My sons are 12 & 5. They’re black. Male. Adorable. Sweet. Sarcastic. Silly. Oh sure, my oldest is biracial, but he can’t pass for anything but light skinned black male. And he chooses to ID as black. Some of that is probably about his biological father’s abandonment & his subsequent attachment to his black stepfather. He’s a great kid, who loves life, video games, his family, drawing & girls. He also loves math, science, & reading. Oh, and he’s a huge fan of roughhousing with his cousins, his brother, & his dad. I cannot imagine my life without him in it.
My youngest son has communication issues. We’re still trying to figure out why, but suffice to say he’s very selective about who he speaks to & what he’ll say. Drives us nuts some days because he’s a chatterbox at home, but often silent at school. He doesn’t ID as much of anything at this point beyond his name & status as the boss of all he surveys. He’s such a big little person. All curiosity & busyness & giggles. Loves his older brother, videogames, & cartoons. He’s a physical little soul, all about the wrestling & the snuggling. He’s our little maniacal superstar.
Now, you know a little bit about my kids. Let’s talk about what it means to be 12 & 5 and children of color. Remember I mentioned that my youngest has communication issues? He’s in special ed for part of the day. Sometimes when he’s really upset he can’t articulate why he’s upset. Fortunately his teachers are excellent & they know just how to handle those moments. But if they didn’t? He might wind up in handcuffs. Now let’s talk about my 12 year old. He’s a smart ass with a penchant for doodling when he’s bored in class. His teachers have been known to make him help clean the desks when his markers stray from the page. Fortunately he’s never been arrested for it.
Mind you, these are relatively benign outcomes for children of color who have contact with the justice system. Other outcomes can include false accusations, an increased risk of being charged as an adult, or being shot to death in your own home. Think about that for a minute. Adults of color aren’t safe in America & neither are their children. People keep claiming we’re post racial, or that racism isn’t that big of a deal, or whatever else makes them feel better. But when you have to worry about racism affecting your income, housing, education, healthcare, and the safety of your children? Then it’s much more than an inconvenience or a joke. This is my life. This is my sons’ lives. This is the lives of millions of families. It’s not funny, or easy, or something that can be overcome by pretending it doesn’t exist.