There’s a disturbing thing that happens every time there’s news of a Black person being unjustly killed. A series of stories always follow, suggesting possible ways the person looked or acted “suspiciously,” triggering their killers. A teenage boy has gone viral on Tik Tok this week, listing all the rules his mom has given him to avoid being perceived as “dangerous” by such people, and white people need to see what’s wrong with this situation, especially after the death of George Floyd.
“Don’t put your hands in your pockets,” 18-year-old Cameron Welch said on the video, which has been seen almost 9 million times since he posted it four days ago. “Don’t put your hoodie on. Don’t be outside without a shirt on. Check in with your people, it don’t matter even if you’re down the street. Don’t be out too late. Don’t touch anything you’re not buying. Never leave the store without a receipt or a bag, even if it’s just a pack of gum.”
The list goes on and on, and his deadpan delivery makes us feel every restriction on a teenage boy’s natural vibrancy. It’s his mother’s version of “the talk,” the speech many white people only hear of in the context of the deaths of kids like Trayvon Martin, but most Black parents say they’ve had to give to their children earlier and earlier.
“I want people to understand the type of things my mom has to instill in me because my people continue to be judged by the color of our skin and not the content of our character, as Martin Luther King Jr. said,” Welch told Buzzfeed. “It is a required conversation our parents must have to ensure that we come home alive.”
Other forbidden acts on Welch’s mom’s list: wearing a wife beater or a du-rag in public, playing music too loud, talking back to police, and staring too long at a white woman.
To some white women’s credit, among the many people who have reposted this video with reactions on Tik Tok are white mothers acknowledging that they have never had to tell these things to their children.
“This is on us all,” officiallytracytime wrote on her video. “We all need to do better.”
SheKnows published a powerful essay on Monday from Nikesha Elise Williams that I can’t get out of my head. She is defiant about raising her Black 5-year-old son to be fearless and free. But why did the word “defiant” just pop into my mind? Shouldn’t it be natural to raise our kids to be fearless? But it isn’t. The sooner we white mothers stop needing to be reminded about this fact, the sooner we can fix this problem. Teenage boys should get to dress like teenage boys and crank up their music to obnoxious volumes and let the cashier keep the receipt. Maybe they’ll annoy us, the way all teenagers annoy grownups. Maybe that won’t be a death sentence.
“I believe if you felt the bottled-up emotions of silence that our country makes us hold in, then we can make real change,” Welch told Buzzfeed, “because not one race should ever feel this way.”
Kids of all races and genders will get something out of these children’s books starring Black and brown girls.