The Talk: Slice of Life #sol15

slice of life

My son and I had “the talk” on Saturday.

Not that talk. I only wish we could have been talking about sex. Talking about sex is so easy. A lot easier than talking to your black son about race in America.

I’ve been trying to find a way to have the talk with him for at least two years, but it turns out that it’s really, really hard to sit down and tell your black son that some people in America, including police officers, will perceive him as dangerous all because of his skin color. It’s hard to teach your child about wearing a hoodie while black. It’s hard to teach your child about driving while black, walking across the street while black, sitting in a park while black, standing on a street corner while black.

My son doesn’t yet know what his black body in public spaces signifies. He doesn’t know that others will perceive him as a threat. He doesn’t know that he is the one who is actually in danger.

He has been protected by spending the first nine years of his life in Ethiopia. He has been protected by living in a very small community where everyone knows him. He has been protected by living in a community where Native Americans, not African-Americans, are the target of racism. He has been protected by the white privilege of his parents.

I want to continue protecting him. And that’s so hard when protecting him, when keeping him as safe as I possibly can, means making him feel unprotected, unsafe.

The need to have this conversation has been weighing on my mind. I’ve been waiting for an opportunity, an opening. A start. And on Saturday, there it was. We were talking about what might happen if the police pulled me over when I was driving across town without my driver’s license. And he said something offhand about how it didn’t really matter because it’s not like the police would pull a gun on me or something.

“Well, actually…” I began.

I kept it short and as simple as I could, but he still interrupted me several times.

“Wait. What?”

“I don’t understand.”

“You can’t mean that.”

And finally, “I don’t want to know about this.”

I don’t want him to know about it either.

He keeps voicing the rational response, what our logical minds would tell us, but logic doesn’t play a part in this.

The police are here to protect us. The police would never pull you over unless they had a reason to. The police would never hurt you. The police would never shoot you unless you had a gun and tried to shoot them first. This kind of thing only happens to “gangsters.” This kind of thing only happens to criminals.

We talk just a little bit about Michael Brown.

“What about his parents?” my son asks. “They must have been so sad.”

We talk just a little bit about Tamir Rice.

“I think I feel sick,” my son says.

I think about twelve-year-old Tamir Rice and look at my own twelve-year-old son, and I feel sick too.

We sit in silence for a few minutes as he tries to digest what I’ve told him.

“If I marry a white lady, maybe my kids will be so light that I don’t have to have this talk with them,” he says.

“I hope you don’t have to have this talk with your kids,” I tell him. “I really hope you don’t.”

And I wish I knew how to change this world so it could be different, better, right, so that my son doesn’t have to have this talk with his children no matter what shade of brown they are.

 

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10 thoughts on “The Talk: Slice of Life #sol15

  1. This is beautifully written and tragic at the same time. My heart is breaking for you and your little boy. I appreciate your honesty and openness. You haven woven the details, your fears, his fears in such an eloquent way that it should be published in a magazine. Thank you for sharing it with us.

  2. So so important to have this talk. I can’t imagine how hard. I have worked for years with students of color and this conversation happens often. It never get easier. I so hope we find a way to end this craziness. I am so glad he had this talk with you instead of experience it first. Thinking of you and your family.

  3. This breaks my heart. I live in Georgia in the “conservative heart” of the state. My daughter is white, but all of her friends are black (we are in the same socio-economic class as many of the minorities in this city). She has always dated African American boys from her peer group. Every time something is in the news about violence against young black men I picture my daughter’s sweet friends. I worry about drunk rednecks saying things to my daughter and her friends. I worry so much about these kiddos. I won’t have to worry about my son who has the protection of white skin. And it shouldn’t be this way. We are all human and I wish we could just learn to see that.

  4. I can’t begin to imagine how your son feels, having his world view turned upside down like that. Having that talk may save his life someday – so it’s worth the pain.

    It amazes me that we’ve come for far… and then again, we haven’t grown at all.

  5. Your writing is beautiful. This is sad to hear in 2015 but understandably a conversation that needs to be had. Thank you for sharing yet another powerful snippet of your life with your son.

  6. Elisabeth,
    This is so difficult. Keeping our babies safe is our number one job. Then teaching them to become adults is about passing on the ability to care for themselves. The conversation and processing around this conversation is so illogical. How does one deal with the unfairness? His reactions break my heart. As always you both are so brave, and your writing is just beautiful. I grow every time I read your posts.

  7. I really hope he doesn’t either. What else can I even write? I really hope he doesn’t. And yes, logic plays no part in this. I can’t begin to imagine having this conversation.

    • I am with you Carrie. I don’t know what to write. I hate that she had to have this conversation. And I hope he doesn’t. Ever. And I hope he doesn’t feel like his kids need to have lighter skin. I hope that the world changes, he doesn’t have to. I hope.

  8. My brother has adopted children from Korea, now grown, and he had this talk too, over 20 years ago. For a while, it never occurred to him and his wife that others would perceive differences, but they did. Those of us in our family have seen the looks when all the family walk together. I wish it was different, and it is heart-breaking, but I am proud of you for helping your son know the truth, however you don’t want to.

  9. Pingback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? #imwayr 3/30/15 | the dirigible plum

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