanksgiving, because our kids don’t Skype to her each week even though they do with my parents. (My parents set aside that time specifically for that purpose, showing us that they value us and our kids, while J’s parents always tell us “Oh, we don’t know where we’ll be, so just try us and we’ll call back if we’re not around.” Which they’re usually not.) That our kids didn’t even know that they paid for the kids to do soccer that fall (even though we’d made sure the kids said thank you to them when the check arrived). That we don’t spend as much time with them as we do with my parents (because my parents make the trip down here several times a year, while J’s parents—who are both retired and have plenty of money in the bank—do not). That they would rather have longer trips filled with quality time with our kids than shorter trips (so we said “Hey, come down again for spring break—the kids LOVED having you do that a couple of years ago and it would really help us since we have to work.” They said “Sure!” Until it was close to spring break, when they said “We’re just going to come in the summer,” thereby making it BY THEIR CHOICE seven months between times that they’d seen the kids. Who they Skyped with twice in that time.).

Who, the day after putting this whole guilt-trip on us about how we’re such lousy parents at making sure our kids know their grandparents, chose to spend their last day here watching a college football game. Our kids do not follow football. This was not an activity in which they wanted to share, nor did they—the boys went to a friend’s house with J’s and my blessing. But my ILs want “quality time”.

J blows it off—to him, his mom is just being her normal self. I didn’t grow up dealing with this and so I tend to take it to heart when a grandmother is crying about how she doesn’t get to see her grandkids enough. It threw me the next day when they spent 4 hours of their last day watching a football game for which their grandkids couldn’t have cared less. I hadn’t realized how much she is the victim. How much she needs that. And quite frankly, I don’t have the energy to deal with that. I have 3 1/4 kids and a husband who are the center of my world. My energy goes to them first and always.

I told J that I’m going to bow out of conversations with my ILs for a while until this has had some time. It will never blow over, because I can’t forget her attitude in this instance (how can I forget that someday my son may be in the situation of Trayvon Martin and that his grandmother thinks it’s OK?), but they are my husband’s family. We have a future relationship by necessity that I am not willing to throw away based on her need to be a victim. I told J that he is welcome to tell his parents that I recognize there is nothing I can say that will make them see the different situations here or make them change their minds, so I’m choosing not to engage in it further for the sake of our relationship. If they choose to pursue it, though, I WILL tell them exactly what’s on my mind. I don’t think they will. I hope they won’t because I’m just not diplomatic enough to be able to talk to them about this in such a way that we’ll have any kind of cordial relationship in the future.


1 Comment »

  1. You are so right to just walk away from the conversation. I have issues with my own MIL and there’s just no way to win except not to engage. I am sorry she feels this way and that it is (understandably) so upsetting for you. All you can do is live your own life your way, have a satisfying relationship with your parents, and ignore the rest. (I find the last part especially challenging!!)

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