I walked in to the kids club at my gym to pick up my kids and I noticed a little boy push a little blonde girl down. My son was standing close by and immediately pushed the boy down. My first reaction wasn’t pride in my son for standing up for his friend or even anger that he used violence. Instead, I quickly looked behind me. My first reaction was to check if the little boy’s parents had seen my son push their son down.
I spent the whole drive home trying to figure out the proper response. I felt like this was an important moment but my son was only two years old and I wasn’t prepared to have to deal with this sort of situation so soon.
My son is mixed, he is half Black, a quarter Filipino, and a quarter White, but for all intents and purposes he is black. The little boy he pushed was presumably white. My initial fear was that if someone else had witnessed the push, they would treat my son unfairly based on the color of his skin.
I grew up avoiding these types of situations. I was very aware of my behavior around white people and tried hard not to become a target for any racist that was watching me. I felt an overwhelming need to explain that to my son. To explain that we live in a world where people are judged by the amount of melanin in their skin and that black males need to be especially mindful of their actions.
I kept thinking over different conversations I could have with my two year old. Trying to condense my point down to its simplest form. Each time coming to the same disheartening conclusions. Because some people may not like us, we treat them better than they treat us. Because some people will judge us based on what we look like, we try not to be seen. All I could do was cry. I can’t teach my son that. I won’t teach my son that.
It made sense that I was raised thinking that way. I remember ringing a friend’s doorbell two houses down with my sister and another friend and asking if she could come out to play. Her mother, whom I had never met before, invited the girl who was with us inside and told my sister and me to go home. At first, it didn’t make sense. The woman’s daughter had always played with us and I didn’t know what was different. It wasn’t until I learned to filter race into the equation, that it became clear. They were all white and my sister and I were black. The color of our skin made the difference.
It took several more experiences with racism before I adapted my philosophy on how to behave around white people. I learned how to make them feel more comfortable with the darkness of my skin and mitigate their preconceived notions of what that meant about me. But that was then and this is now.
In the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, was I still supposed to teach my son that he mattered less? Was I supposed to use our close proximity to where Trayvon Martin was killed as a warning sign? Then I realized that the real question was, in 2016, do I still teach my son that race is the difference?
I realized that I was parenting out of fear. I was scared that even if there wasn’t a racist nearby today, there could be later. When he wasn’t an adorable two year old, but a ‘scary’ black man. I was trying to teach my son to grow up to be a black man that a racist wouldn’t target, one who didn’t put himself in possibly dangerous situations, or in this case, who wouldn’t stand up for a little girl who was just pushed down.
When I changed my mindset from fear to love, I realized that I was feeling a lot of emotions, none of which stemmed from race. I was disappointed because my son chose anger over love. I was upset because there was a little girl on the floor and instead of offering his hand and helping her up, he chose to push another kid down. I was proud because at only two years old he knew that boys don’t push girls. The feminist in me was a little embarrassed that he thought he needed to protect the little girl instead of allowing her to push that little punk down herself.
The race of everyone involved was my initial concern because I’d been trained that way. I grew up in a time where the color of your skin and the texture of your hair were the deciding factors in most situations, but my son may not. That experience made me wonder if I even needed to have ‘the talk’ with my son. Obviously it is likely that he will run into someone who dislikes him just because he’s black but is that something that I need to tell him? Is that knowledge really going to help him more than it’ll hurt him and change his views on the world?
All the things that a black boy in America needs to do to stay safe are things that all people should do. Is it possible that we can just tell our minority sons to be polite to police officers because showing adults respect is kind, to keep their hands on the steering wheel so that officers don’t have to worry about their safety; and not because some cops are racist? Can we teach them to remove hoodies before walking into stores because robbers wear hoodies and they might scare a sales associate; and not because they are brown and some people are scared of brown men in hoodies? Can we just teach them that it’s a scary world and as men it’s their job to make the world a little less scary if they can?
I want my boys to be proud of who they are and their ancestry. I want them to display good character and choose the right and respectful decisions because it’s who they are, not because they’re scared of who other people might assume they are. I’m struggling between explaining the world to them to keep them safe and allowing them the freedom to create a world they’d like to live in.
So, I’m interested to know. How are you handling ‘the talk’ with your kids?