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:
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.
"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."
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.