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…
15 thoughts on “African-American Males not Safe in America”
Powerful, powerful observation. You have captured the feelings and fears that so often go unspoken.
Great piece, as a white/mixed women with three young black man. I must worry about the hate coming from both sides. Not quit black enough and darn sure not light enough to really fit anywhere. My son Norman has ADHD and was been labeled even before he understood what being bad was. In kindergarten, he was put out of a private school because he hit a boy in his mouth for calling him a nigger (sorry not trying to be offensive). He was called this by both the white and the black children. He just could not understand why he did not fit in and why they called him bad names. For over a month this boy taunted my son and the teacher never addressed it. I finally had to tell my baby that sometimes you just got to do what you got to do. Nothing happened to the boy who bullied my son and we was actually threatened with a law suit. I was devastated that my son at such an early age had to deal with hate. I was more heartbroken knowing that the rest of his life would be full of this madness. I could handle the remarks, dirty looks, mistreatment because of who I loved, and being shut out from the white side of my family, but could not when it came to my babies. It always amazed me how welcome I was into a African American home but not my own, in-spite of the past history between white and black. I am working on my own prejudices and mistrusts toward white individuals, but having young black males reminds me, once a persons colors are reviled so to speak, it is hard to look past them. Love you and love your honesty.
Thank you for sharing. I think that one of the reasons racism is such a toxin in this country is that people just don’t want to talk about it, not honestly. If we are not honest, things are going to get worse, if that’s possible. Thank you again for reading the piece and sharing. Your perspective as a mother to bi-racial children is really illuminating. I hope others will share as well.
Rev. Sue, my son was in third grade too when he voiced his dislike of a field trip the teacher had taken the class on and he told her that he should get his money back because the trip was horrible. Later during Black History month when this same teacher attempted to teach the children a Black History jingle she had created and inaccurately spoke of some of the individual accomplishments of African Americans and my little 3rd grader corrected her inaccuracies the way only a little boy can, he was labled by said teacher as having caused a “riot.” My son, too, was called “cute” and “adorable” when he was little, but now as a 6′ 6″ 21 year old college junior and honor student who is very articulate with a winning smile, it is disturbing that someone like Zimmerman would see him, and feel threatened enough to “stalk” him and pull a trigger that could kill him. Thank you for continuing to share your Candid Observations. They are needed.
Gads. I wonder just how many of these stories are out there, how many of our little boys and young men have been emotionally dumped on in school, which is supposed to be a safe place. Thank you for sharing, Rev. Angie.
“It is only by the grace of God that my son is alive and Trayvon is dead.”
How could you make such an insensitive statement? So God cared more about your son than Trayvon?
No, no, no, Charisse. I did not mean it that way. I meant (and mean) that in the same way as is meant “there but for the grace of God go I,” as it often said. This isn’t an issue of God caring more about my son, or any of the other African-American sons who have escaped horrible and untimely deaths. The statement was and is in reference to a system that has not been safe for African-American males. The phrase, “but for the grace of God” has nothing to do with the measure of God’s love for us; God has no favorites. But society does have favorites, and some survive, others don’t. Thank you for your observation and for your comment.
I don’t really think she meant it that way. People often say things like that without realizing how it sounds. I’m white, but I’m brokenhearted about this young man.
Thank you so much for sharing; as an intercessory God has placed a burden on me to pray fervently and consistently for black males. We are losing them by numbers. I know that God wants them to take their perspective places in the homes and churches where there presence is lacking. We have to encourage them, pray for them, lift them up, and find ways to love them beyond our human efforts as Christ requires us to. So many hold on to past hurts, fear, and disappointments. They sometimes just need that one person to minister love and compassion to them. My cry to all this reaches is to pray like never before for our black males; yes I said OUR black males. Our black men have awesome prominent positions in the Kingdom of God. They have been gifted, anointed, and appointed from the foundation of the world. They just need someone to direct them to the Light!!
Indeed. Thank you for this. Having the courage to speak about it using the right medium is the only way our voice will be heard.
Please do not think all whites in the U.S. discriminate against black males. I grew up in the south and I would never condone such an action. I don’t think good people ever want to see a young man killed before his time, regardless of the way it happens or the color of his skin. Also, I have told many mothers and fathers how ‘cute’ I think their child is without even thinking about race. When I see Trayvon’s photos on the news, it makes me sick to think of what happened to him and his family. I have a 21 y/o son myself, and when I see Trayvon, I honestly feel he is my son (symbolically). In fact, I think all young people are our sons and daughters, and we need to protect all of them as much as possible. We also need to give them the ability to thrive…they are our future. Also, I hate, hate, hate what has happened to all African Americans in our country (not to mention discrimination in S. Africa, Australia, etc.). I so wish it could have been different, and still hate the fact that young African American males have to look over their shoulders constantly, but please don’t blame all whites for this kind of tragedy. In fact, we had a bad case of police brutality where I currently live, and it was against a white homeless man with a developmental disorder. It was horrible. I want to cry when I hear of any situation like that regardless of color. Life can be so painful though.
Thank you for your comment, for weighing in on this very difficult subject. I know “all” white people do not discriminate against black people, and in fact, many white people have worked and are working to bring about racial justice in this country. What I speak of is more about the presence of racism as a “value” in America that works against African-Americans. I can never ignore the fact that white people lost their lives for justice during the Civil Rights movement, but in spite of all the work that has gone into getting rid of racism, it’s still here. You as an individual are not at fault; the system that allows white privilege, and in fact endorses it, on the other hand, must carry this yoke of blame.
Thank you so much for sharing. I can really feel your sensitivity and your pain. God bless you.
I am an older Black male in America and have survived. I know and have experienced the hatred and suspicion that young Black males encounter everyday and continue to do so.Your article makes some good points but is clearly written from a spectator point of view. My question to you is; “Do you really want to know what I believe is the truth about young Black males in America?” If so, I can almost assure you that you and the majority of your readers will not like it, even though it is factual.
It’s such a ashame how we’re losing our young black males in this so call great country. Just a week ago, another 17 yr old in Florida lost his life because he was shot by a racist man telling him and his boys to turn down their music that was blasting from their car. Now this racist jerk is claiming self defense and that he felt threatened which is why he pulled the trigger at those young black men. I swear, America is a racist society!!