I can’t and won’t pretend to understand what it’s like to raise a black son ever, let alone in our current 2015.
I’m not sure I can tell you what to tell your son. You’re a strong, capable father, and I have faith you will guide him in the best way possible.
Here’s what I know: I was once a white person raised almost solely among white people. This became problematic because even though my family and friends didn’t talk about other races, their body language suggested that the other was different — perhaps to be feared. Since I grew up in a town of 5,000 people who were 99 percent white, I didn’t have to think about race much until I went out into the world.
It might be important to say that many, many white people can live their whole lives without interacting with anyone but white people. There are enough pockets of the country that are mostly white for this to be true.
In that case, the only reference point they have is the media. The nightly news in every city I’ve inhabited has often described “the suspects” as “two black men.”
The more that I dig into crime and sociology, the more I realize that the media has made it sound like a disproportionate amount of crime is committed by black men, when in truth, crime is pretty equal-opportunity, race-wise.
So, my takeaway is this: We have been taught to fear young black men for no substantiated reason.
It is my hope with the events stemming from the Michael Brown incident in my adopted home of Missouri that a sea of change is coming. We as Americans like to pretend that we live in a post-racial America, but that is not true.
We are not yet a generation removed from Jim Crow laws, not yet a few generations removed from slavery and minstrel shows and lawn jockeys and all sorts of incredible race-related, societal failures that some people insist are just the way they were raised and not the inhumanities they are.
How does your son bear up?
It’s going to be a challenge, but I know that with a father like you, he will be prepared to face that challenge.
I don’t know that this generation will be the one to turn the tide, but it is my prayer and my hope that it is.
I do not pull punches with my white daughter, who is growing up in a school half black, half white. I can’t imagine what the feeling in the classroom is like when they discuss slavery. I bought her a picture book to explain what it would be like to grow up a slave, to potentially have your parents or siblings sold away from you, and I held her as she and I both cried at the thought.
It was sobering to realize that many black families can’t trace their ancestry properly because of slavery. Yep, never thought about that before. Didn’t have to. Made that potential high school scholarship, Daughters of the American Revolution, shine a different light, yes, it did.
I have no trouble tracing my ancestry, because no one ever sold off my ancestors. Holy hell, that happened in this country, not even more than a few hundred years ago.
I admit I hadn’t allowed my mind to go there before — because I didn’t have to. That is white privilege, not having to go there. It’s not that you don’t get the job or don’t get the scholarship: White privilege is never having to think about being white. I try to explain that to other white people. Some hear it, some refuse. Still.
I have tried to explain to my white daughter what A People’s History of the United States explained to me in college. I have tried to tell her to love her country but also to acknowledge that white people in America stole land from the Native Americans, enslaved black Africans and interned Japanese-Americans.
James, I don’t know what you should say to your son. But to you, I say, please accept my friendship and alliance.
I am doing my best to put one allied drop in the bucket. I am raising my daughter to understand that white skin affords her no special attention, despite what current American culture might say differently.
It may be hard for her to insert herself into the ongoing conversation on race relations, but I will task her with doing it. It is too easy to ignore it as a white person in America, and I won’t cut her that slack. The world changes in small steps, and I expect her to be one of those steps with her life and her discourse.
James, your children are small, and I wish with every ounce of my being that the world will be better by the time they are teenagers.
In the meantime, though, I am here if you ever need me.
This post is part of #WhatDoITellMySon, a conversation started by Expert James Oliver, Jr. to examine black males and police violence in the U.S. (and to explore what we can do about it). If you want to join the conversation, share using the hashtag or email firstname.lastname@example.org to talk about writing a post.