"Alan Friend, Vicksburg, Miss" by Baldwin Lee
As I waited in the school car line to pick up my younger son, I watched as a young African-American mother went to pick up her daughter from the daycare across the street. She was holding her toddler son. I watched them enter the day care and thought about how precious that baby boy was as he rested his head against her shoulder. Then, I felt a sense of mourning for that boy's life. Why?
How many whites view his young life as a miracle now but will their attitude and perception of him change as he grows older?
How will they see him when he's a teenager?
Or a young man?
Will they go from seeing him as precious to someone who's threatening? Someone to be scared of?
How will he view himself as he grows older?
Children all have such promise for their futures, but at what age will those dreams die or get lost?
Will he be one of those who get suspended? African-American males are 2 1/2 times more likely to be. How will he think of himself if he struggles academically? If he's one of the many 12th graders who can only read at an 8th grade level? How will his view of himself change if he even finishes school? Will he be one of the 40% of African-American males who do drop out?
How will he see himself when he gets older, goes into a store and finds himself watched more closely than his white peers?
And what about how he views the police? Sadly, if he's pulled over by a cop, his experience could far different than if one of my sons were.
How will he see himself when he sees young men like Michael Brown or Eric Garner or Tamir Rice or Alton Sterling or Freddie Gray killed by the police? How will he not see that his life is worth less? How will he not see the violent injustice that racism plays in this country?
As I thought about the future of this toddler, I mourned the narrative of race in our country. Of how this little boy will be far more aware of his skin color than my sons ever have to be. How often will he be judged not by his identity but simply by the pigment of his skin?
Will he be the one out of five that will suffer depression? Or, even more tragic, one of those who take their own lives? Suicide among African-American males have doubled in the last two decades. Suicide is the third leading cause of death (after heart disease and homicide).
Sitting there in my car, I prayed for that little boy. I prayed for his life and his future. I prayed that he would grow in stature and wisdom and success.
I prayed for change in this country and for that change to begin with me, as we can only pray.
And I mourned.
After all, how does this child go from being seen as a miracle to having to protest that his very life matters?
Two great books to read on the subject matter that I highly recommend are:
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin
Between The World And Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates