As the mother of an 8-year-old boy who is all long limbs and curly ‘fro, I often think about what his life will be like when he grows into a six-foot-plus Black man. Unlike me, my son is not growing up in the ‘hood. He’s never had to be concerned with wearing the right color on the right block; he doesn’t go to sleep to the sound of sirens; and he hasn’t developed a distrust of the police. As a matter of fact, whenever we see officers at our local 7-11 he waves, smiles, and often asks them questions.
In short, he’s been spared many of the challenges facing little Black boys in America.
But for how long?
While my son embraces everyone, and just recently began labeling people as “White” and “Black” (probably because he hears me do so), the majority of his life has been spent in environments that do not have a lot of other children who look like him. We live in a middle-class neighborhood that is fairly diverse, only its diversity is shown in a slew of East Asians immigrants, Asian Americans, White folks, and only a smattering of Latinos and Blacks. On our local playgrounds he is often the only Black child, and when he was attending private school, he was one of only two African-American children in his class. Although he seems to have no problem fitting in, I’ve always been aware that my child—who has always been taller than his age suggests—is different.
After the Trayvon Martin incident many Black parents took to the airwaves to talk about having “the conversation” with their young Black male children about how to behave when they are out in the world. Their advice? Don’t be too loud, be respectful at all times, and if you’re confronted by the police, just do what you’re told. But even this advice doesn’t keep our kids safe.
Last year Jordan Russell Davis was murdered because the music in a car he was riding in was too loud for a gun-toting stranger; Renisha Mcbride was shot and killed while trying to get help after a car accident; three Rochester teens were arrested for loitering while waiting for a school bus; a Philly teen’s scrotum was ruptured by female cop after he was stopped and frisked; and a recent report found that racism may cause Black men to age faster.
Though many hailed the election of President Obama as some sort of proof that racism in America is on life support, the events of the last six years have told an entirely different story. And as a parent, I’m left to wonder how I can prepare my child for it all.
Over the Martin Luther King, Jr. weekend I talked to my son about the Civil Rights hero, which led us down the rabbit hole of segregation and slavery. After our little chat, my son concluded, “White people suck!” After I explained that he shouldn’t judge all people based on the actions of a few, I got to thinking: should I teach him to expect racism from White folks and simply be surprised when it doesn’t happen?
In every other aspect in life I teach him to expect the best—on the soccer field, in his schoolwork, in life. I’ve taught my son that the world is literally his oyster and he can do anything he wants to do. Currently, he’s obsessed with becoming a paleontologist and has taught himself about all kinds of prehistoric animals and time periods. We’ve gone to numerous museums, watched documentaries, and are planning to road trip to the Dinosaur Center in Wyoming this summer all to encourage his dream. However, I’m always wondering if it’s enough. Will encouraging him to strive to do his best be able to counteract the racist attitudes he will surely encounter?
Despite our hopes, America is not becoming any less hostile toward young Black men and women, and I would be doing my son a disservice if I did not prepare him for what’s to come.
But how do you raise a confident Black child who expects the best from himself while expecting the worse from others? Is it even possible?
I’m certainly going to find out.