Recently the First Lady was in Chicago for the funeral of a girl shot not long after she’d performed for the First Family at President Obama’s Inauguration. And on Monday, another girl in Chicago was murdered, this time shortly after her sister attended a speech the President gave on gun violence.

The murdered girls, the First Family are all African-American.

After the shootings in Sandy Hook, Connecticut a lot of black people asked why there hasn’t been the same kind of outrage over the murders of black children that happen every day. I was also asked about this during an appearance on NPR’s “Tell Me More” with Michel Martin a few weeks ago.

I essentially said that people, sadly, don’t get outraged because black children dying from gun violence is not considered rare. In fact, it’s almost accepted by a jaded public who would rather just not deal with the issue at all.

People don’t get upset about what is “expected”  to happen.

But I’m not originator of this particular line of logic about how some tragedies are tragedies and others are considered ordinary:

“You know what I’ve noticed? Nobody panics when things go “according to plan.” Even if the plan is horrifying. If, tomorrow, I tell the press that, like, a gang banger will get shot, or a truckload of soldiers will be blown up, nobody panics, because it’s all “part of the plan.” But when I say that one little old mayor will die, well then everyone loses their minds!”

Black people dying due to the extremely unsafe position we have historically held in American society was originally part of the “plan.” It was especially so when we were brought over as chattel. But somehow, it still continues to be the “plan” long after the chains came off.

Blame institutional racism. Blame the poverty, poor education, poor health care, poor protections under the law for us. Blame broken families and communities, churches and the government. There’s plenty of fault to go around. But since you can’t fix a 300 year old problem with one black presidency and 60 years of post-Jim Crow living, we have to find work-arounds.

As black people we are forced to “adapt” to our possible demise being something “ordinary.” We try to cope the best way we can, repeating that we will not allow ourselves or those we love to become that most dreaded thing no black person wants to ever be.

A statistic.

Not a person with a name. But a point on a graph symbolizing the stagnation of racial progress in this country.

With no solution coming anytime soon, we often have to take our lives in our own hands and try to avoid the statistician to our best abilities. Even if to others those measures taken might seem a little strange.

If Black Americans have a reputation of being a particularly “scary” sort of folk who are superstitious and, as a nation, “ain’t got time for that,” it is not without reason. Our whole history is of some black person minding their own business when something terrible happened.

You can’t go hang out in a car with your friends. One time a boy hung out in a car with his friends and some white man shot him because he claimed the music was up too loud!

You can’t call the police! This black girl I once knew saw a murder, called the cops, but instead of getting the guy who did it, they arrested her and she spent 18 years in prison!

You can’t go to town by yourself when you visit Grandma! Once a woman from up North let her son go to town alone and he ended up lynched in the river!

You can’t get on a boat! The last time a black person got on a boat they ended up on a sugar cane plantation in Brazil!

While there is no promise of safety to anyone, black people tend to be very well of the “it could happen to me”  aspect of things, as it could and thanks to statistics likely will happen to you or someone you know if you are black. Black people cannot afford to have illusions of “It’s a free country and if I feel like going for a jog in my own neighborhood, I will!”

And sure you can. Unless you were a black person who lived in the same neighborhood where Trayvon Martin was shot while walking home by a vigilante. One of the neighbors said once he realized the self-appointed neighborhood watch seemed especially fixated on black youth that he should probably NOT jog in his own neighborhood.

No promise. No illusion of a promise. No pretense. Safety is not guaranteed. Not even in safe places.

Two anecdotes, one long and one short.

The short one first:

My father once told me when I was young that if I saw some black people running, I should run too (just in case), then ask why we were running later, once we seem far enough away from whatever we were running from.

And now the longer one:

As a child I was not allowed to do many things by my mother. Here is a short list:

Walk on streets without sidewalks; cross the street; play in other people’s houses; play in other people’s yards; play in our front yard (Mommy could not see me from there); go to sleep overs; date; have a boyfriend (I was told repeatedly that boys were “trouble”); answer the front door; let anyone in the house if my parents weren’t at home even if it was my Uncle Bill who was just checking on us because our mother was in the hospital (I still remember my sisters and I all trapped in some paradox of “But it’s Uncle Bill!” “But Daddy said don’t open the door for ANYBODY!” In the Belton household the right answer is always “Whatever Mommy and Daddy said.”)

