At what age does a black male child learn that others see him as scary?

This question holds some weight today. If the past week has taught us anything, it’s that being black in America is impossible and always has been.

Before the viral age of retweets and hashtags, there was Emmet Till; in 1955, Till’s mother stood over the unrecognizable beaten body of her 14-year-old son in an open casket.

It’s been said that seeing is believing, but for some, even seeing doesn’t matter. At the height of the first Civil Rights Movement and struggle for black equality, the whole entire world saw Emmett’s young body in newspapers and in magazines. You would’ve thought seeing his body would have been enough to shake the American consciousness like an earthquake. Shake it enough to awaken, to rise against racism that was alive and well then and is alive and well now.  

Unless you’re not willing to really see, or have been living under a rock, you can’t ignore the facts:

Alton Sterling.

Philando Castile.

And if you don’t know their names, I implore you: Dig, do some research and familiarize yourself with them as people, with their friends, families and careers. And there are more. Too many more.  

Michael Brown, Jr., 18.

Tamir Rice, 12.

Tony Robinson, 19.  

David Joseph, 17.

Those are the names and ages of black males who have been shot by police in recent years. I only listed 4 names. But every 28 hours in this country, the police, THE POLICE — the ones sworn to serve and protect — kill a black person in America. Because I can’t turn a blind eye to the facts, I can’t help but to wonder if there will be a hashtag for my son, Elijah.

But they are all our sons. This is the burden of black parenthood.  

America has a peculiar thing with history, and what I’ve learned is that black people face a clear and ever-present danger from those who swore to protect them.

Like every parent, I want the best for my son. It’s instinctive to me that I do everything in my power to protect him – and the definition of protecting him continues to expand. It means making sure he crosses the street safely, making sure his shoes are tied, giving him access to proper nutrition, teaching him about stranger danger and teaching him that no matter what – listen, obey, stop or run, there’s a likelihood that when he is stopped by the police, he could lose his life.

I’ve been struggling with how I can protect my son in the “land of the free” – a country that, since day one, has said his life is less than and at a disadvantage.

A country that demonstrates that it’s not murder if the police shoot him for playing with a toy, demonstrates that it’s not murder if the police are doing a raid and he’s just sleeping on the couch. Demonstrates that being suspended from pre-school and elementary school will happen at a rate more than twice that of his white peers, and that, growing up in Milwaukee, he can expect to spend some time in prison by the time he reaches age 30.

Last night I cried after I tucked him in bed.

This morning, I hugged him a little tighter. I’m scared. I don’t know when the last time will come.

And this is the very real, heavy burden of black parenthood in America today.

As Americans, at a very young age, we’re taught to believe our Constitution, we’re taught to celebrate our independence, to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, that’s it’s ok to go to war for our country. But what happens when you do all of that and none of it matters?

What do you do when you’re reading in your history book about how the greatest country on Earth called your ancestors animals, considered your family, only a few generations removed, as three-fifths of a person, and has called you inferior and set you at a disadvantage?

In our books, we’re taught to “hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

But in real life, my son is almost 7 years old and these things are fact:

His lighter-complexion won’t save him.

His Montessori education won’t save him.

The 44th President of the United State of America won’t save him.

His deep brown eyes and pronounced dimples won’t save him.

All the ‘pleases, thank-you’s,’ and ‘No, sir, Yes, sir’ won’t save him.

So, I’m asking again because my brain can’t compute: At what age does a black male child learn that others see him as scary?

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