As a writer, a women, a black women a future mother and an American citizen, I cannot ignore what is happening in the news lately. I have to be honest, I’m scared. Scared to raise a black man in America. Scared that my son, who I have not yet had the chance to conceive, will only be seen as a threat – a valueless life. When I read about Mike Brown, Trayvon Martin and countless others who have been brutally murdered by others and those sworn to protect them, I am saddened but mostly scared. Scared that one day my fears of raising a black man in America will come true. That one day my son whom I envision will be an intelligent college-educated man will be gunned down because he wanted to walk in his neighborhood or down the street in Eagle Harbor to visit his grandparents. I am afraid that he will have to explain himself and no one will give him the chance. And I am more afraid that I will not know what to tell him.
What will I say to him to teach him how to stay alive? It’s a sad question to think about. It’s a question that I feel only mothers who are raising black children have to think about. Its a question that I don’t have the answer to? I don’t know if there is an answer. Do I tell him if you are in danger and you raise your hands up, that should tell the person who wishes to do you harm that you are surrendering and not to shoot? Do I tell him not to wear a hoodie? Or if he does decide to wear a hoodie make sure that it is a Stanford, Harvard, or Yale hoodie so those whom would be scared of you will not fear you? Do I tell him that when the police arrest him to say, “Yes Sir” and “No Sir”, be polite, and give in? What exactly should I tell my unborn son to keep him alive in America?
As I reflect on the recent deaths of many young African America men, whether at the hands of each other, armed vigilantes, or those sworn to protect them….I am afraid.
As the mother of a young African American male how do I protect him from the realities of our societal fears, frustrations and ignorance which manifest themselves as physical violence? Do I hide him in our home, home school him and escort him wherever he may go? How do I teach him to be safe without instilling a conscious fear of everyone around him? How do I teach him to value and respect his community and those within it when every day there are clear examples of how little value his life has in the eyes of the very community to which I refer? There is no clear answer, yet I don’t wish to raise him in fear. Thus, I have made a choice to be brutally honest with him:
Son, there may one day be a moment in your life when no matter what you have or have not done, the judgment you are subjected to will be out of your control. There are those in your community who see you as “inferior”, “a thug/criminal”, “arch rival”, “a savage animal needing to be contained, controlled, and culled”. In spite of this, do not forget that the value placed upon your life begins with you and is defined by you. You have to respect and value yourself above all else – the choices you make, the actions you take, the reactions which result from these, are yours to wield. You must value your tomorrow more than the gratification of today. Your life – living and breathing, learning, loving, achieving or failing, must mean more than your pride, reputation or the need for retaliation. It is my duty to foster a clear understanding that anger and frustration are but a small piece of the bigger puzzle. The way you will manage those very attributes is the most valuable tool you will ever have. Be mindful my son, of the ignorance, racism, prejudice and violence that seeks to suppress the man that you shall become…do not fear it. Do not hide from it. Do not let its boldness diminish or define you.
As a mother, I am raising my son to respect authority and comply as instructed. He is eight and these lessons are simple for him now. As he matures situational complexities will surely shape his interpretation of what he’s learning now. How do I prepare him to react to being cornered for doing nothing wrong or simply looking “suspicious” because of generalizations that don’t apply to him. What should I teach him to save him from a split second that could end his life with no justification? I would tell him to comply without question, to swallow the disdain, confusion and anger at being targeted when others would get a pass. I would tell him to be polite, respectful and as courteous as necessary to ensure his return to those that love him. Complicity should be the key, but when complicity is not enough…what then?
Felicia Walker-Breland is an engineer/scientist, wife and mother of two in the Bay Area.
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