Until age eight I could not eat a Jolly Rancher unless I was standing in front of my mother so she could watch me so I would not choke.

At 18, she once would not let me wash a sink full of dishes because “There’s a sharp knife in it.”

When I would tell my friends who happen to be white these stories they would say, “Your mom sounds really controlling.”

When I tell my friends who were raised by black people these stories I get one of two answers:

  1. A “smile” and a “My mom wouldn’t let me date until I was 21 and I’m a dude.”

Or …

  1. It sounds like you had a really good mother.

To some black people the definition of a good mother is one who tries to rule out as much chance as possible. One who gets it’s hard to keep your kid from becoming a statistic. They don’t fault her for channeling Malcolm X and pulling a “By any means necessary” on my independence as a child. Even if it came at my own expense.

I’m a functioning neurotic. But barely functioning.

I don’t say this to say my mother’s example is “the” example for model black parenting (it’s not, nothing is, some terrible parents have managed to produce wonderful adults almost in spite of the horrid parenting). I say it because I am someone who believes no one, not even white people, are guaranteed safety. Safety is an illusion society creates so we can function. Without this illusion – that your babysitter won’t molest your kids or that your child won’t get shot at school or shot hours after President Obama speaks – we cannot function.

Bad things happen. We do our best to prevent these bad things. We even stop the bad things sometimes and make life better for ourselves. But you can still do all the right things and something terrible will happen. So to keep from falling into despair, we mitigate risk.

What’s more important – safety or independence?

My sister gave birth to her son last year and she already worries about how she will prepare him for a world that doesn’t afford an illusion of safety to little black boys or their black mothers. But she also worries about being like our mother and holding on so tightly that his neuroses will threaten any personal happiness and independence he could hope to develop.

It’s the paradox of our struggle – how to live as free people when you’re still not quite free.

  • I got sense!


    I can relate to everything you said. It is a very difficult balancing act but we have to keep pushing. We are safer than our grand and great grand parents but we can’t get complacent. We have to keep fighting for the next generation so they can be safer than us.

  • myblackfriendsays

    Safety is more important. If the choices are safe and alive vs. independent and dead, I’ll pick the first one.

  • gmarie

    Maybe it’s because my mother was very cautious and overbearing that I feel I’ll have the same attitudes towards my children. Actually lived in a pretty nice area but there was no way in two hells I’d be allowed to hang out at a park at night or walk to the store alone or with anyone else for that matter if she wasn’t there.

  • Apple

    And this is why I’m reconsidering having kids. Just not worth it to me

  • J. Nicole

    Other than the warnings all children get (don’t talk to strangers, look both ways crossing the street, blah blah blah) my mother was overprotective with her actions, not nagging words. In fact, the only two things that stand out that she nagged about was going outside with wet hair (or right after a shower) or not to sit on concrete for fear of getting hemorrhoids… Her being there; active at my school, knowing my friends, etc. was enough. I also think growing up in NYC makes you cognitive of all the dangers out there. Also…

    “I essentially said that people, sadly, don’t get outraged because black children dying from gun violence is not considered rare. In fact, it’s almost accepted by a jaded public who would rather just not deal with the issue at all.”

    I can’t say I agree with that completely. Maybe the media feels that way, especially if they’re reporting the death of someone with a violent history. But when Hadiya Pendleton (though referenced in this post as ‘the girl who was shot) was killed, the general public responded accordingly.

  • seritatheresa

    Wonderful Article. I just had a black son and I’m trying to find contract work so that I can be home with him as much as possible. Eventually, I would like to work solely from my hose and home-school him because I don’t trust the schools to educate him or Mississippians not to hurt him.

  • seritatheresa

    my house not hose.

  • myblackfriendsays

    At the same time, I think everything in moderation. You can’t parent a 15-year-old the same way you parent a 3-year-old. One of our main goals as parents is to prepare our children for adulthood. We have to hope that we are teaching them well, because eventually they are going to be adults and we are going to have no control over their decisions. Increasing levels of independence (specific to each child and circumstance,) until it’s time for them to leave the nest and fly.

