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 na├»ve 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...

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