Brown Boy Down (for Travon) 4

He’s a boy doing boy things but because he’s brown his actions (walking, standing, breathing) brings a frown, consternation, confrontation, evaluation, punishment, tears, banishment, arrest, and murder more often than not. 

I first wrote this sentence on a slip of paper a few weeks ago and tucked it away to be pulled out to post once I gathered all my thoughts.  How sad that it is being posted after the non-guilty verdict for George Zimmerman in his murder of Trayvon Martin.

  • The maligned. 

  • The judged.

  • The discounted.

  • The stereotyped.

  • The target.

  • The murdered.

 How many times did I hold my breath as I was rearing my son? Here are a few:

  • During the Charles Stuart kidnapping investigation, when black men were being hunted because of the lies Charles Stuart told.**

  • When he left home to catch the bus to school as a METCO student.

  • When he was at Northeastern University and stopped, frisked, and made to lie on the ground by NU police just because he was walking on his college campus.

  • When he went to the store. (Any store.  Anywhere.)

  • When he went to school. (Were they teaching him well?  Were they expecting the most of him?)

 As the mother of a black boy who, with his father and extended family, helped him negotiate the various environments and systems he’d faced, I thought I could exhale.  But now I have a grandson.  I am also the grandmother-in-love of a black boy who is experiencing the travails of what it means to be one of the only brown boys in his school, certainly the only one in his class, the words above came to me and memories flooded my mind.

It just so happened that I was reading an incredible novel that put these feelings in words more eloquent than I can describe.  The book is Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas. Following are several relevant quotes from the novel.  It was a difficult novel to read and it took me a while to get into it.  Within the parts that I found unclear and challenging there were passages of brilliance and clarity and lots of aha moments.


“I was supposed to have been somebody. I was full of promise.  “What happens to a dream deferred?” “How can you mend a broken heart?”  What if you don’t keep your promise?  But who made it for you?  If not you, then why is it yours to keep?  I was supposed to have been somebody-not anybody-somebody who mattered and to whom things mattered.  I was born a poor black boy of above-average intelligence and without physical deformity.  I was born a poor Indian boy of above-average intelligence and without physical deformity. I was born a poor Irish boy of above-average intelligence and without physical deformity.  I was born a poor black boy of above-average intelligence and without physical deformity, and therefore I should lead my people.  It didn’t work out that way…”


…Besides, Claire believes she loves it here; having grown up in the country, she never wants to go back to the homogeny, the boundless whiteness, in which she believes our children could not survive.  But to escape that we’ve thrown them into another mess, the social experiment redux – an ahistorical one at that.  Now, however, there is at least one brown kid per class instead of per grade.  It’s another disaster.  Brown kids as cultural experiences for the white ones.*  The teachers, the administrators, seem to believe that they are all on equal ground, but it they’d stop and think for just a moment, they’d realize that there is no shortage in experiencing the glory of white people in this country – this world.  I see him sometimes –C-when I’ve been early to pick him up, sitting alone, concentrating on a painting.  And although I know it’s a projection of my own consciousness, I cannot think anything other than that behind those beautiful and stoic copper eyes he is wacked by loneliness and pain.  Stand up straight, I say.  Enunciate, I say.  Dignity, I say-the preparation for life is more daunting than the life itself.  I’m too hard on my boy.  I wish I could take it all back, but I fear already that my boy is too damaged.  I’ve tried to cram what I’ve learned into his little body before he’s experienced it himself.  What else is a father to do?  They tried to make me ready, but I was never ready.  What am I supposed to do?  Perhaps a brown father need only be a safe place for his brown boy, where he can come to be afraid, to fall apart and cry.”

The murder of Trayvon Martin underscores the last words of the passage above.  Perhaps a brown father and mother are the only safe places for brown boys – the neighborhoods in which they live are often in turmoil, the police are not their friends (more often than not) and white citizens (or citizens who claim whiteness)  fear their mere presence.

How do black and brown men keep their heads up?  Why do they keep striving?  When your very being is loathed except when it is being exploited, what do you do?



*Emphasis mine as a mother who sent her kids to METCO programs and a former METCO staff member.  The METCO program is a voluntary desegregation program in Boston that buses kids from Boston to surrounding suburban schools. Had I to do it over, I would not have participated in this program which siphons but does not solve.


Man Gone Down by Michael Thomas © 2007, New York: Black Cat (an imprint of Grove/Atlantic, Inc.)

Prize Gives Author Some Time to Exhale by Larry Rother, June 22, 2009

Great interview with Michael Thomas  

**The Murder that forced a divided Boston to Reflect by Delores Handy

If you like this post, you might also like:  Praying for Brown

About Candelaria Silva

Candelaria Silva-Collins is a marketing, community outreach and programming consultant; writer; and trainer/facilitator who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She has designed and facilitated workshops on a wide variety of topics including communication, facilitation, job search skills, team building, and parenting issues. She currently coordinates the Community Membership Program of the Huntington Theatre Company. Her work as Director of ACT Roxbury was profiled in several publications, including The Creative Communities Builders Handbook. Candelaria’s children’s stories, short stories, essays and reviews have been published in local and national publications and she is an active blogger. Her publications include the booklets, Handling Rejection; Pushing through Shyness: Networking Tips when You’re Shy, Slow to Warm Up or Just don’t Feel you Belong; and Real Questions about Sex & Relationships for Teens: A Discussion Guide for Parents. She has served on the boards of Goddard College, Wheelock Family Theatre, Boston Foundation for Architecture, and Discover Roxbury. She is currently Chair, Designators of the Henderson Foundation.

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4 thoughts on “Brown Boy Down (for Travon)

  • Amy M.

    Can you explain the statement of “those who claim whiteness”? I loved this post yet hate that this is the world we live in. Nothing equal or fair about it. The murder of Trayvon is a tragedy in so many ways.

  • Candelaria

    George Zimmerman is Puerto Rican perhaps half-Puerto Rican.  I am working on a post about mulattoes and those of us who are light-skinned.  Like my father, GZ identifies as white but doesn’t look white and in another neighborhood might have been profiled himself.  That is what I meant.
    We live in a world that is a constant shuffle between good and evil, life and death, sorrow and joy, lies and truth, hatred and love, clarity and misunderstanding.  How people who are maligned continue is a puzzle and a wonder.
    Thanks for taking time to comment.

  • Maureen R.

    It angered and saddened me to hear the verdict in this murder of a young man who was just being a normal teen. I keep waiting for the change to take place where people are accepted and not stereotyped because of the color of their skin or where they come from.

  • Candelaria

    I would say that you’ve not just been waiting but that you’ve been actively working to make that day come.  Neither one of us will hold our breaths waiting for true acceptance and the day when a boy is a boy and allowed to be a boy no matter his color.
    Thanks for taking the time to comment.