As a parent, there are so many talks that all parents must have with their children during certain times in their lives. During kindergarten, it’s the anatomical difference between boys and girls. During grammar school it might be why we must share with others. As they progress into high school it would be a talk about sex, drugs and anything else through which peer pressure might make your teenager do stupid things.
As an African-American parent of an African-American male of this age, my talk included how to live and escape being harassed, bullied, tortured or killed because of his race.
I have, until this time in my son’s life, taught him that his race shouldn’t matter when it comes to what he wants to be, or who he befriends, or who he falls in love with. His race is simply what he is born of, but not what he is as an individual; that it is a part of him that should be cherished and celebrated, not something that should separate him from the rest of his peers or others with whom he shares the planet.
However, when he becomes a teenager, when he is “hanging with his homies” without his mother’s protection, I must instill in him the importance of acknowledging that although his race shouldn’t matter, it does matter when it comes to dealing with the real world and living in this country. If stopped by the police, “Yes, sir” and “No, sir” are the prudent answers, regardless of whether or not he is being stopped for a doing something illegal or simply “walking while African-American”. Mouthing off either because he is angry, or because someone in his group is angry or has an attitude is NOT DONE. PERIOD.
“Be respectful, even if it don’t understand why they stopped you. No sucking of the teeth or rolling of the eyes. Do what he or she says and that’s it.”
“But why, Mom?”
“Because the police have the power to make our lives a living, or dying hell and will, on many occasions use that power with no care or danger of the consequences of their actions. That means, son, that they do because they can and they won’t get in trouble for it.”
Also, I have taught him to ignore actions such as being followed around in a store, or watched closely while browsing simply because of the color of his skin. This is an action born from ignorance of who he is and how he was raised. That he shouldn’t pay attention to it and just go about his business.
“You can control what you do. You have no control over the actions of others or what they think of you. You are only answerable for you.”
I can remember my words exactly, because they were recited to my African-American male cousins (I am of mixed race); to my African-American male friends and have witnessed the consequences of not heeding these words:
“You are a Black man in a world controlled mostly by White men who still see you as “the other”; part of a group from which a few “bad eggs” have been born; and a group for which you must be held responsible for their bad decisions and actions. Not every White person has learned from the actions of their forefathers and still hold the traditions of their ancestors’ ignorance and unnecessary fear of EVERY Black man. Those White men who have power, either through the authority granted by their profession (police, etc.); or through the authority granted by the teachings of their fathers and grandfathers based solely on “that’s just the way we do things” are to be feared and respected. In other words, son, don’t give them a reason to arrest or shoot you.”
That speech was repeated daily while my son was in high school and I have to occasionally, at the current age of 27, remind him of it even though we are SUPPOSED to be living in a post-racial society because our current president is an African-American male.
Because of the current tragic and outrageous story behind the murder of Trayvon Martin, this talk has been in the forefront of my mind. I have seen it mentioned in several blogs and articles written by African-Americans, so I know it’s in the forefront of a great many African-American parents’ minds. Do I wish it were otherwise? Of course, I do. Is it a shame that this talk is still of relevance in the 21st century in this country, especially with the election of an African-American president? Most definitely. And I will add that it’s relevance is S-L-O-W-L-Y becoming, well, irrelevant. But (and this is a BIG but), based on the sad occurrence in Sanford, Florida on a rainy 26th day in February, AND based on daily local racially-charged occurrences that I have witnessed in my community…for every step forward the races take in understanding and tolerance, there are several LEAPS backward that make these catastrophes more and more heartbreaking not only to those involved, not only to the parents of Trayvon Martin; but to the human race as a whole.
Violence (and this includes the passive “violence” of giving attitude to people with power) begets more violence and that’s why African-American parents will continue to have “the talk” with their young African-American sons. But sometimes, it just doesn’t matter because fear of “the other” will continue to spur on violence born from “there’s a Black boy/man in a “nice” neighborhood so he must be up to no good.”