Raising a Black son in America: the long laundry lists of dos and don’ts
“If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon.” Those are the words of President Obama as he touched on the travesty in Sanford briefly on Friday. He is right: the slain teen is a son to all of us.
Like Trayvon, my son loves skittles. Well, Fishies is his favorite candy. He too loves to travel to the local store to purchase them. I tell him they are not good for him but he is past the age of total control. Those autocratic days are over. He is also the same age as Trayvon, 17, so holding on tightly has relaxed to moderate. He thinks I worry too much. He is probably right but how could a mother not especially if she is raising a Black son in America.
Where I grew up in the Caribbean, almost everyone looked like me. There were varying hues to the shade but the color was the same. So racism and racial profiling were foreign words and concepts. Being in danger because of what one looked like was also unheard of and we could play outside fter dark without our parents worrying or wringing their hands in fear if we were late getting home. My son does not have that luxury. America is certainly a different kind of place.
At 17 he goes out with friends to the movies, shopping, to the park. Runs after school with his track team. A typical, healthy high schooler or as I like to call him “my man-child.” No drugs, running the streets, home at nights but as he says, I do worry. For every time he exits the door at home, he enters a world where his odds are lower than a White counterpart his age. He enters a world that profiles him—judges him on how he dresses, how he speaks, the expression in his eyes, his color, the way he wears his hair. When he walks into a store, he gets the harder, longer stares, the security guard or salesperson’s lingering fixing of clothes or merchandize close to where he is and one of the biggest dangers out there--law enforcement scrutiny.
But the danger is not all on him not being the “non-suspicious color.” He faces danger from those who look like him. Gang violence and “Black on Black” crime is a deep, dark, debilitating side of our community. The side we continue to ignore locally and nationally. Boys die at the hands of other boys as the rest of the country carry on as usual.
So, we have had ‘The Talk’ many times—a talk that every forward thinking Black parent have with their children, especially their sons. A talk that may be imperative to their survival. My husband and I have told him the dos and don’ts of maneuvering as safely as possible beyond his front door. Like stop if a police officer ask you to. Never, ever run away from a cop. If stopped, speak in an even-keeled tone. Always have your ID with you. Do not walk alone at night. Keep the pants from going down to the knees. Remove hoodie off head if stopped by police. Ask to call mom and dad if cop wants to take you anywhere. Keep hands out of pockets whenever approached by cops. Avoid groups of boys wearing red, blue or gang colors. Stay away from gangs. If you need money, come to dad or I. There is no such thing as easy money so never fall for the drug pimp line. Let us know where you’re going and when you will be back. Always call me if you’re running late. The list is longer but you get my drift.
Yes, he rolls his eyes and does the typical teenage “I’m getting too old to be babied” routine and he just may be right but I need to, even with all those rules, our children can still be hurt or worse, killed. I’m sure Trayvon’s mom and dad had ‘the talk.’ But we cannot control their every circumstance.
Trayvon Martin’s murder has set off an explosive chain reaction. Is this the first teen killed under highly suspicious circumstances? Of course not but there is always a watershed moment—a time when circumstances pile atop circumstances to the point of saturation. To the point where a people has to say it’s time for a seismic shift for the survival of our sons and daughters’ depend on it.
I think we have reached that deep, dark watershed and parents across America are crying enough is enough. Residents of Sanford, Florida are wiping their tears and picking up the torch for justice. Parents of Black boys especially fearful most of the time, are tired of having to drill a long laundry list of dos and don’ts into their sons before the age of puberty. A list necessary while maneuvering life in the ‘Hoods and Burbs alike, across America. Sadly, sometimes the address or what they say and wear make no difference. Geraldo Rivera made the stunningly ignorant statement that Tayvon's hoodie was as much responsible for his shooting death as Zimmerman. My jaw touched the floor at that grossly insensitive remark.
We have been stopped , harassed, profiled even when our men wear Brooks Brothers suits and drive high-end vehicles. Our boys have been profiled wearing 'acceptable attire' like ties and shiny dress shoes. The problem is not what they wear but who is wearing it. Racism is that ignorant and dangerous.
It is time for a revolution of values, a change in status quo in America. Our children's survival and the country's depend on it for the unrest is rumbling deep.