  • Come On

    Those events of black people minding their own business and being attacked are not the daily experience of many black people.

    A lot of African Americans just like to talk and not come up with any solutions. Everything is about white people. What they’re doing, how they don’t care, how people care about Newtown but not Chicago. Even on the article yesterday, people were mentioning that Chicago is just like Newtown, and the government should be giving “resources” to Chicago to stop this.

    “My sister gave birth to her son last year and she already worries about how she will prepare him for a world that doesn’t afford an illusion of safety to little black boys or their black mothers.”

    There are many black people who didn’t grow up in the hood. I didn’t, and I never felt unsafe when I was a child or teen because my I lived in a good neighborhood. And we were working class not living in the suburbs. My dad just wouldn’t have let us live in a neighborhood like that. Many mothers and fathers plan so that their families aren’t in neighborhoods like that. Your sister is probably not living in the hood either. Trayvon Martin and Emmett Till incidents are rare. Those incidents of black people minding their business and being thrown in jail or killed will not likely happen to your nephew. I don’t deny that racial discrimination is real. Of course it is. He is a black boy. He will probably have to deal with racial profiling, but he has a much higher likelihood of being attacked by a person who looks just like him than being shot by an angry racist white man because he played his music too loudly.

    And that’s the real problem. I find that black people just don’t like to address the real problem. They are always pulling up rare Trayvon Martin racial events or reminiscing about the CRM or talking about how white people care about little white girls over little black girls instead asking what the heck is going and how can we stop it?

    The lady over at What About Our Daughters wrote a post about how Essence magazine wanted her to write a piece about how white people don’t care about domestic violence against black people instead of asking how to solve the freaking problem. It’s ridiculous. Instead of asking what the heck is going on? How can we solve it. You’re talking about how white folks don’t care. White people will NEVER care enough to make any kind of difference in Chicago or New Orleans or Memphis. You can take that as evidence of racism all you want, but many of them see these problems as self-inflicted.

    I do as well. I would be all for sending “resources” into these communities if it would help, but you should not be surprised when non-black people who pay the majority of taxes and have the majority of voting power don’t want to see their tax dollars spent on what they see as hopeless projects. And what are we going to do? Just keep whining about how they feel and how they don’t want to give us a helping hand?

    Black people can beat around the bush all they want, but these communities didn’t become unsafe overnight. Sadly many Americans especially non-blacks just don’t care, and they never will. I lived in a pretty safe black neighborhood. Many black people live in safe black neighborhoods. Many people see black on black crime as a problem that stems from POOR PARENTING. And I agree. Black people have always been poor and treated even more poorly in this country.

  • tony

    I will probably lean towards being overprotective. Looking back on my adolescent years my mom’s head would explode if she knew what happened at those sleepovers, or when we were unsupervised in our home or at someone else’s home, or what was going on between my friends and their teen SOs. You can’t trust that other adults have your child’s (or even their own child’s) best interest at heart.

    Things are safer in some ways than they were for previous dangers but there are the new dangers that come along with technology. Stupid mistakes that were once stored in one’s memory are now posted on the internet forever.

  • Come On

    Anyway, men are talking about how they want to be leaders and such. Where has the black leadership been all these years? Why is there no black leadership stepping up to address the violence in our neighborhoods, the educational gap with our children, the buffoonery of a significant portion of our entertainment that our kids eat up and emulate, the real problems we face that can actually be solved? Where is this leadership? These people don’t care about black people, and they never will. I’m over whining about how unfair it is. White politicians BARELY care about average white Americans. They only act like they care when something might affect their voting. And hey like some of the other commenters have mentioned, if you all are upset with what is going on, why not SWITCH UP YOUR VOTES! How can you complain that Obama doesn’t do anything or people don’t care when you keep supporting the same people who never try to help you? Vote Republican. Hold your vote. Other groups vote for people who support them. If Obama is not working out for inner city black people, why did they vote for him?

