Thursday, April 5, 2012
April 2, 2012
We spoke about this the other day when you came home. I wanted you to have my words in writing too because of the timely importance of this subject.
Son, this conversation should have taken place a long time ago when you stepped out of the cuteness of childhood to become the fine young man you are. It’s never too late to save a life.
This is not to disclaim anything your dad and I taught you to-date. America is still a wonderful country where you can achieve anything if you put your mind to it. The world is still a place full of wonderful people. But son, for some you have reached the age when a black man is often unfairly perceived or suspected to be threatening or dangerous.
Don’t just rely on your clean cut appearance, your pants sitting at your waist right where they belong, and the limpid, proper words streaming out of your well-mannered lips to blind them from the only thing you’ll always be in their eyes – a black man – never good enough for their daughters, their neighborhoods or the position you’ll someday ascend to through sheer hard work that demands of you more than it will ever demand of others.
It may be a little while more before prejudiced minds cease to judge you based on the color of your skin, the hoodie on your head and the white sneakers on your feet.
Until then, baby, watch your steps, mind your tongue and be aware of your surroundings.
Monday, April 2, 2012
Two weeks ago one of my student soldiers told me that a black teenager carrying only a packet of Skittles his hand had been shot dead by a white male who thought he was suspicious.
Right there, I told the young man the following:
“If you look closer, you’ll find that this adolescent is from a middle class family. It wouldn’t even dawn on him that he was doing something wrong walking in his own neighborhood. A lower class black kid knows better and wouldn’t do that, unless he’s up to no good.”
I suddenly felt a punch in the gut. The naïve kid I was talking about represented my own sons, and also the soldier in front of me. He was born and raised in the US from African parents, academics. Just like this soldier at some point in his life and most middle and upper class black boys throughout the country, my sons are growing up, moving comfortably in their environment and interacting with their friends and neighbors, oblivious of yet another insidious danger to their well-being.
I felt guilty. Throughout their lives, my children have heard their father and I parrot motivational speeches to success, blistering criticisms – of course laced with love – and veiled warnings about lurking predators. “Never play at Johnny’s house when he’s not there,” I’d often say when I really meant “beware of Johnny’s dad, even if he’s Johnny’s dad. Who knows if he is a dirty mind?” But I didn’t realize that our children and us, never had what a black mother on NPR today called “The Talk,” a conversation African-American parents have been having with their sons since way back, to warn them of the dangers of being black men in America.
Like this soldier’s parents, having been born and raised elsewhere in the world made me either oblivious or dismissive of certain undeniable realities. I was going to have the talk with my sons, to begin with, with my seventeen year old, exactly Trayvon Martin’s age. I decided to handwrite him a letter first, in case I trip over my word during the conversation and lose some of the crucial words streaming through my brain right this moment.
Read letter next...