My husband has served honorably in the Marine Corps, the United States Army and now the National Guard. He has missed a total of 27 months of our children’s lives while serving tours in Iraq.
My son has watched his dad serve in the military his entire life. He’s been around every hue and shade of person, thanks to Uncle Sam sending us around the country. My son doesn’t know color; in fact, as long as you like Minecraft, then you could be pink and he would be excited to be friends with you.
However, in the next year or so, as my little guy sprouts into a tall, handsome young man, I will have to have “the talk” with him. I’m not referring to the “birds and the bees” talk, but to the first of many talks we will have about how to safely grow up as a black man in America.
For most of my little guy’s life, we’ve lived on a military base. Everyone plays with everyone there, and the only thing we hate collectively is deployment and our spouses being away. The truth is that we feel more at home, no matter what our race, on the base than on the outside. You don’t hear about military police stopping black kids who are playing on the street.
We don’t live on a military installation anymore, but we’ve worked hard to live in a nice neighborhood, with nice homes, among people of all nationalities. I now have to try to explain to my child that the reason I rarely let him go outside these days is because I fear someone will perceive my nerdy, honor roll African American student as a threat, and possibly call the cops on him, which then might lead to a horrific situation that I don’t even want to imagine.
You know what really hurts about that thought? It’s that something may never happen, but I still have to prepare him for it.
What do I tell my son? How do I respond to the confused look I’ll see when we do? I know his face will reflect a mixture of confusion, fear and sadness. He is a sweet little guy. He wants to be a video game designer. He doesn’t want to hurt anyone. He is sensitive, kind and respectful to others.
My son is an innocent kid who loves all the things every other 11-year-old loves. We have worked hard to bring him up to be a good person. But in 2015, I have to remind him that all the good morals and values may not mean a thing one day — because you can’t see those.
Some people would call that “overboard,” or say it’s unnecessary. But what’s overboard is that I even have to have this talk with my 11-year-old son who has never been in trouble, is loved by his teachers and loves coding on his computer.
What’s overboard is that this child, who learned pride and love for his country early, also has to be told that his dad sometimes fears the same country he has risked his life several times to protect. What’s overboard is that we have to explain how to act if stopped by the police — not only while driving your car, but while riding your bike on the street, too.
What’s overboard is that we have to explain that one day, he could be pulled over for a number of unnecessary reasons outside the ones that actually are warranted. What’s overboard is that he could be walking with a bunch of friends and be made to lie on the ground one day, because there’s too much “dark hue” in a crowd.
I can only hope that partaking in a conversation like #WhatDoITellMySon will encourage others to talk to their children, so that the unnecessary excessive force or profiling of random black males can end.
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.