    We’ve already established a million times over that white people don’t care, and the government is unlikely to step up. What are you all going to do about it? Continue to whine? Teach people how to make their neighborhoods safe. Heck, there are lots of black men in these neighborhoods who are unable to find work. If Zimmerman can patrol a neighborhood, so can they. Get rid of no snitching. In some cities they have ways to alert the authorities anonymously. Cooperate. Come up with solutions. Is it really that difficult? There are a lot of rotten eggs in these communities. The result of poor parenting and rampant mental illness. Stop feeling sorry for rotten eggs.

    If you are looking at politicians and trying to come up with “programs” and wanting “resources.” I think training and employing men to patrol and police their neighborhoods is a good start. Also, if I were a good parent living in these neighborhoods because I’m working poor but trying, why not try to separate the good apples from the bad apples? Clump good parents and productive people into the same buildings and complexes. Honestly, I think there should be separated areas ONLY for productive people. Have more security in areas with children. Put up lots of cameras.

    You know black people fled the South and went up North under worse conditions. Maybe it’s time for people flee these ghettos. Heck black people someone like Russell Simmons lol could start a business or something. Create some low cost housing. Have some standards for the people you allow in them: good grades from kids, discipline, rent on time. Kick people out when they don’t meet the requirements. Heck maybe the children could have summer and after school jobs making his Phat Farm clothing lol. Not like a sweatshop or anything but as a way to teach children some discipline. You know they do those school lotteries, and people from disadvantaged backgrounds show up because many of them want more for their kids. The administrators have standards for the children, and many of them rise to meet them. Why not do something like this with housing. Create good housing with access to good education. Have some what I think are reasonable requirements for people receiving help (cleanliness, discipline, timeliness), and kick people out and replace them when they don’t meet the requirements.

    But all the talk about how “our neighborhoods” (not mine) are unsafe, and how people don’t care doesn’t help. People seem to like to wallow around in their victimhood these days.

    “It’s the paradox of our struggle – how to live as free people when you’re still not quite free.”

    When modern day African Americans say things like this, I think you all just like feeling sorry for yourselves. That you like being da po’ black folks that get picked on by de evil white man. Modern day African Americans have more freedom than African Americans have ever had. They have opportunities that some black people can only dream of having. I see why Oprah opened her school in South Africa rather than here. She knows how too many people here would rather play the victim and call what I’m saying victim blaming instead of stepping up and taking advantage of resources. African Americans have accomplished a lot of things in this country. I don’t see us as victims, and I definitely don’t participate in the “po’ black folks, we are victims, and I can’t get my stuff together because of white supremacy” talk. Educating our children to get them on the same level as the white elite is a task. Overcoming our negative imagery is a task, but protecting and patrolling your own neighborhoods is not that difficult of a task. It is the very first thing you do to have a functional culture and civilization. Even with the KKK terrorizing neighborhoods in the past, many black people somehow found a way to patrol and police their neighborhoods.

  • Kacey

    Also: You can’t walk into a store, change your mind and walk back out. You might get accused of stealing and illegally frisked!

  • Wanda

    Safety first.

    And we are ALL dependent on one another to a certain degree, to: our parents, a teacher, a crossing guard, a bus driver, our doctors, a pastor, our politicians. I could go on and on.

    What exactly is “independence” anyway, in a society where people have to cooperate with one another each and every moment, for the society to maintain itself?

  • Moni

    “But when Hadiya Pendleton (though referenced in this post as ‘the girl who was shot) was killed, the general public responded accordingly.”

    But what about all the other black kids that are killed every day in Chicago and across the country? Where is their public outrage? The only reason there was such a public reaction to Hadiya’s murder is that she had just participated in the Inauguration, an exception that put her outside the “plan.”

  • The Comment

    “Black people dying due to the extremely unsafe position we have historically held in American society was originally part of the “plan.” It was especially so when we were brought over as chattel. But somehow, it still continues to be the “plan” long after the chains came off.”

    That is soooo deep to me. This is an awesome statement that can be its’ own story.
    This statement relates to health, what we expect from ourselves.

    as a mother….I appreciate this topic. I watch my son with an eagle eye. And every parent is mitigating risk at all times.

