Wednesday, March 21, 2012

What I Will Teach My Black Son to Fear

In light of the senseless murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida by a self-appointed neighborhood watch captain, I am posting a column I wrote that was published in 2006 in the Chicago Sun-Times. Entitled "What I Will Teach My Black Son to Fear", it deals with the realities of raising children of color, especially boys, in this world where they are seen as suspects and guilty until proven innocent. As parents of African-American children, especially boys, we have to deal with the reality that our children's lives can be snatched away because of the perception of danger caused by the color of their skin. Even in the age of Obama, our sons can be hunted down, shot, murdered with only candy and iced tea on their person and the killer allowed to walk free--justifying shooting an unarmed teen as self defense and saying he was threatened.

When I look at Trayvon's handsome face, my heart is saddened because I see my son and my nephews. I am also saddened when I see photos of Blair Holt and Derrion Albert, two beautiful black boys who were killed by black boys who looked like them. When I see their mothers crying and see Trayvon's mother, my heart breaks because I know how much I love my son. My son recently turned 10 and as his parents my husband and I will have to teach him the hard facts of life as a matter of survival. As I wrote almost 6 years ago:

"Above all, I will tell my son to remember that he is a black man, and people will see him as a threat, sometimes by his presence alone. I will tell him that as a black man, he is the most loved and most hated person in America, praised on athletic fields, cheered for his musical skills, but far too quickly jeered, imprisoned, castigated and murdered."


December 10, 2006


If I must say so-- and I must -- my son Malik is cute and cuddly. He has a great personality and a charming smile. His father and I called him "ladies' man"as an infant because of his inclination toward women. He was a big boy when he was just 18 months old and often mistaken for an older toddler.

One day, my beautiful, black baby boy will be a black man -- probably a big black man. And one of the most important lessons I will have to teach him is how to deal with police and white women.

Every time I see a video of a black man being beaten by police, in my heart I fear that could someday be my son. When I hear a mother recounting her son being beaten by police officers, I fear for my son. I have seen too many videotapes of black men being beaten, read too many stories of black men killed by police, or shot multiple times, sodomized and brutalized. Will it be my son the police are slamming against a car? I wonder. Will my son be shot at 41 times and struck by 19 bullets, like Amadou Diallo, simply for pulling out his wallet? Or will he be shot dead on his wedding day, without explanation, like New York's 23-year-old Sean Bell?

If I warn him to be careful in his encounters with the police and to be wary of white women, I can't help but wonder if the latter makes me racist. Am I?

Black men are in a dangerous position

I am a realist. And the reality is that black men are in a dangerous position simply because of the color of their skin and our history of race-based hate crime, discrimination and the lingering perception of black men as sexual predators. The reality is that if my son should someday be caught in a compromising position with a woman who happens to be white, her word will probably carry much more weight and, in the end, he will be the criminal or the rapist, whether he did it or not.

Don't get me wrong. I love my white sisters. I am not anti-white. But I am pro-life, the life and well-being of my son. I am not anti-police, but I am for protecting my son and teaching him to survive in an America where racial undertones impact human relations, in an America where the social taboo against black men fraternizing with white women remains, in an America where the stereotype that most black men are dangerous criminals still exists.

I can't help but wonder if it would be a dereliction of my duty as a mother if I did not warn my son of these potential dangers. Just as I will tell him to look both ways before he crosses the street, I know I must also make him aware of other potential dangers. At the same time, I want him to see both the good and the bad in circumstances and people. For example, I don't want him to be afraid of cars. Cars are useful. He will drive one someday. But he must know that cars can also kill. Fire keeps us warm, but it, too, can kill you.

So I wonder if I should recount for him someday the Scottsboro case. Or should I show him the movie "Rosewood?" When he is old enough to stomach the photos, should I tell him about the fate of another Chicago boy, Emmitt Till, brutally murdered for allegedly whistling at a white woman? Or should I tell him about Marcus Dixon, a high school star athlete and honors student in Georgia who was accused of raping a white classmate and acquitted in 20 minutes, but was still sentenced to 10 years in prison for statutory rape?

I wonder if I should emphasize that my son's safety ultimately may not be a matter of avoiding certain types of people. but also certain situations. Truth is, getting caught in a compromising position with a black girl does not hold the same potential ramifications as being caught with a white one.

I'll give my son a set of rules

As for safety from the police, don't black cops, not just white ones, kill black men? Still, I can't help but wonder why I've never seen or read a story about a group of white or black cops who shot down a white man when he reached for his wallet or keys, or because they thought he might have had a gun. Our black boys and men seem to die with disconcerting regularity at the hands of cops with no explanation other than they matched the description of "a male black, average height, wearing dark clothing."

I think I'll drill into my son a set of rules, a guidebook to his dealings with both the police and the girls:

"Move slowly. Don't make any sudden moves. Speak politely and respectfully. Don't get smart, even if you're not doing anything wrong. It's still no guarantee, but it could greatly improve your chances of survival.

"Don't be in a room by yourself with a white girl. Don't go to any girl's house -- white or black -- when her parents are not home. Don't be stupid. When a woman says no, she means no."

Most loved/hated person in America

Above all, I will tell my son to remember that he is a black man, and people will see him as a threat, sometimes by his presence alone. I will tell him that as a black man, he is the most loved and most hated person in America, praised on athletic fields, cheered for his musical skills, but far too quickly jeered, imprisoned, castigated and murdered.

I also will teach him that love knows no color, but some people will hate him because of his. I will warn him against being part of a culture or crowd that believes the terrorization of women is fun and games. I hope to deeply ingrain in him a love and respect for women, no matter what color, to not simply see them as objects put on this earth for his satisfaction. I will teach him to treat all women the way he would want me, his sister, his aunts or his grandmother to be treated.

But for now, I will hug and kiss him. I will wipe his runny nose, fix his scrapes and chastise him for running through the house.

And, I suspect, I will watch with mixed emotions as my little boy's baby face one day sprouts peach fuzz, arousing my fears of far greater hurts to come than a scraped knee.



To listen to a podcast of this column and read an interview I did with the University of Illinois Laboratory High School newspaper about this article, click on the link below:
http://www.uni.illinois.edu/og/multimedia/2006/12/q-unis-monica-fountain-bringing

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