I had a little crying moment at the park this afternoon.

A couple of weeks ago my sons got their first ever bikes. So far we've only been letting them ride in the gated parking lot in back of our building. But today I let them ride their bikes over to our local park.

They rode around and around on a flat, paved loop, but finally decided they wanted to ride up the sloped dirt trail. Neither are super skilled at getting up slopes yet so it took some pushing to get them to the crest. But once they got there, they were more than ready to cruise to the bottom.

The seven year-old, "O", is a much more cautious rider, so he rode his brakes the whole way down the slope. But his four year-old daredevil brother, "T", screamed, "Rock on, baby!" at the top of his lungs and pumped his fist in the air the whole way down the slope. He rode so fast down the incline that I couldn't catch him even though I ran as fast as I could. (Sigh. My slow running is another issue entirely.) I was so worried because I totally thought he was going to crash.

In contrast, he was absolutely fearless.

It was really something to see my little wild baby refuse to look back even once. It really got me in the gut to see how he's growing up thinking he's absolutely invincible. He's whip smart, he's creative and he's not afraid to take risks.

So what made me cry? Well, it all got me thinking about how I've known so many other black males over the years who have also been smart, creative, outgoing, risk-takers... and they've had to deal with so much. I think about all the black males I've known who had blowout parties on their 25th birthdays because they honestly didn't think they'd live to see that age.

My mom can't even trace her patrilineal DNA because all the males in her family are dead. Her father died well before I was born. My brother is dead. My uncle is dead as well. My great uncles are dead. Sometimes I look at my sons and think about all of those relatives they won't know, men who had to work around not just the systemic lack of opportunity or institutionalized oppression, but also the psychological and emotional weight of racism. And it undeniably affected their health and/or their mental stability.

What's the weight? Marian Wright Edelman sums it up:

"Only 3 out of 100 Black males entering kindergarten will graduate from college. Every 5 seconds during the school day, a Black public school student is suspended. Every 46 seconds during the school day, a Black high school student drops out. Every minute, a Black child is arrested and a Black baby is born to an unmarried mother. Every 3 minutes, a Black child is born into poverty. Every hour, a Black baby dies. Every 4 hours, a Black child or youth under 20 dies from an accident, and every 5 hours, a Black youth is a homicide victim. Every day, a Black young person under 25 dies from HIV infection and a Black child or youth under 20 commits suicide."

And as much as I get up every day and 100% tell myself that my sons are not going to be a part of any of that because I'm making sure it doesn't happen, the reality is that so many other parents of black children have said the exact same thing.

Sometimes that reality gets to me. Sometimes I find myself getting stressed out thinking about how I can't slack at all when I come to my boys. I know I probably add to the pressure by operating with this fear.

With all of the violence going on in this city, these days I think about how I don't want my sons to grow up as teenagers in Los Angeles. I don't want them to be anywhere someone will drive by and shoot them because they're black. I don't want them stopped by the police and harassed. But where in the United States can we go where that sort of reality doesn't have the possibility of taking place?

My son hasn't caught on yet that he's supposed to walk softly and talk softly so he doesn't scare anybody. He doesn't know yet that when he does succeed someone will tell him it's only because he's black. And if he opens his mouth to acknowledge what he's going through, he'll get told he's playing the race card. Now though, if someone does something wrong to him, he expects immediate justice and he's come to believe that justice and fairness are fundamental to his world.

So when I see my son owning a slope like that, knowing he is worthy, capable, wonderful and smart, knowing he is invincible and just as much a rock star as any other child on that playground, I cherish that. I know it's going to hurt to see that start to get chipped away.


Anonymous said…
I was aware of a lot of those statistics you quote, Liz, but it's still shocking to see them all put together like that. Knowing all that must be a heavy burden for a parent to bear, wanting children to fulfill their potential but worried they may never do so. They have to be so strong and principled and determined to get what they want and overcome all the prejudice.
BlackLiterature said…
I think about this often and as an expectant parent, It hurts my heart to heart to read what you wrote.
Even though I am having a girl, I wonder how this wil effect her views of herself, her place in life. I can remember being unmarried in my twenties and hearing my mother talking about the statistial trends for Black men in Oakland and questioning options for Black women.

