Raising a black son in the time of Michael Brown and Eric Garner

    Like every parent, I often feel lost. When I do, I try to find a way, an angle, or a path to follow because even when it’s not the perfect path, I feel comforted when I am doing something.But with recent grand jury decisions in the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, I worry that the path of outrage that every cell in my body is screaming at me to take may not be the one that keeps my son safe. 

    I am scared, saddened and very angry about the failures to indict on even a single count. It denies us all a chance to better understand the complexities of what happened.

    I am a mom to a black son. He is a good, kind kid. But he is angry about the deaths of unarmed black males.

    I wonder if it’s my job to stay calm, to soothe him, to deflect, or redirect his anger? While it feels like that would be denying his experience, it also feels like what might keep him safest. Or will it leave him feeling helpless, like no one understands?

    So do I let him feel the anger that he has every right to feel? Or do I try to de-escalate those feelings because if he’s angry, he’s more at risk?

    Do I tell my children that even though I am not black, I understand? Or is that insulting? Do I just listen, knowing as hard as I try, I will never truly understand?

    Do I apologize for the failures of the system? For the oppression black males face in this country? For the gross injustices of institutional racism? Or do I teach them to believe that the system can work?

    Do I share the tears I shed for the unarmed black males who’ve been killed at the hands of people in power? Or do try to I shield my children from that grim reality?

    Do I let them know that the system is rigged? Or do I tell them that the evidence behind the fatal police shootings of unarmed black men just isn’t enough to warrant a trial? That we can “indict a ham sandwich” but not a police officer who guns down an unarmed black 18 year old? Or one who is recorded choking a black man to death in broad daylight?

    Do I let him know that announcing the grand jury’s decision at 9 p.m. was setting Ferguson up for violence? That it was like a staged play? Or do I shake my head and wag my finger at the people who weren’t heeding the pleas of Michael Brown’s parents as they called for change through peaceful protests?

    Do I let him know how devastated, fed up, scared, tired and angry I feel? Or do I find us both opportunities to do something, to speak out, feel empowered and be heard?

    The only thing that seems clear in this is that there is no clear path. But there may be answers to all of those seemingly opposing questions…because the answer to all of the above seems to be pointing towards yes.

    I can show my son that I love him and that I care — about him and about Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Tamir Rice, Eric Garner and so many others. I can show him I’m angry and sad and want to help change things. That we will speak up, speak out and work for change.

    I can acknowledge how layered, entangled and complex things are. How badly the system needs to change, but how this system IS the system he will face.

    I can try to be a sounding board for his thoughts and feelings, but I will also work to let him know what he needs to do, what his friends need to do, to be as safe as possible in a country where this keeps happening.

    Because that’s the staggering reality of what it’s like to raise a black son in America.

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