When my son was little, people would stop, white people, I mean, and would say how cute he was.
He was cute. He still is…well, handsome, now, but when they would stop and proclaim how cute he was, I found myself thinking “yeah, as long as he’s little, he’s cute, but when he grows up, he’ll be just another black male.” I resented what I knew to be true, but I would smile at the well-meaning people, and say “thank you.”
After all, he was cute.
When he went to a private school, he was one of two or three African-American boys in his third grade class. He had ADHD, and was frequently “in trouble” for being fidgety or disruptive. His third grade teacher seemed really not to like him, but I shrugged it off, thinking I was being overly sensitive.
But then one day, I ventured into his room. The students had behavior logs on their desks, and most had stars or stickers on their logs, but not my son. On his son, the teacher had drawn great big black “X’s, with the comment, “You are bad.” I was furious. I complained to the school administrators, who apologized profusely and said they were sure the teacher meant no harm.
Meant no harm? I talked with the mothers of the other two African-American boys and found out that this teacher had said to the three boys that they were a “gang.” I remembered back when my son had asked what a gang was and I’d told him. He’d asked, “Is a gang bad?” And I said “yes,” never knowing that I was feeding into the message that his third grade teacher had given him, that he and his two African-American classmates were a “gang” and therefore, “bad.”
Then, there was the moment when I decided to put him on Ritalin. I fought it, but I was fighting a battle with school teachers who continually put him down, had low expectations, and labeled him as a behavior problem. I choked back tears when he got into my car after having taken the Ritalin for two days and said, “Mommy, for two years, I was bad. Now I’m good.”
It is important to say that I struggled to make sure I protected his spirit, strong-willed as he is. He is a brilliant young man, as he was a brilliant child. His spirit was his gift from God, and so I fought to protect it from those who sought to snuff it out. I shared with him how incredibly powerful his spirit was, and that he was to always remember that.
He was and is independent; he speaks his mind. I didn’t want him to lose those qualities, but I had to give him “the talk,” telling him how to act and react if he were ever stopped by police officers, telling him how he had to look out and be extra careful when he was out because he would always be more closely scrutinized. I told him not to hang out with kids who got into trouble, because if he was with a kid who got into trouble, he’d be picked up, too. I was working, even as he was a little boy, to save his life from the likes of people, who, when he was little, called him “cute.”
He graduated from high school with honors. He is a brilliant young man, and a talented writer and musician. He is still strong-willed and independent. He lives in New York and is doing “his thing.” And he is still alive and not in jail, thank God.
I thought about him, and have been thinking about him, as I have struggled with my feelings about what happened to Trayvon Martin. It is only by the grace of God that my son is alive and Trayvon is dead. I am getting angrier and angrier at America’s penchant for wielding injustice toward people of color, especially African-American males. I actually scoffed this morning when I heard a man on CNN say to the public to let justice run its course.
I don’t believe in American justice as pertains to African-Americans in general, and for African-American males in particular.
I wrote yesterday that racism is as American as is apple pie. It is especially noticeable when it comes to matters of justice. Our American history is peppered with tales of injustice in the lives of African-Americans, from the reality to slavery to the serious breaches of morality and ethical actions toward African-Americans once slavery no longer existed.
America has been the teacher to the world on how black people should be treated, so much so that not only in America, but everywhere, one would rather be anything but dark-skinned.
Walking hand-in-hand with racism has been white America’s arrogance, which has given a sense of entitlement and justification to treat African-Americans as sub-human and second-class citizens.
I am praying that George Zimmerman is arrested. A young man is dead for doing nothing, and for being guilty of nothing other than being an African-American wearing a hoodie and therefore looking “suspicious.” African-Americans, especially males, are not safe in America. Something is very, very wrong.
The Emancipation Proclamation was issued in the 19th century, but isn’t it unfortunate that in the 21st century, African-Americans are still held captive by racism and a justice system which has been anything but just for us? In fact, that justice system has been little more than a tool to put more and more African-Americans in new plantations called prisons …or in their graves.
It’s nice that white people thought my son was cute when he was little; I’ll bet they said the same thing about Trayvon when he was little, too. But cute little black boys are not safe in America, not once they grow up.
A candid observation…