There were a several kids at Obama event in Charlotte yesterday. Post event, there was the usual hand shaking, book signing and flesh pressing. As I was leaving, I passed a group of Black boys walking to the bus stop. They'd attended the event and were EXCITED about shaking Obama's hand. In that moment, Those young boys in their tee shirts 4x too large and their sloppy jeans made me smile. I didn't see an adult, so I wondered if they went to the event on their own, how they felt, what was going on in their minds. They just seemed so excited. I hope they are carrying that spirit with them today.
Jameil said…
but you know your baby is amazing right? this is how it starts. i love that he yelled out "Rock on, baby!" what a fabulous child. his sense of fairness and justice will work marvelously for him. i'm so excited to read about his power. it's normal to shed overwhelmed and sad tears at the thought of someone trying to cut down your baby but you know what? i think he's gonna be ok.

black literature's last paragraph just brough tears to my eyes. i don't think non-black people can truly understand what this campaign means to our community. i think that's where the "he has 90% of the black vote" stats arise.
Anonymous said…
Your boys are so beautiful, inside and out, and they would be wonderful role models for my son if we only lived closer! It is hard raising boys in that society, or almost anywhere, especially when they are black. What you do have after ten years in LA, in terms of a community of supportive friends, is worth so much though and would take ages to build up again.
thailandchani said…
That's the whole thing. Where *can* you go in this country that won't present the exact same problems, although perhaps not as extreme (or maybe 'overt' is the better word)?

But I can't help but think that your kids, any kids, as long as they have a strong foundation, get in the habit of making good choices.
1969 said…
As you know, I feel the same way. I do believe that the difference for our sons is US and our strong family unit. I have to believe that.
R. Lee Gordon said…
As a soon-to-be father, it's scary to think of the world I'm bringing my beautiful, precious child into . . .

I live in Ann Arbor, Michigan, to, among other reasons, insulate my child of too many stark and potentially brutal realities associated with my birthplace (New York City) or as I am reading more frequently about in other parts of this country . . .

We should all work together to better our youth, people and planet . . .

I believe doing so starts with a better quality education of our youth, which is, thus, my calling . . .

One in UniTee and all the best . . .

R. Lee Gordon
UniTee Design, Inc.
Toll Free: 888.OUR.RBG.TEES
Jen said…
Okay, so this is just weird. I also live in Ann Arbor, MI, because I wanted to avoid the violence of NYC where I grew up.

And I know my son has had a simpler, easier life than I had growing up.

And Jameil, no, I don't think non-black people can understand what the campaign means to your community, but one of the wonders of Obama is that he brings hope and healing to our entire community. And we need to stop the racist nonsense and work together to build healing and rebuild this country.

Reading your posts can be heartbreaking, Liz, but they're very important. And you've stated all this brilliantly.

And yes, you have terrific sons, and I agree with 1969 that the support of the family unit (when possible - I know some families kill themselves to make life better and still it deals them major blows) will help tremendously in determining our sons' physical and mental health and happiness in life.
Liz, once again your writing has really moved me.

My brother has two young sons and I wonder what kind of world they will live in.

I agree having a strong family helps alot. When we moved out to the 'burbs I heard the "n word" so often you would have thought it was my name. My parents and my extended family in the Caribbean did for me and my siblings what you are doing for your sons. Yes they will still have to deal with racism but they will have better coping skills and won't let other people define them.

Re: L.A. There are places in the U.S. where one doesn't have to worry about drive-by shootings every day, the schools are better and the cost of living is lower.
Lisa Blah Blah said…
Liz, first of all: your kids are gorgeous and I love the absolute fearlessness of "T." I hope he can retain his boldness and his confidence, and I think your famiy is a big part of that.

I understand your fears and thought this might give you some hope: two of my nephews are strong, confident young black men. One is 18 and in his freshman year on a scholarship to a small liberal arts college. The other is 19 and (much to my initial dismay) happily stationed in Nevada, in the Air Force. They have both had their share of challenges and moments that could easily have gone badly - I'm thinking of one moment in particular when some gang members started hassling the younger one, then 16, outside a convenient store. Or then there was the time the police were doing a sweep of the area and showed up at the door, guns drawn (my sister-in-law flinging her arms out and pushing both boys behind her because she would rather be shot than have one of her boys taken). They are good kids, never been in any kind of trouble besides the usual "logged too many minutes on the cell phone" kind of stuff.

I think the reason they turned out so well is that they were raised by a very large, very strong-minded and loving extended family. (If they got bad grades, they didn't just get a talking to from their parents -- they had to hear from their aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc. They knew that we all expected them to do well, but also just as importantly, that we would do whatever was in our power to help them get there.)

Yes, I know that life can bring us things we don't expect, and it often does. What I see in my own baby is that we have instilled in her that same confidence and eagerness to just grab onto life and take it for a ride. And I think that early confidence will serve her and T. well as they get older.
Ian Lidster said…
My wish is that your children become all that they can become, which is a great deal. With strong parents like they have, their opportunities should be endless.
Liz Dwyer said…
It does weigh on me, sometimes more times than others. Knowing those sort of statistics makes it even more difficult to stomach the line of thinking that racism doesn't exist anymore or that race doesn't matter even more infuriating, because it clearly does.

