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Conversations With My Black Teen Son

This article was originally published on November 30, 2014. My oldest son is now a college freshman and his younger brother is now my middle schooler. It has been (almost) six years since I wrote this, but every. single. word. is still valid today. There is even more fear and justification for that fear for the lives of African Americans across our country.

Our voices are often muted and spoken over because it’s too uncomfortable for others to face their wrongdoings.

In 2020, we are still being told “if we don’t like it here, just leave” – apparently my white counterparts missed the days of History that explained we never asked to be brought here. However, if we remind them or bring it up, we’re told that’s the past and to get over it.

We have a President in office that has shown his disdain and hatred for anyone not white throughout his life. And shows no remorse for how it has impacted others. 

All of this and more, but I am still optimistic that things can and will improve. More and more individuals are starting to attempt to understand and just listen to why we feel the way we do.

These words will make some feel uncomfortable. I don’t apologize. As a black woman raised in the Deep South, it’s been ingrained in me to not be “too black” in certain circles. To not upset the status quo. To accept that this is just how people are here. I call bullshit. I know some amazing individuals who were born and raised in the South by racist parents and chose to stop that legacy in their family. A conscious choice to be a better person and accept me – all of me with my brown skin and coily hair – just as I am.

Conversations with my teenage son on the treatment of Black Americans in our country

My oldest son and I were driving together recently and I decided to take advantage of the rare occasion that it was just the two of us, he wasn’t engrossed in a book or video game and he was in a chatty mood.

“Did you all have any discussions in school yesterday about what’s going on in Ferguson?”

“Yes ma’am. We talked about it in a few of my classes. It’s terrible they shot him because he was wearing a hoodie. He was just walking home.”

Brief moment of confusion on my part.

“Son, that’s the Trayvon Martin case. That happened almost three years ago. I was asking about the incident where Michael Brown was shot by a police officer  in August of this year.”

“Oh yeah…”

There was more discussion. Actually, a very good discussion on our ride about race relations in his school, how he feels as a young multi-cultural teen, and how everything is happening in the world around us directly impacts him, our families and communities.

But the beginning of our conversation kept nagging at me. Besides the fact that my ADHD child can have moments where he completely spaces out and as many teenagers are can be clueless about anything that doesn’t directly impact them in the right here and now.

It nagged me because there were so many references he had to instances where children that looked like him were dead. It nagged me because names were listed off in such a matter-of-fact way.

I tried to recall what the pressing headlines were when I was his age and whether or not they involved children my age or close to it.

Was I that sheltered as a teenager?

Was I self-absorbed?

Is it because of the rise of the Internet and social media outlets that instances that may have not gotten coverage outside of their local viewing area or state are now making headlines worldwide?

I fear that my sons will one day be too aggressive or too loud or too “ethnic” (yes, a real term that a former manager used to describe African-American and Hispanic employees) in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Sadly, these fears are justified by news stories that are reported on a regular basis. It makes you wonder about the ones that don’t even make headlines.

Not everyone will get it. Not everyone will be able to accept it. If you’ve never been told you were born the wrong color or refused service because they didn’t like “your kind” or told you couldn’t sit in a seat in the back of a bus because “your people” fought to sit up front so get your n-word butt up to the front to make them proud – then you may not be able to get it. If you’ve never been denied a rental home because when the owners made the appointment for “Brad and Michelle” to do a walk through they didn’t expect a young black couple to show up and didn’t feel we would be a good fit for their neighborhood and had no problem matter-of-factly stating it. If you’ve never experienced these things, you may not be able to understand the wariness in one’s soul when they hear of social injustice to their culture.

I say “may not” because there are friends and loved ones from all walks of life and from all cultures that do get it. They have witnessed it, they have stood beside their friends and spoke up and out, and they are angered and frustrated.

A friend posted on her Facebook wall last week about her fears for her blonde hair, blue haired children – child sex trade and prostitution rings are real and happening in cities and towns across the US.  I got where she was coming from. I didn’t try to demean or diminish her fears.

The fears for our children and our society at large are justifiable.

My faith is important to me and it helps to alleviate many of those fears. It helps to keep me from lashing out in anger. It helps me to hold my head up high despite what others may think or feel about me. It helps me find the words to give my children and instill within them a pride of their history and a fantastic outlook on their futures.

My community – online and local – gives me hope and support. I believe if we continue to have those conversations and are spurred to action that we can unite and uplift. I believe if we do our civic duties by voting, being present  and informed at neighborhood association, school and government meetings – we can make a difference.

There’s power in our voice and it’s time for us to set the example for our children.

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