I am the mother of an adult child. My first born son. My feisty little baby who would scream, cry so hard and fall out from exhaustion in his crib because he never wanted to go to sleep has turned into a passionate, feisty teenager who falls out on the couch and never wants to go to sleep. From boy to child to man, it’s crazy cause now if I hear a voice or a footstep in the house, I can’t tell who’s home, Is it my son? Is it his dad? I watch Shane, my son, confident, happy, he likes who he is. When I see him with friends, or witness the ease he has with people, or hear so many great words about his character, it kinda takes away the self-doubt I sometimes hold as a mom like…I could have done more, been more, worked harder, for them, and shows me, that this life is good because he’s come to believe what I’ve told him since he was little. “You’re wonderful. You’re amazing. You’re special.”
And just as I relish in all that is good in the world, and release that self-doubt, there is still a level of fear I hold deep down about raising black sons in America. Police brutality has always been part of my existence, growing up in Los Angeles, but honestly it didn’t change my view of people. My tribe is filled with parents just like us, raising kids just like us. Even though we are a generation of parents raising our black sons to be individuals, to stand out, to succeed, to be the best versions of themselves, to be gentlemen, to use manners, to embrace life and everyone in it, be good to people….sadly we we’re also instructing them to “be small” when necessary. Man, that’s a very very hard balance as parents.
Yet, within my tribe, racial harmony coexists and our friendships and those of our kids span over so many races. But we’re not naïve to the cold reality of what is going on in our society. To how the world “sees” them, “perceives” them, “categorizes” them. So on a not so rare occasion, my husband and I typically have the “talk” with our sons and their friends about how to act when they’re out. Keep your hands where police can see you, don’t drive with your hoodie on, be respectful if when you’re ever pulled over. “Don’t be acting all crazy when you’re in public!!” That’s my signature line because once again…they must be “small” when they’re out so as not to attract any attention if that’s at all possible.
So because we’re raising black sons and because we know their image is unfairly under the microscope, my husband and I decided when they were little we would not let them get their ears pierced until they turn 18 and got into college. Why? Because we know that the “perception” a lot of people have when they see a young black kid with their ears pierced is sometimes not a positive one. Rather than it simply being an accessory or part of their fashion statement. And sadly, it’s not just white people who stereotype black kids, it’s everyone. So our question to our sons is always ‘What image are you portraying?’ And honestly, I hate I even have to pose that question based on whether they have their ears pierced or not. I SHOULDN’T have to ask them that question but unfortunately, as we’ve seen recently, things have not changed much and our black youth are still being targeted, judged, and stereotyped. So for us, as their parents, we’ve made that personal decision to raise them to be aware that their image is on display. As their parents, we of course, have expectations but ultimately it’s their responsibility and obligation to decide what that image will be. This may not even be an issue for most parents because it does seem minor. And perhaps my husband and I are out of touch and having your ears pierced is a non-existent issue. Believe me, we’ve had countless arguments with them about the issue and my husband and I always agreed that it wasn’t happening. Sorry sons. But we had to draw the line somewhere because it’s easy for kids to get caught up in the images that are sensationalized in the media. Sometimes I feel helpless, torn, because our society defines young men of color so negatively, creating stereotypical beliefs, feelings, generalizations and expectations, that they are often portrayed through a very distorted lens. So we always felt it was our duty to be real with our sons and preventing them from piercing their ears, was just one way we did that.
Now here I am, my first born, is EIGHTEEN, and what was the one thing Shane wanted to do for his birthday? Yup! Get his ears pierced. My words of wisdom to him and to his brother who is right behind him is simply understand the realities of the world, your place in it but never ever underestimate yourself OR your capabilities. I am determined to embrace and manifest the progress of our society and the good in this world while at the same time teaching my sons the harsh lesson that authority won’t always respect them because of the color of the skin. Earrings or no earrings.
“So when we say that black lives matter, it’s not because others don’t, it’s simply because we must affirm that we are worthy of existing without fear, when so many things tell us we are not. I want to live in a world where my son will not be presumed guilty the moment he is born, where a toy in his hand isn’t mistaken for anything other than a toy.” – Clint Smith, 2015
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1963