There are so many issues impacting girls as well. Increasingly so, I think. Black girls are so targeted by negative media and stereotyping. When I saw those statistics that came out last week on STDs in black teens and knowing how rates of HIV are increasing most with black women, I just felt sick. Such is the imperative to teach our girls that their value does not lie between their legs or in the length of their hair weave. I know all that's got to be just as hard to deal with.

That's so touching and encouraging that you saw those kids at the event. I hope that excitement will inspire them to do their own great things! My eldest asked me to buy him a book about Obama so I bought him an elementary school type of bio. He loves reading it. No matter what happens in the election, it's been very cool to see him doing that.

He really is an amazing boy. I'm always so proud of his spirit and I know he'll be okay. Actually I think he'll be better than okay because he's got that fire!

I wish we lived closer as well. I'd love them to be able to hang out and be supports for each other.
I do have a sense of community here, but I increasingly wonder if, as much as I love it here, if it's worth what could happen if we stay here. Gosh, I want the world to change right now!

I don't think there's anywhere we could go. Even if we moved to a farm in Kansas or a ranch in Idaho there'd still be some sort of issues. Some of it is the challenges that come with parenting anyway, but I don't think there's anywhere that's racism free, sadly enough.

I know. I have to believe that also. The strong foundation is the key to it all. Without it, and without faith in God, I don't think I'd ever let them out of the house.

R. Lee Gordon,
I went by your site and love the tees. I especially like the women's "Make Black History Everday 365" shirt. Very nice.

You make me think about how I read "Beloved" by Toni Morrison in my senior year of high school, and although touched by the novel, I didn't really understand the emotions of it until I became a parent.

I went to Ann Arbor for the first time last fall for just a couple of hours and it is a very cute place...but very cold!

See, Michigan needs to have you all advertising for them! You could be in commercials that run in NYC media markets. My neighborhood in LA often feels like a small town but that's probably because I've gotten used to so many things.

You are so right. We do need to stop the racist craziness in this country and heal the wounds that so gravely afflict our world. We can do it in our own personal spheres of influence, but it's all so ingrained. Sigh, sometimes it gets me down.

Can I put my boys on the plane to Italy with you? (Although Italy and the rest of Europe are clearly not racism free.)

I do so much to make sure my boys know that other people do not decide who they are. Other people don't ultimately define them. I just sometimes feel scared knowing that someone could come and snatch all that away. The suppose the reality is though that that could happen anywhere. -- But I hear you on cost of living. It needs to go down!

Thank you so much for those stories you shared about your nephews and the situations they've been in. That's the sort of stuff I worry about. It does give me hope. I know it's possible -- gosh, I can't wait to see my sons off at college, doing amazing things. My sons do know we expect them to do well and to have an unimpeachable character and I can already see that having those expectations already makes such a difference in the choices they make and who they're becoming.

I wish that as well. I often think that what I can imagine is certainly less than what they will actually achieve and who they'll become. I am sometimes in awe of them and just how grounded they both are (even though the little one is sometimes a bit wild!).
Liz this just breaks my heart. I am so sorry for all your losses. I fear for my sons too. I almost can't stand to read what you quoted except that it lets me know we are not alone in our anger and outrage. Your sons are amazing and wonderful.
This is so heartbreaking, Liz. I absolutely believe that your beautiful sons will be able to fully enjoy their lives as they deserve because they have a strong family support system. That makes all the difference for individual children.

But it is not enough. Somehow we all need to change things so that EVERY child in America has the same opportunities, and those ghastly statistics finally become meaningless. We can only accomplish this by working together and rejecting such dismal futures for anyone's children.
Lydia said…
Okay, I'm crying now.

I completely understand your angst with being a mom of black males.

I remember crying when I gave birth for the second time and the doctor told me it was a boy. I couldn't imagine being a single mom in Los Angeles raising a boy.

I would love to transplant my son, who is now 13 and entering the "mommy can't protect you forever" phase.

I know that you will continue to do a phenomenal job, not worry more than necessary, and believe that your sons have the belief, spirit and presence to shield them from the horrifying statistics.

They will be agents of change!
Liz Dwyer said…
They are amazing boys, a thousand times better than I am in so many ways. I am hopeful we're moving toward a world where everyone is outraged to see such statistics about any group of people and is willing to do something about it so that no one has to fear for the child's safety.

