I have a nearly 8 year old son. He’s handsome, funny, smart, caring. He makes us proud. But in recent months I’ve become increasingly aware of the difficult conversations I’m going to have to have with him. Aside from the puberty and girls chat (eeek! Think I’ll leave those to hubby!) there’s a somewhat more challenging topic. Race.
It wouldn’t be fair to avoid it altogether and keep him wrapped in cotton wool for the rest of his life, but I have to manage how honest I am with him.
You see, I’ve told him that there are small minded people out there who treat people badly just because of the colour of his skin. He knows that had we been living a few decades ago he wouldn’t have made many of the friends he has, because they would have been sent to different schools. He knows about racism. He knows that it’s wrong.
But what he doesn’t know yet is that as he gets older, as he gets bigger, this issue will stop being just a conversation he has with his parents, or sees on the news, but will very likely become a genuine battle he will have to face. And that is a difficult conversation.
I can’t tell him that just by being a black boy/man he will automatically be treated as a statistic by many members of the society in which he lives.
I can’t tell him that this society will expect him to achieve less than his peers.
I can’t tell him that as he gets older and bigger, people might cross the road or clutch their bags tighter, or follow him around a shop, because they feel intimidated by him or just don’t trust him.
I can’t tell him that when he’s play fighting with his white friends, as boys often do, it’s his face that a passerby will most likely point out as the ‘aggressor’.
I can’t tell him that once he learns to drive, he will get stopped by the authorities at least once, regardless of the speed he is driving or the car he’s in.
I can’t tell him that he might not get that job or role he wants because his ‘face doesn’t fit’.
I can’t tell him that the confidence to debate and share opinions that we try to encourage in him will one day be seen by someone as having an attitude, being arrogant or even aggressive.
I can’t tell him that no matter how articulate and polite we raise him to be, some people will be shocked to hear him pronounce his t’s when he opens his mouth.
I can’t tell him that when people crack a joke with him in a generic ‘African american accent’, that there might be a hint of inappropriate unconscious bias, that the deliverer might not even be aware of.
I can’t tell him that he will experience negative relationships, sometimes without even knowing, where people will discreetly put him down and subtly treat him differently.
I can’t be the one to ruin his view of the world. Not yet. That time will inevitably come.
But what I can tell him as that he must continue to be a positive influence and think of the people who have and still fight for equality.
He must work harder than every one else to prove to any doubters just what he is capable of.
I can tell him the importance of building positive relationships, regardless of race, gender or background, where he and his friends feel free to discuss concerns, encourage each other and more importantly, look out for each other.
I can tell him that he shouldn’t be afraid to challenge and debate issues he feels strongly about, in a well rounded, articulate manner.
I can tell him that by putting his God-given talents to use, that he can make a difference.
Because by doing this – by continuing to be the smart, caring, honest, funny person he already is and I know will continue to be – he could be that person. He could be the one to spark a light in someone’s mind. He could make someone question their opinions and behaviours. He could be the one to change someone’s small-minded views for the better.
Now, isn’t that a more positive conversation to have?
PS. This post first appeared on the fabulous Selfish Mother