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Why you can’t just tell black boys to be good and stay out of trouble

My 5-year-old started kindergarten last week. And while many moms are stressing over their kids leaving the nest or getting new shoes or whether they will make friends, I’m stressing out over the simple fact that my kid is a little brown boy in a mostly white school. And sometimes, that scares me.

My kid is reading books meant for third graders, can put together a puzzle of the U.S. with no guides or words and can probably tell you the contents of the Cosmo I’ve had in my backseat for six months. Which means that two weeks from now, when the class is still practicing letter sounds, he’s likely to be on the back wall, emptying trash cans or knocking over chairs. Which means my exceptional boy will be labeled a troublemaker. And that’s a label a little black boy can’t afford to have, because it’s a label he may never be able to shake.

So when it comes to using the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, as a teaching point, I can’t simply tell my children that police are good guys and stop there.

My husband will teach them what he was taught as a child. Don’t talk back to the police. Don’t make any sudden movements. Say “yes, sir” to the police, even if you don’t agree. And beyond the police: Don’t walk in large groups with your other black friends. Don’t dress like a gangster.

This is not an indictment of the police or law enforcement. My cousin was a sheriff. I have family members in the military. I wanted for many years to be a police officer and am only letting that go because I’ve essentially “aged out.” This is more of a statement that the rules for little black boys in this country continue to be at odds with the rules for some others of us. It’s not as easy telling my kids that nothing will happen to them if they just keep their noses clean.

We don’t know exactly what happened when 18-year-old Mike Brown was shot, but we know that the St. Louis County Police department account — that Brown reached for an officer’s gun — is disputed by several eyewitnesses, including the friend who was with him at the time. I am obviously not in a position to dispute the facts of the case. And, for lack of a better word, I think looting is stupid, and ruining your own community is no way to make a point.

But when I look at this case, I am not seeing this one kid in this one place who may or may not have reached for a police officer’s gun but who most certainly is dead.

I am looking at my 5-year-old and my 1-year-old and seeing two children who will look at the news and ask why these black people are fighting the police. And I will have to tell them that despite what education you have, regardless of who you may be, you cannot have skin the color of ours and talk back to the police. Not in this country.

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