I couldn't agree more. I used to tell teachers I supervised that they needed to teach their students like they were their own children or were going to end up married to their children. We need to reject and denounce the endemic lack of equal opportunities and resources that foster such statistics!

I wish none of us have to think about this stuff but it does make me feel better to know that there are other folks making it work too. But I can see me never wanting to let my son walk down to the corner store on his own, not wanting him to go to sporting events, not wanting to let him go to the mall with his friends, all because of the fear that some knucklehead will shoot him. I can only pray to keep my sanity when I think about stuff like that. It really wears on me.
leila said…
thank you.

you're making me cry a lot. a LOT. but thank you.

i can't do anything else right now except cry.

i'll come back later and try to say something else other than how much i'm crying.

love from leila
Sundry said…
Love, love these photos. Especially T in front of the mural. That's framable!

I can only offer the hope that strong kids who start out with the expectation of instant justice will change the world by helping it to rise to their challenge.

I'm not sure a lot of people have that in their character, whatever their race or economic level. My sister and I are very different in that regard. She says how amazing it was the way I disagreed with my dad at the dinner table even as a little kid. She has struggled to feel an entitlement to voice her opinions all her life, I think.

So he's ahead of the game right now, and he has a thoughtful family around him to help him stay strong.
It's scary hard to raise a child well - especially any child of color. I think of the boys/men in prison. Opportunity and education keeps people out of prison. Too bad that wasn't available for them.
Liz Dwyer said…
I wish more people would cry like you and see that the statistics are a very real, horrible thing. I

He likes that photo as well. I am really bad about getting my digital photos printed up. I need to do it more.

I agree that he's got something, a spark, an energy that's really unique to him, but I guess what I mean is that I've seen a disproportionate number of black males have their dreams just crushed -- or they are not allowed to dream to begin with. I think about a crappy 1st grade classroom I sat in a year ago. The teacher yelled at some chatty black boys in the room with such anger and did not yell at the Latino boys when they chose to also misbehave. It's that kind of stuff that just kills the souls of children. It makes me sick.

Opportunity and education do go a long way, thaat's for sure. We need more of both.
La♥audiobooks said…
Los Angelista,

I have to admit that's part of the reason why I'm so glad I didn't have a son (I feel I better relate to a female child instead). I'm sorry all that pain was inflicted on your family.

I could imagine how you feel with your sons, and with good reason. I don't know any inspiring answers myself, but I do feel things are going to get better, and WILL be better for your boys. Just continue to be the great mom that you are, communicate with them always, don't shield them from these things they really need to know about. They sound like brilliant and awesome little boys, who will grow into dynamic men with wonderful families of their own. :)
Liz, thanks for being fearless yourself and putting the raw feelings of a mother of color in America out there for all to see. I'm encouraged that noone in their response has told you that you are just being paranoid or that things aren't as bad as you are making them out to be. I hope I get to meet your boys in person one of these days. They have an "uncle" and big fan on the east coast, make sure that they know that. Also as you know from my own posting, the impact on mind, body and soul of the worry you have to live with is very real and rarely discussed. Thanks for being fearless on behalf of us all.
Liz Dwyer said…
La ~ msviswan
Thanks for the encouragement. It means a lot. I think things will get better but I want better to happen right now, you know? And interestingly enough, I've been told I'm lucky I have boys instead of girls because then I don't have to comb their hair! :)

That's a good point that no one has discounted the experience on this blog, but I've had many in-person conversations where it has been marginalized.

Today I really felt the burden of this when I was taling to my sister and she was describing some of the things that are happening to my two teenage nephews. The negativity really steps up it's pace the older black boys get. -- I do hope mine get to meet their Uncle Phillipe someday. I'm sure they'd love to regale you with tales of "Bobo Fett"!
Sundry said…
I didn't mean to diminish what you and the boys face. I think I'm pretty of out of touch with what's going on with kids today.

One of my nephews has been offered every advantage but is messing up his life royally and will probably end up doing some serious jail time. But I think it's partly a character issue, because his sibs are working through the obstacles.
I'm looking forward to the Bobo Fett conversation, then we can talk about Optimus Prime and Iron Man too, maybe even 'Snake Eyes' from GI Joe (live action film is coming out in 2009). It'll be fun.
Liz Dwyer said…
Oh sorry to be so slow to reply to your comment here! I hadn't noticed another had been added. But you aren't diminishing anything at all. I do think character issues can play a lot into things too and have definitely seen that happen. So painful to witness.

Oh yes, "Snake Eyes"... When they first started talking about Sigma Six I thought they were referring to that Six Sigma management ideology. They've definitely schooled me!

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