What Am I Supposed To Tell My Black Son?

Being a NYer, it means nothing to be out in the streets all hours of the night. You’re never alone. In recent months, some nights I struggle to stay asleep. I often throw on some sweats and walk (or drive) around. The other night, like clockwork, I grabbed my iPod and was walking the streets of Flatbush. 30 minutes into my walk, I got a phone call from my Tia. Her voice was low and I could feel a tension that I seldom hear. “Come home JJ. Now.”

My first thought was something was up with my mom. When I got back to the house, it was as quiet as I’d left it. Tia was sitting on the couch and the only thing she said to me “I need you to stop disappearing at night JJ. Anything can happen and I don’t need that worry every time you decide to go out.” My instinct was to brush it off, but I just let it go.

As I thought about it driving back to VA with my mom, it all made sense in an instant.

I’ve talked about having a son for the longest. I fantasize about JW3 playing basketball from the time he’s about 6 or 7. I see him going to a top high school, being a 5 star recruit, and heading off to a D1 program. I’ve dreamed about him being the kid that everyone loves because he’s funny and outgoing. Teachers and coaches will love him because he’s eager to learn and always polite. And yet, it was only recently that I began to consider how one encounter could change the positive self-image that me, his mother, and our community will have built and instilled in him.

By now, you’ve seen the video and the news coverage of the murder of Walter Scott. Yet another unarmed black man who was shot multiple times by a cop. A white cop. A cop who knew nothing about him but feared for his life. A cop who couldn’t have known that this was a man who’d served in Coast Guard. A cop who couldn’t have known that this man didn’t have a long violent history. The only thing that this cop knew was this black man had black skin. And in America, black skin is enough to scare the shit out of white people.

Like many before Scott, my heart breaks for this family. But selfishly, it’s made me reconsider my desire to want a son. Let me re-phrase that; I’m terrified to have a son.

Holly Robinson-Peete pictured with 17 year old son, RJ

Black parents are now compelled to have “the talk” with their children; more specifically, their black sons. Holly Robinson-Peete, whose eldest son has Autism, wrote about the day she took her son to the local police department to introduce him. She says that she made officers in her community aware that RJ is autistic. Just in case. Just in case? I mean, God forbid, a black teenager is walking down the street, minding his business, and a cop unlawfully stops him…we already have proof of how that ends. That’s what scares me about having a son. My child won’t even be able to exist in his own neighborhood without posing a perceived threat.

My black son won’t be allowed to protect himself. My black son won’t be given the benefit of doubt to feel scared. My black son won’t have a chance to decide to run away from the danger a white cop poses in a split second. Because in that same split second, a cop will be plotting on how he can shoot my son and get away with it.

White people will never understand this embedded fear Black America has. They will never fully comprehend why mothers and fathers hug their children extra tight before they leave the house. White America will never understand why Black Girls Rock is necessary for our daughters and why #blacklivesmatter is a worldwide movement. They won’t get it because, even when a video as telling as this exposes police for the liars that they are, the only time they support victim-blaming is when it involves black lives.

The only thing I can do is prepare my black son for the real world; a world in which the people that are sworn to protect him in fact mean him harm. As a father, I hope that my black son will make it back home every night of his life.

Has this period of open season on black lives made you fearful about having children? 

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