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Friday, July 19, 2013

What I dread telling my black son

By Aaron Taylor

It’s nearly 11 P.M. I’m sitting upstairs in my recliner typing away on my laptop, trying to figure out which words will follow the next. What I really want to be doing is holding my 4-year old son. I want to rest his head against my shoulders and cling to his innocence before it slips away. I used to believe that by providing a middle class suburban life for my son, complete with the best public schools and services that my state has to offer, that somehow I could keep him safe. Since the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the gunning down of Trayvon Martin, that illusion is now gone.

My son is black and I am white.

This is what I dread telling him when he becomes a teenager.

Isaac, when you were 18 months old, you left your native country of Ethiopia and you became our son. Your mother and I love you. Your grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles, cousins, and friends: we all love you and want the best for you. But Isaac, you’re not the cute little boy anymore that looks like he can be on the Disney Channel. Now that you’re a teenager, there are some in our society who will make assumptions about you based solely on how you look. And if you’re ever in a situation where you feel threatened by someone who has made assumptions about you, even if you’re walking home unarmed in the dark of night and some creepy guy is following you, you don’t have the right to defend yourself. Because mark my words son, if there’s a confrontation, society will not side with the guy who looks like you, they’ll side with the guy who looks like me.

I know that when you were a little boy you used to look up to police officers. When you saw a police officer, you used to tell them that you wanted to be a police officer too when you grow up. And the police officers adored you right back. But now that you’re older, if you’re ever confronted by a police officer and you do the wrong thing, I’m not going to be there to protect you. So, please, respect their authority and know that they’re there to help you and protect you. But if they ever stop you for any reason and you run—they just might shoot you. So, please, don’t run!

I imagine there are some who might be shocked at the prospect of me telling my son to be cautious with police officers, lest he be shot. But let me tell you about millions of people who wouldn’t be shocked. Black people.

Growing up I was never taught to be cautious or afraid of police officers because police officers were the good guys that could protect me from the bad guys. Racial profiling wasn’t real because nobody that I knew had ever experienced it. Part of me wishes that I could still live with that worldview, the one that says that racism is a thing of the past, that anyone who says otherwise is simply trying to further an agenda to fatten their pockets, that racial profiling is something that black people made up so that they can keep prejudice alive and our nation divided. As wrongheaded as it is, it can be very comforting when you reflexively attribute morality to people who look like you and menace to people who look like them. Now that I’m a white father with a black son, I don’t have the luxury of that kind of delusion anymore.

So to my fellow white adoptive parents with minority children, when the white establishment tries to deflect the subject away from civil rights for black men by talking about “black on black crime” (as if the vast majority of white people aren’t killed by other white people), we can’t let the establishment get away with it. They can change the subject. We can’t.

When a black male teenager is shot and killed and the white establishment goes on a smear campaign against that teenager, digging into his school records and sniffing for drugs, let’s remind the establishment how many troubled white teenagers smoke pot and yet we assume that they simply need more love and nurture, not that they deserved to die because they wore the wrong piece of clothing on a dark, rainy night.

Let’s remind them.

Because at the end of the day, these are our sons that they’re talking about.


Robin Caldwell said...

Aaron, this is beautiful. You and your family are in my prayers. Thank you. I am grateful for you.

ych said...

*tears * I had to revisit Aaron's words repetitively. I know, innately what I must say and do as a Black mother of my biological Black son. But this helps shape another perspective of what does the loving world of our sons, say?! Prayers for you and your family Aaron!

Aaron Taylor said...

Thank you Robin and ych for reading my post. May God help us walk in His love and grace as we deal with this issue.

Anonymous said...

I appreciate your thoughts. Coming from Africa and experiencing racism from police and leaders we learnt that you respect authority. If you do something wrong don't resist and don’t flee. If you run you will get shot.
While I grieve for the loss of life of Travon Martin I also am appalled by the way Zimmerman has been treated. Instead of people trusting the police and courts to decide what happened he was judge in the court of popular opinion. People without the facts judged him to be guilty based on race and heresay rather than facts. Assumptions were made and politicians with their own agendas got involved. When the courts returned a verdict in the case, the social outcry of injustice did not rise from the case but rather was an emotional reaction based upon the feelings and underlying currents of racial frustration. The facts in the case tell a different story that what was presented in the media. The “dirt” of Zimmerman was put on public display early on and then when people did their own digging into Travon Martin it became the white establishment doing everything in its power to discredit Travon.
We are living in a post 9'11 world where everyone is a suspect. Do I like it? NO. I have to use wisdom, I have to teach my children well, to respect authority, to stand up for justice (even when it is socially unpopular).
Am I saying racism does not exist, NO. Am I saying that race does not play a part in some police situations, NO. I am saying that we are a living in a complex world and to paint every situation that arises with the same brush, whether it be race, religion etc will not work. Pre-judgements exist everywhere and it is know as prejudice. We have to be careful not to incite fear and anger catering to peoples prejudices but rather work towards healing and restoring a culture of value for every human life.
It is important to let the facts speak for themselves free of prejudice in any form.
P.S. I am a White African.

Aaron Taylor said...

Hi Anonymous,

I loved what you wrote! As a white person from Africa, I assume that you're either from South Africa, Zimbabwe or Namibia. If you're from Zimbabwe, then you've experienced the awful effects of reverse racism, where a black government persecutes a white minority. It would be interesting to hear more about your background.

I appreciate the nuance in your thinking regarding this case. I agree that the media attempt to paint Zimmerman as a racist by digging into his past was wrong. I believe that it obfuscated the real issue, because it gave credence to the narrative that only white supremacists are guilty of racial profiling. That tends to make white Americans defensive, which ends up causing them to deny that racial profiling exists altogether.

I got a lot of comments on my Face Book post to that effect. White Christians were telling me that I was the one being divisive by bringing up the issue of racial profiling, and even implied that any black person that is afraid of the cops is probably guilty of something. That to me is an egregious form of prejudice. To deny the experiences of millions of black people in this country who say that racial profiling is a problem, and then to say that the real racists are the ones that raise this issue, is pure racial ignorance.

People completely glossed over the main point in my article, which is that the Zimmerman verdict was a confirmation of very real fears in the black community that the law doesn't allow black men to defend themselves. As a father of a black child, it provoked a real fear in me that if a white man ever stalked my son, that if my son tried to defend himself in any way (which is what Trayvon did) my son would be viewed as the aggressor. No matter how many ways I tried to say it, white Christians were still telling me that I was being divisive by bringing up the race issue.

It's very frustrating.

You can read the comment thread yourself.

Tim said...

This is great!