    That’s life.

  • Kay

    I think all parents tend to be overprotective. I know White kids whose parents were “helicopter,” parents and they were so happy to be away from them they went wild in college. I think in general we come from a culture that prizes individuality, and as such we believe that we have control over everything in our lives, when in truth, we are at the mercy of so many outside forces that our conscious decisions can sometimes be limited. It’s scary to think that anyone can be minding their own damn business and some crazy things could happen, regardless of precautions taken. But I do agree that Black parents may be more aware of this than some others, because they understand that we are at the mercy of things not within our immediate control.


    Why do people always bring in white people do it too in any discussion smh. Shut up with all of that.

  • Rochelle

    I will probably be overprotective if I become a parent. Both my parents were very lax to say the least. I could have been a lil fast azz teen and gotten knocked up, pregnant and aborted it, all without my parents blinking an eye. They were too focused on their HORRIBLE marriage to notice what myself and my brother were up to. It is sad actually. In some ways we were neglected. At least emotionally.

    On another note. the guy in the photo is hot:)

  • Alia

    Because they do.

  • The Comment


    I understand your comment and agree with you to some extent. I can cut and paste ur question to a lot of topics because I have said the exact same thing.

    Re: White folks. I think when you have convinced people that you discovered something that was already here and that God sanctioned it soo….you can convince other people that they are the minority (when they actually are the majority) and that white folks are the standard from which everything can be judged.

    And since they are the flavor of the moment: money, wealth, status, nukes military……we can pretend that they got it all down pact.

    I don’t think the comparison is that deep. More like ”well if whitey actin’ a dang fool and he has no excuse…..we can go 3x’s crazy cause we have all these barriers to overcome.”

    just my theory. I understand both sides.

  • Pingback: What if You Had to Pick Between Safety and Independence? | Black and Married With - A Positive Image of Marriage and Family

  • Peyton

    Let me say this first – that is a beautiful black family.

    I had a long list of the “don’t dos” growing up. However, I wasn’t so overprotected that it crippled me from growing into an independent adult. I had a combination of both. And I think it had more to do with my parents possessing great judgment. They accessed every situation prior to me partaking in it. Actually, imo—this is what parenting is.

    What is sad is we are free, but not truly free because we can barely function. How as parents can we not be concerned because walking to a friend‘s house or the store may very well end up as a loss life. Trayvon’ tragedy proved it doesn’t matter which neighborhood our kids are walking in. If it is from the hands of our community, from that of a vigilante’s, or a crazy gunman at school, we really don’t know if our kids will make it home. It is safety over independence. A concern for their safety grows stronger and stronger everyday b/c we hear about some misfortunate news every day. I believe regardless of where we live, tragedy can come knocking on anyone doors even though some areas are safer than others.

  • TT

    I completely agree with everything you said. I grew up in a good neighborhood so I can’t relate to having this constant fear.
    Is there racism that occurs now in 2013 that limits black people? Yes. But is it an excuse that people should use as to why they can’t do better? No. Some black people are afraid to admit what is really going wrong in the communities that aren’t safe. Parents need to have a balance between being protective and allowing self independence. Parents need to take an active role in their kids life. Parents need to expect great grades from their kids in school and just expect more from them in general. I think a lot of these kids in the bad neighborhoods are running around because their parents are just disconnected. Like I always say change starts with the people who need to overcome a problem. Could you imagine if black slaves waited on the government to feel sympathy for them being in shackles? Slaves learned how to read and even though it was illegal in many states. Mississippi just ratified the 13th amendment a few days which baffled my mind. We have got to take the initiative to make change for ourselves and stop waiting on people to do it for us. The government and other people don’t really see black people making a conscious effort so why should they care?

  • The Moon in the Sky

    “I think all parents tend to be overprotective.” – This is definitely not true.

  • Hmm..

    I understand we all don’t have to agree. But since, I am concerned about the youth in our community, I’m sort of curious of why I was given a thumbs-down for my comment. .

    If you see this, thanks for your response in advance

    ~ Peyton

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