Jacqueline DuJour is concerned about how the world sees her sons and that they will be judged by the color of their skin and not by the content of their character.
“Be careful. I Love you!” Those are the words that I spoke to my youngest son today, as he headed out for the second to the last day of his summer internship. Those are the words that I speak to both my sons when they leave home and venture out into a world that knows nothing of them on a personal level.
They have been fortunate enough to have some amazing people in their lives, of all races and nationalities, who know them for the special young men that they are. The village that has aided me in getting them to this point in their lives is admittedly primarily African American. However, in its entirety, this village is one that is representative of a beautiful rainbow of people and is one that I treasure immensely.
The outside world, unfortunately, DOES NOT know that they are your average, (not perfect, but exceptional to me) American, Generation X, young men. They are educated, employed, family and community service-oriented, sports-loving, church-going and a host of other positive influences surround their world.
What the outside world, upon first laying eyes on them, DOES however know, is that they are young men in black skin. They can’t hide from it, cover it up or deny it. It is as I refer to it as, their “Permanent Outerwear”.
Sadly, there are some in our midst, who immediately associate their black skin with negativity. At an early age, they were taught to look their “best” when they leave the house. Taught that when entering a store, to keep their hands out of their pockets and to know where they are going once inside. The latter is necessary to avoid attracting the attention of a security guard, of any color, who may assume that they are there to shoplift, rather than to shop. Taught that if ever pulled over by the police while driving, to make certain that their hands are in full view on the steering wheel and to make no sudden movements.An accidental shooting is just not an option. While the above lessons, also known as “The Talk”, may not be exclusive, they are mandatory in the lives of African American families, especially with our sons. DWB does not stand for “Dinner With Bob” (as thought by a Caucasian friend several years ago), in the world in which we live.
Speaking of leaving the house and looking their “best”, my youngest has a summer internship at a prominent, world-renowned corporation that has a strict office dress code. Therefore, when he leaves the house, he is dressed and looks the part of a junior executive. However, just recently he shared with me something very disturbing. Occasionally, Caucasian women clutch their bags and give him glaring looks when he dares to take a seat, or stand next to them on the train to and from work. This revelation coming from “my baby boy” sent me off into a tailspin. Someone is threatened by my mild-mannered, smart, loving and talented son? Are you kidding me?
First you say it was Trayvon’s hoodie that possibly factored into his death, and then it was Jordan Davis’ music that factored into his. I’m waiting for the factor that will be linked to Michael Brown’s. Trust and believe, it’s coming. UPDATE: It came.
I expect some individuals to point to black on black crime (out of control) and other criminal activities that may involve African American males. I expect that following that noted point, will be the excuse of, “Well, the paranoia is because so much of the crime being committed in this country is being committed by black males.” I say to them – “Find a resource that supports that theory and without a doubt, someone else will find one that refutes it.” That darn Internet and quick access to data are amazing, aren’t they!
Nevertheless, this post is largely about MY sons and how THEY are perceived. Therefore, I will not be subjected to the theories and propositions of the excuse-finding folk, that have absolutely nothing to do with the TWO MALE CHILDREN THAT I GAVE BIRTH TO!
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Sadly, Dr. King, we are still waiting for that dream to come to fruition. It didn’t happen in your lifetime, and I fear that it will not happen in mine. Hopefully my oldest, a Morehouse man like you and his brother, will experience it in their children’s lifetime.
I have raised my sons not to judge an entire race or group of people by the reprehensible actions of a few. They’ve been taught to treat people in the manner in which they are treated. Respect begets respect. I am proud to say that I was also taught this and subsequently practiced it as a young girl growing up in New York City, during which time I spent numerous childhood summers in the state of Georgia. However, it was while walking the streets of a predominantly Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn one day, not in the deep South, that I was first called the “N” word and an obscene amount of other disgusting adjectives. These punks made it clear that this was an “Italian neighborhood” and I wasn’t welcome. Someone threw an object from the car, but I was quick enough to duck, before running up the subway steps to a safe zone.
Just imagine had I allowed the behavior of that car full of thugs to impact how I interacted with all Italians. I would have missed out on meeting some of the nicest people in my current circle of friends, if I had. Therefore, do not approach me with that “there’s fear and paranoia because of what some other African American males did” line of horse manure.
The senseless killings in Chicago have left us speechless, and the answer to the problem appears to be way over there on the horizon. Way over there, unfortunately. We began this week with the revelation of yet another young, unarmed, black male being gunned down in our streets and in this case; it’s by law enforcement. Regardless of the circumstances of Michael Brown’s death, details of which are still under investigation, this young man was murdered, shot multiple times.
Most law enforcement agencies will tell you that their officers are trained to kill, not to simply injure. Yet, I can only wonder how and why it is that the likes of Jared Lee Loughner, Rep. Gabrielle Giffords’ shooter , James Holmes, Denver movie theater shooter and Boston Marathon bombing suspect, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, all survived their encounter with law enforcement. We all know the outcome for Oscar Grant, Eric Gardner and now Michael Brown.
I continue to fear for the safety of all humans, but specifically for my sons and those who look like them. It frightens me that I cannot protect them as I once thought I could. It sickens me that without ever knowing who they are that there are some ignorant souls who have already pegged them as bad seeds at first sight. Without knowing that they are young men from a loving family, some will immediately view them as a possible perpetrator as opposed to a potential victim. Unfortunately, their Permanent Outerwear blinds the heart and soul in some narrow-minded people.
In preparation for sending my son off to college this coming week, in addition to the traditional pre-college conversations that all responsible parents have with their children, I will once again give him the “The Talk”. He will listen and God willing, will undoubtedly put into practice what he has been taught. His free-spirited and good-hearted self will then head out to mingle with his new college friends and become acquainted with his home away from home for the next four years. Normal freshmen stuff. He’s earned it, and he deserves it. We will pray together, as we always do, and I will kiss him goodbye before I leave the campus. Teary-eyed of course.
I’ll be leaving it all in God’s hands and praying that he will be surrounded by more people than not, who won’t trip on his Permanent Outerwear. People who will get to know him as the phenomenal young man that he is, who yes, happens to be African American.
A prayer and a hope are the best that a Mother can have from afar.
However, in my mind, where reality comes out to play, in the midst of the madness in which we certainly live in this world, I can’t help but wonder if my new tagline should be:
Parent of an African American Son.
Parent of an Endangered Species.
God bless us all, hoping for continued peace in Ferguson and around the world and may the madness of senseless murders everywhere stop. This I do pray. Amen
Originally appeared at Jacqueline DuJour.com
Photo provided by author