The twins turned 13 years old back in October. Now while they are still adorably cute to me I had to accept the fact that they are viewed as a threat to society. I honestly believe this is due largely in part to the systematic dehumanization of the black male achieved by the media. A little over a year ago I decided to start conversations with them about how to conduct themselves in the predominately white school they attended. The murders of Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice sparked a fear inside of me that no mother should ever have to endure.
Our discussions were great and the decision to have them watch the Netflix documentary titled “13th” took it to another level. Please don’t worry this isn’t a spoiler if you have yet to view “13th”, so stay with me I have a point. I decided to have the Twins view the documentary so that we can discuss their thoughts, feelings and the questions I prepared. I was surprised at just how involved they were and their response. They were both quite attentive while watching and full of their own questions after the documentary ended. We discussed what the 13th amendment was, the ramifications of politicians taking advantage of the loopholes in the 13th amendment and how the media assisted in criminalizing young black men. Their questions were perceptive, earnest and somewhat naïve. It all made for a good eye-opening conversation for us.
The difficulty I had with talking about the systematic oppression people of color experience centered on wanting the twins to retain the innocence of their youth. I mean I didn’t want to tarnish their view of the world they lived in but unfortunately black children aren’t always afforded an extended stay in “naïveté”. It’s a sad truth and the time has come for it to be revealed, explained and discussed. Like many other mothers, want my children to succeed and rise to the level of their greatest potential. This often means making sacrifices, enduring awkward conversations, being open, honest and taking the time out to teach them what social injustice resembles. It is important to balance bringing awareness to them and ensuring that they don’t become jaded. I want them to be proud of their racial identity and respectful of others. I believe that this has to begin with them knowing the history of our people and our country.
I was awaken by the oldest of the twins at about 3am in the morning. He was worried about what he saw in the documentary and he still had questions. He told me “Momma, I can’t stop thinking about that movie and why they think we are all bad.” I assured him that not everyone believed that however there is a system that needs to be altered and was stacked against minorities. What kind of answers do you give a boy that has friends from different races and backgrounds he genuinely likes? How do you soothe the mind of a teen you know has a heart for others? When is there a good time to have these types of discussions? I encouraged him to maintain his friendships, to do his best in making decisions and remain mindful of what his reality is. The truth of the matter is his results won’t be the same as his friends. I had to accept that and in order for me to keep him safe I needed him to do the same. “You are NOT less than, John. Some people are just afraid of allowing others that look like us to be GREAT!”
I read Dr. Beverly Tatum’s book “Why are all the black kids sitting together in the cafeteria” for a class I was taking. I didn’t realize at the time how timely the material in the book would be for me when talking to the twins. Dr. Tatum shares insight on the impact of racism, racial identity and the lack of addressing racial issues. Reading this book I realized that it’s my duty to address these issues that would affect my kids during their formative years. I also had to prepare myself for the questions they’d have and the uneasiness I was sure to feel. I must admit one of my greatest concerns was to make sure they continued to treat people fairly. I needed them to know that conversations on race are essential in order for there to be an informed understanding of the minority’s reality. Racial biases are formed early and typically are taught. Breaking the silence to talk about race and accepting differences will help to nurture an open mind. I want them to embrace people on the content of character not the color of their skin. I want them to live who they are....embracing all aspect of being Black and American!