My husband and I found ourselves having “the talk” with our son, Sunday night—which is ironic in light of the advice Michael Vick gave to Colin Kaepernick, urging him to “cut his hair” in an effort to help him “find a job” on Tuesday. The talk—not the sex talk, but the other talk you have to have when you have a son who is African American—the "being black" talk. Our 14-year-old son sports the latest in hair trends. You know, the one that’s faded on the sides and in the back, and is curled/fro’d out at the top? That one.
He’d just returned home from a week long STEM camp at an HBCU, and was explaining to his father and I that he was advised by a camp counselor that upon attending college, he would need to “cut his hair”. My son, feet firmly planted in his beliefs—thanks to his father and I, was adamant about not going through with such a heinous act.
He continued with this story, in hopes that his father and I would side with him immediately, but much to his chagrin we didn’t. We didn’t mutter one word that would even remotely suggest that we were in agreement with his attachment to his hair. His father and I could see the betrayal in his eyes and it was at this time that we decided to have “the talk” with our son.
We had to explain to him that as an African American male, who has plans to attend college and become an engineer, the odds were already stacked against him. I am a product of an HBCU and his father a PWI (Predominately White Institution). His father and I had to explain to him the differences between HBCUs and PWIs with regards to his hair and "perception".
“At an HBCU we get it. They get it. They understand that, this hair situation you have is trendy and it’s what’s in style, but to “them”, you look like a “typical black kid,” I said.
I was careful with my words as to not make him feel self-conscious about his beautiful thick head of hair; however, It was more important for him to understand that we, African Americans, are not afforded the same opportunities as “them,” and as a result, we have to always be “Super Negro” when it comes to playing “their” game.
We are under no impression that you can dress your way out of racism or discrimination—that’s foolish—but we do need to impress upon our son that his skin color makes him a walking target, and we remind him that he already has two strikes against him: (1) he's black and (2) he's a male.
In fact, I began to get angry while having this conversation with him because I came to the startling reality that what I needed to tell him, I didn’t, I couldn't. There is no difference between my son and Trayvon Martin, or Kendrick Johnson, or Michael Brown, or Tamir Rice. He’s no different than any of those young men whose lives were abruptly ended because, let's be real, the only reason they are dead is because they were black and were perceived as a threat because of the way they looked!
Luckily, he wants to attend an HBCU. Luckily, our son gets it. Luckily, our son is well rounded. Luckily, our son is articulate. Right? WRONG! I couldn’t believe I was thinking this! I mean, come on! Who was I kidding because in truth, the only difference between those young men and our son, is that the barrel of a racist’s firearm hasn’t come face to face with our son—the perceived threat.
I think all too often upper middle class African Americans revel in this false sense of security because we’ve raised ours in a “controlled,” “safe” environment, and because they attend a culturally diverse school, and we all drive this kind of vehicle, and all of their friend’s parents are that—we think our children are safe. The thought is that our children are different, that they are above police brutality, and as a result, they cannot be lynched at the hands of overzealous gun toting, badge protected man of the law. WAKE UP! Yes they damn well can!
His father and I cannot dress him out of the grasp of racism. We cannot teach him how to properly use words which consist of more than three syllables in an effort to “make him sound intelligent,” in hopes that “they” will spare his life. In fact, I can’t even make him promise his father and I he will return home alive!
But what we can make him promise us is this: