“Grandpa, what happened?” squeaked the melodic voice of my 5-year-old daughter. In a somewhat discomforted tone, I listened to my father respond, “The police they, uh, they shot somebody.”
She casually took note of the energy of the room, and went back to watching Ryan’s Toy Review on YouTube. Meanwhile, her 10-year-old brother didn’t even glance up from whatever he was occupied with on his iPhone.
Like my step son, the thing is, that none of this phased me. It can’t possibly phase me anymore. There’s literally no time left to be phased, raising black children in America.
My daughter was born in 2010, when lynchings were becoming mainstream again, and it wasn’t long before police lynching via extrajudicial killing was borderline normal, and often going viral. Her brother, my then step-son, is old enough to have witnessed anger over events such as the execution of Troy Davis, the Occupy Protests, the increasing trend of police killings, the public anger, the protests – and even to a degree – the racism which began to poke its head out of the prairie dog hole. The thing is, these are black babies, and they have to live here much longer than their mother, and myself.
If this were a speech, this would be the moment of pause and reflection. This would be that moment where I felt pain but had no choice but to convert it into functional power.
It’s not easy to explain to young minds that phenotype technically doesn’t matter, unless it’s his difference, and her difference – which is being black. Your differences make you special, my loves. Your differences make you both targets, and subjects.
My daughter was raised surrounded by a fiery energy emitted by both her mother and I. An energy that was never tolerant of the unjust murder of black men and women. “Black Lives Matter” is probably something she’ll never forget as she first heard the phrase at 3 years old – but does she understand the exact implications of what’s happening, and why there is so much anger around it? No, she is somewhat sheltered from the details, as a child deserves to experience childhood. Watching her father on computer screens as her mother live streams protests I attended in various cities. Feeling her mother’s energy, anger, and sadness as she supported the movement to the best of her ability – all of this, no doubt has affected the psychology of my progeny.
She does, however, know – to the best of the ability of her mother and I – that she is black. She is melanated. Her nose is wide. Her hair is kinky. Her skin is darker than others. Her lips are full. Her parents are different from others parents. Her story isn’t the same as everyone else’s in America. She wasn’t born with a silver spoon. She can’t simply act as though she’s protected by laws that are alleged to protect her.
As if it wasn’t already hard enough to instill pride in blackness, imagine a child being bombarded from every angle with a euro-centric standard of beauty. I almost wish it were as simple as “Baby, don’t let children at school play in your hair,” or “Baby, there are certain words that if you hear you need to tell me or your mother immediately.”
However, as a father, I must accept the sad reality that I could be faced with the possibility of my beloved being detained, questioned, or even molested by a police officer. I must accept the fact that I can’t teach her the lie that police are “public servants,” and that police “serve and protect.”
As she continues to grow, I will be forced to figure out the gentlest way to let her know that her servants and protectors are very few to be certain: her family and her parents. I will have to explain that not everyone is on her side just because, like her, they have 2 legs and bleed red. I will have to somehow explain to my child that the badge, the flashing lights, the riot gear, are not representative of an entity supportive of who she is, and who she will be.
My beloved child, I’m sorry, but representatives of the government of the country of your birth, are another obstacle which you will need to move around tactfully, for genuine fear and preservation of your life. I have a hard time trying to teach you this, Beautiful, because I don’t want you to be raised in fear – but I will not hide the ugly truth from you as you grow. You come from a lineage of kings, queens, enslaved human beings, survivors – and you must continue to be one of those survivors. You were born with an enemy my love. As your daddy, I will do all I can to change the world before I leave it to you, but never forget – God is with the faithful.
Just as we as parents have no choice but to convert our fear and anger into power – we must teach our children power and power alone. Fear isn’t an option, awareness is the answer now.
Black lives matter my child. Your life matters.
Anas White is a 24-year-old Muslim, artist, writer, and activist with a deep-rooted interest in race relations particularly as it pertains to members of the African diaspora, religious pluralism, and African spirituality.
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