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Life Lessons

Had a conversation with kid #1 (12 years old), about how to handle himself if he’s been stopped by the cops, or someone like Zimmerman. Somewhere in the middle of explaining how to protect his head & neck if a cop decided to kick his ass (happened to my husband when he was 13), and how to respond if a cop calls him a nigger (happened to me at 12) I had this sudden ridiculous urge to start screaming. I didn’t.

I kept talking to him, and he mentioned racist kids at his school & how there’s one teacher who lets them get away with it, but who threatens to write him up if he says anything back. And I asked him if he wanted us to get involved & he said no because he’d already handled it. How did he handle it? He told the teacher to go ahead & write him up and then they could all talk to the principal about the things she lets kids say to him. She left him alone after that so he doesn’t want me to come wreck shit.

Which…says a lot about my kid & about our family I guess, but the reality is that it’s good that he’s learning to defend himself against the system. And shit like that is why we stay in cities & don’t live in suburbs. My parents moved me to burbs in high school, and it was a lot more than one teacher turning a blind eye to racism. I don’t have any answers for other parents of young black males. None. I’m muddling through & hoping that this can all be life lessons he never needs to use.

But, his 19 year old cousin is planning to come over & talk to him about dealing with the cops because he’s been there and done that. And I just…we’re passing down through the generations life lessons on how to handle/avoid police brutality because it’s just that necessary. And people want to claim that America is post racial, or racism isn’t widespread. How many individual acts does it take to make up a system? How many beatings, rapes, & deaths will it take for that system to be acknowledged by everyone?

8 thoughts on “Life Lessons”

  1. jsb16 says:

    I teach in a suburban high school with a large percentage of African-American students (just about all economic classes). The community is extremely racially mixed (at least African/European descent, not so many Asian/Native descent) and economically mixed, and likes to think of itself as very liberal. But (mostly African-American) students call each other nigger in the halls and classrooms. They claim they’re “reclaiming” the word (while using queer and gay and homo as deadly insults) or using nigga (which, by virtue of being nigger said in a Boston accent, is apparently magically divorced from all of the connotations associated with the n-word). If I write them up for it, I’m told I need to talk to their parents before the administration will get involved. It’s enough to drive me crazy.

    I hope kid #1 continues to stand up for himself and never needs to use your lessons. Maybe his kids or his grandkids won’t need to be taught those lessons.

  2. J Smith says:

    I am about as white as they come, and I avoid the suburbs for the same reason. While living in Toronto, I was playing women’s soccer in a league that had teams from all over the metro area. My team was a typical Toronto team, with a variety of racial backgrounds represented. One especially blond team was always rude to us, but one day they went over the top and starting casting racial slurs at my teammates. When our team representative went over to talk to their coach, he told his team, “You don’t need to talk to this trash,” and walked out. Anyone who thinks racism is no longer an issue needs to wake up.

  3. occhiblu says:

    I’m white. I’m grieving that I live in a society where these conversations need to happen between parents and their kids. I don’t have kids yet, but I will make sure I teach them, explicitly, that neither racist acts nor supporting racist systems are ok. I hope we can get to a place where parents of color don’t have to teach children how to respond to racially motivated violence, because I simply can’t imagine how heartbreaking it must be to have to have that conversation, and I wish it was equally unimaginable for you.

  4. metaphortunate says:

    Karnythia posted about her entirely reasonable fear that the police are going to hurt and abuse her kid someday, and the way he’s already having to deal with racists in power. Is that really the place for you to come and complain about how black kids are using language in a way you don’t approve of? It’s not actually the same problem.

  5. jsb16 says:

    Given that it’s an example of the continued propagation of racist norms, even in places that should (and claim to) know better, yes, I did think this was a place for me to share my experiences and frustrations with the racist society we live in. Trust me, it’s not the kids who’re following in the tradition of Langston Hughes and Shirley Ann Jackson who “us[e] language in a way [I] don’t approve of,” and I’m not only one doesn’t approve of it (

  6. Stephanie says:

    @jsb Your use of the phrase “African-American” makes me suspect that you also consider yourself colorblind.

  7. jsb16 says:

    @Stephanie No, I don’t. I don’t have a high opinion of the perceptiveness of people who consider themselves colorblind (with respect to race), either.

  8. john macadam says:

    It is always white police officers that act in an aggressive manor towards black men and women, does asian and black police act the same way? what about female police officers v male police officers? does that make a difference? I am asking as I am curious if the culture of the police forces exacerbates predisposed attitudes or creates it

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