When the media portrays black males as a liability, how do we empower our sons to know that they are not a threat to society?
“Why do the police shoot black men?” My four-year-old son waited anxiously for a response. I was listening to the news on the car radio and didn’t realize he had woken from his nap. Unprepared for such a powerful question, I hesitated and responded, “Because some police officers fear black men.”
My son was not satisfied with this answer and asked, “Why do they fear them?” Looking at him through my rearview mirror, I responded “They were taught to be afraid of black men.” I was disappointed in my weak response, but I wasn’t sure how much I wanted to share with my four-year-old about racial profiling and police brutality. For someone who is vocal about transparency and being honest with children, I felt like a hypocrite.
Yet, how do you have such a loaded conversation with a four-year-old whose limited concept of race involves knowing that he is a beautiful brown and singing along to Nina Simone’s “ To Be Young, Gifted, and Black.” Yes, we’ve empowered him to know that no one has the right to make him feel inferior because of his color, size or abilities, but how much more, does he need to know. After all, he is a little kid, who in the same breath of saying #BlackLivesMatter, will ask you to buy him a Lego set. I tried to remember how we dealt with race with our older son when he was four years old, but it seemed like a distance memory instead of twelve years ago. When I look at the young man he’s become, I realize that the seed we planted in early childhood is blooming into an empowered and “woke” black young man. But this took years of nurturing, teaching, listening and learning. It wasn’t an easy or simple process. How can we ensure the same for our little guy?
Recently, we learned about three-year-old Cayden Jade, who was the unfortunate victim of racist comments by his mother’s white co-worker and his friends. I applaud Syndey Jade’s bravery and her eloquent post about her son, giving life to the child behind the vicious post. #His NameisCayden gives us insight into this little boy and his family When I looked at Cayden’s pictures, I am reminded of my own son. I wondered, “Is Cayden even aware of what is happening?” “How will his parents and family address this incident with him?”
As we continue to see how black children are targeted in various ways, often at the expense of a joke (I’m talking to you Amy Poehler and Ellen DeGeneres), we have to ante up our empowerment messages to our children.
We, as parents of black children, have to remind them that they are assets, not liabilities.
I don’t want to rob our son of his innocence, but I also don’t want him to be ill prepared for his future as a black male. As much as I wish society can see our sons as we see them, we know that biases and prejudices cloud perceptions. With the exception of having our sons walk around with a sign that reads “I am not dangerous”, we can only hope that they are judged by the “content of their character” instead of the color of their skin.
For now, we want our four-year-old to enjoy being a kid but we don’t want to keep our eyes off his future. The well-being of our sons is one of our top priorities. Part of their well-being is knowing their worth. We want them to know that their race and ethnicity does not reduce their value. We want them to know that the media, the educational system, or society does not get to dictate who they are based on race. Not only do their lives matter but that no one has the right to take away their self-worth. We want our sons to know that they are not a threat, a stereotype or a problem for society.