Chandra White-Cummings gives insight on how parents, especially single moms can change perceptions society has about minority males.
I remember a time when things started to seem different with my son. I knew something was wrong. I could see it in his eyes and felt it in my heart. But for all my education and acquired “insight” about male development, the teen brain, and effective parenting, I couldn’t pinpoint the problem. Then I came across this information in an article:
“…As he [son] pulls away from Mom and stops talking to her…Soon, everything he does or doesn’t do and every decision he makes becomes a problem. ‘That makes her put him into this category of pathology,’ says Jelani Mandara. (Child development expert) Nick Chiles, Saving Our Sons, Ebony June 2013
Suddenly, this started making sense and seemed somewhat familiar
“For too many black boys in America, the cool, cold posture they present to the world is a shield for extreme psychological distress. Issues such as being fatherless, the pressure to be hypermasculine, and the strain of understanding their racial identity can seriously imperil their emotional state. But instead of getting the help they need, what black boys often get is attack and condemnation.
‘Our boys catch hell, they really do’…What they have are the women in their lives—their teachers and mothers—all basically telling them something is wrong with them. Their rooms are messy, they stink, they seem lazy as hell. They hear this all the time, and they start believing it. (quoting Dr. Steve Perry)’” Nick Chiles, Saving Our Sons, Ebony June 2013 referring to some in single parent homes.
Dear God that was it. It was true. I was on him all the time about his room, his music, how much time he spends on the phone, urging him to “do something productive.” And at times, I even sighed in utter frustration, “What’s wrong with you?” I wasn’t seeing my son as a struggling young man, under pressure, strain, and emotional distress. I was seeing him as a rule-breaker, disrespectful, and too often ungrateful. Yes, some of these things were true–sometimes. Even so, that kind of assessment is missing the point. My son—and all our sons—are human beings in various stages of growth and development. In some ways we succumb to implicit pressure to present them to the world for its benefit: controlled and sanitized for society’s use.
How can we expect the world to see our sons as children? How will the world see they need our love, protection, and guidance through the loaded minefield of adolescence and young adulthood, and not looked at as problems to be fixed? If the truth be told, we struggle to do this in our own homes. It’s time to be honest with ourselves now. When we look at others’ behaviors toward our sons, it’s easy to see the damage being done. The criminal justice and education systems have been outed as nefarious co-conspirators in the decline and demise of an entire generation of young black and minority men. Law enforcement too, is a usual suspect. A recent study revealed that black children are routinely perceived by police as being less innocent than their white counterparts and less young than their true age. But in many instances these actors are reflecting our own discomfort and dis-ease with who our sons are. It seems as if their institutional response is to over-incarcerate, under-educate, and over-police. Our personal response is to criticize, berate, and over-correct. Parents, we must lead the way in reshaping public perception of our children. Here are a few suggestions to move us forward:
- Carefully consider our disciplinary approach and style. Dr. Jelani Mandara, a child development expert who specializes in helping black moms raise sons, conducted research that identifies an authoritative parenting style as the most effective with all children, particularly black sons. Dr. Mandara describes this parenting model, “Authoritative parenting combines warmth, responsiveness and freedom for children to make decisions with conscientious monitoring, limit setting, enforcement of rules and high expectations.” He also notes that black and Latino parents generally may be the least likely to parent this way and most likely to employ an authoritarian style which typically employs more control and punishment, and less affection and openness. No blame or shame here though. It stands to reason that parents, particularly parents who are living highly stressed lives and focused on survival might default to a less touchy-feely mode of parenting. But the truth is our children need something different from us to survive.
- Become students of black male development and the black male experience then use what we know to help our son and others—teachers, law enforcement agencies—contextualize his feelings and behavior. We can find ways to help everyone realize the universality of our sons’ fear, insecurity, and false bravado while still shining a light on the unique cultural origin of those universal experiences. Thus we can begin to answer the question, “What’s wrong with you?” Our sons’ response: what’s wrong with all of us—we’re human trying to make it in this world.
- Assertively challenge the negative media influences in our home and hold entertainers, news media, and purveyors accountable. There are no golden calves and nothing is untouchable. Anything or anyone that erodes our son’s perspective or distorts his personality must GO. We can teach our sons to critically evaluate who they allow into their mental, emotional, and spiritual space. Encourage them to become their own lifestyle advocates and apologists who can critique cultural elements and determine how they are being influenced by other people’s ideas and agendas. They should embrace the thought that they are singularly precious persons and entry into their world must be earned.
- Be our sons’ “everyday advocates”: assertive, passionate and unapologetic. Don’t excuse destructive behavior but always profess and demonstrate the utmost loyalty.
Our sustained efforts can lay a foundation for healing: ours, our sons, and the ones who need it the most—those who dehumanize and devalue them.