As a Black man, I felt it. That feeling that some people were no longer looking at me innocently or curiously but suspiciously. To appease onlookers, and make them more comfortable, I did a variety of things. I dressed up. I elevated the pitch in my voice. I emphasized my academic credentials whenever I could — anything for people to not default my melanin as threatening. I needed to protect myself. I continue to carry the protective armor, depending on the space. I am saddened that I have to prepare my sons to deal with bias. Hopefully, these experiences will change for the better. In the meantime, I will protect my sons by preparing them.
Protect from Prejudice
At some point, my children will be prejudged based on their skin color. Mean, disparaging racial tropes will follow them casting shadows over their incredible spirits. No longer will they be that adorable kid who scored all those touchdowns. Nor will they be the kid who starred in the school play. No longer will their straight A’s be enough to shield them. Now this racialized world will see them differently. To some, they may even be vilified. Their basketball hoodies are now menacing when before they were just a fashion statement. As difficult as it is to experience, I want them ready. One way I’m protecting my sons from bias and prejudice is to prepare them. First, I’m going to establish a “conversation” thread about bias at home. Next, I will validate their experiences when they share them with me. Then, I will walk the journey with them.
Create a Conversation Forum
With all that is going on — the unrest, the anger, the frustration, the fear — it’s essential to establish a conversation space for my sons. They need space for us to process together as a family. While an event may ignite a conversation, the discussions should not end with the event. Instead, I am checking-in regularly. We discuss issues around discrimination and bias, share articles and insightful videos, and read books together. We watch movies together then chat about topics surrounding race and oppression. When bias occurs, I want them to know there is an open forum at home.
Validate the Hurt and the Experiences
Knowing when your child has experienced bias is sometimes tricky. Prejudice comes in many forms and is not always easily identifiable. Give them space to tell you their experiences and listen intently. I listen for hurt and check their self-esteem. I may even share my own experiences. It can be scary to share an incident where you’ve experienced bias. It could be seen as weak to disclose. And even though I am strong, I too am afraid. After all, George Floyd was a 46-year-old father. I am a 46-year-old Black father. Everyone processes bias differently, but it’s essential to validate their hurt and their experiences. I want them to be resilient and look past pain. Part of me wants them not to dwell, but acknowledgment is an integral part of the process.
Walk the Journey with Them
I want my sons to know that these issues can be difficult but that we will be with them by their side. And when our sons experience different forms of bias and want to do something about it, I will be there. If my sons want to express their frustrations through protests, I will be there with them. If they need someone to commiserate and cry to, I will be there with them. If they need me to remind them of their inner greatness, I will. Suppose they want to delve into the readings of Aimé Césaire (Négritude), Frantz Fanon (Black Skin, White Masks), or Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed), for a fuller perspective/understanding of the systemic inequities that exist. If that’s the case, I will get the books and read along with them. The reactions to my skin color forced me to create my shield. Fatherhood made me create an armor for my sons to prepare them for prejudice.
When I hear Black Lives Matter — this is not just a chant. It’s how I end every story I tell my sons. It’s how I emphasize that when others see the beauty in their Blackness, and try to minimize their light, stand proud in who they are and their legacy. I remind them: “Your voice matters. You matter. I want you to know I love you. You matter to me. As your father, I hope the world can see you through a loving, kind, and caring lens. And when it doesn’t, I am here to walk this journey with you.”