I recently said to my son, “Parents worry about their children every second of every hour of every day, especially when their children are away from them.” It is those moments of separation that are the worst for parents—those moments when their children are at the mercy of the world—because it is in those moments that parents can do nothing to protect their children.
My husband and I are white and we have four children. Two of our children are African-American. It is impossible to watch yet another news story about white cops killing black men and women and not imagine your own black child dead on the ground.
It is an image that swallows you up and takes you to very dark places.
In a few months our oldest son will begin to drive. His Papa has already started driving lessons with him. It is a very exciting time for him, for our entire family really. His younger siblings imagine a taxi to service all their whims. His fourteen year old brother dreams of his own personal GrubHub. His Papa and I marvel at how much he has grown in the last few years since he has been our son —from a scared, young boy into a confident, strong black man. And he, behind the wheel of the family van, envisions weekends spent driving around with friends and dates with pretty girls that don’t involve his Dad having to play chauffeur.
I want to pause here for a minute and say that I will never understand what it means to be black in America. I may have a more intimate perspective because of my children, but I am still on the outside looking in and no amount of perspective will ever give me insight into the reality of racism in America.
But I can speak as a parent of a black child and share with you the fear I have every time my child leaves the house. It is outrageous that when we are out together in public my “magical whiteness” protects my black children, but the moment they are out of my sight the potential exists for them to become the next news story simply because of the color of their skin.
So, my oldest son is learning to drive. We’ve had the driving talk with him—what to do if you are ever pulled over by the police. Hands on the dashboard where the police can clearly see them. Reach for nothing in the car or in your pockets. No matter what the police may say to you, no matter how they might speak to you, you reply, “Yes, sir.” You don’t argue. You don’t talk back. You take every last indignity because humiliation is better than death.
And I don’t have to have that talk with my 14-year-old because the reality is my black son is 25 percent more likely to be pulled over by the police than my white son…and it has become abundantly clear how far too many of those traffic stops end for black men.
Despite this obscene reality, when he gets behind the wheel of the family van we are excited for him and this rite of passage. We are excited because the alternative stops your breath.
This is America.
I may never fully understand the horrors of racism, but through my children I see glimpses into the darkness because my children live it. Every second of every hour of every day.
They deserve better.
We need to be better.