I’m a thirty year old black man living in Nassau County, one of the most segregated places in the country. However, I love where I reside; it’s probably the only town that is truly blended. The 2010 US Census says it’s about 40% white, 35% black, 21% Latino, and the rest an equal blend of various other ethnicity. It’s a great place to raise my five year old daughter and ten year old nephew that for all intents and purposes, is my son. It’s the American Dream.
Within 48 hours of the fourth of July, the preamble of the Declaration of Independence we celebrated is being questioned: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. The gunning down of Alton Sterling and Philando Castle connote Thomas Jefferson’s words are subjective.
People are disappointed, frustrated, hurt, angry, enraged, and so numb to it all that they are indifferent. In some capacity, I have seen all these emotions flooding my social media timelines and in conversation with others. I asked myself is “How do I explain all of this to a five and ten year old?” I don’t.
My choice in how to educate my children is based on what I already know about their temperament. They already have a heightened sense of awareness about life that they shouldn’t have. At five, my daughter already has a grasp on the concept of death. In her own way, she is grieving the loss of her mother she will never remember. My nephew knows what racism is. He is aware that as a brown boy, he must govern himself accordingly for his own safety.
A few years ago, I watched a documentary about the Rodney King verdict and subsequent LA Riots. My then seven year old nephew walked into the room and asked me about it. Absorbing what was on the television, he tearfully asked “Why did this happen?” Seconds later, the infamous clip of King being beat by police officers flashed across the screen. “That’s why,” I replied. I wanted him to stay and watch because I thought that he should see this. He couldn’t handle it. I comforted him and he chose to leave the room.
I was seven when the residents of South Central destroyed their neighborhood. All I could think about was how I felt a little over a year earlier, when my mother took my twin sister and I to see the film adaptation of Sarafina. I left angry at white people. Twenty-five years later, I still can’t bear to watch it.
Being an innocent child saved me. I didn’t know what race was; I only saw people. In my juvenile mind, whites were a special kind of villain that killed innocent children at schools in South Africa in Sarafina. Or they were bad police that beat men with that billy club thing my Dick Tracy action figure had. While reprimanding me for not acting right in school, my mother said I needed to act right in front of my white teacher. I responded “Mrs. [Redacted] is white?!” I was relived because 1) I didn’t know I had ever met a white person before. 2) I realized I knew a lot of white people and saw plenty on television. 3) Not all white people were bad; just a small number.
My faith in humanity was restored. Without proper guidance, this foundation could have become solidified prejudice. I’d be no different than the police who killed the two black men this week.
Within reason, most parents want to keep their children young and innocent as long as possible. They will be adults most of their lives and unfortunately, many of children of color are forced to grow up an accelerated pace. This burden drastically shortens the life of black men. On average, we expire at 71 years old. This doesn’t include how many of us are killed or jailed-which is a figurative death sentence-getting caught up in lifestyles rooted in premature responsibility of our families.
One day, I will converse with my two children; it just won’t be today. My nephew is headed to the beach with his best friend who is white and their family. He has practice for summer baseball in which half of his teammates are white. In two months, my daughter begins kindergarten with children of various ethnic backgrounds and a teacher who is white.