To write about Trayvon Martin is hard for me, because my heart is broken for him, his family, and for our society.
I write today from the perspective of my role and privilege as the father of an African-American male teenager, who will be leaving for college in the fall. The senseless murder of Trayvon Martin serves as a cruel and cutting reminder of a Black father’s potential vulnerability and helplessness, as I open my arms and hands to let my man-child fly.
It angers me that white fathers are not burdened with the specific worry or responsibility to educate their young men on the subject of how to act, what to look out for, and indeed how to survive in certain situations because of their race. I am not angry because I wish something bad upon their young men; we just should not have to prepare our sons in this way!
I have taught, warned, and pleaded with my son to follow the rules of the survival “talk” that I gave him a couple of years ago when he turned 16. I have prayed daily and will continue to pray even harder now for his protection from nonsensical actions such as the murder of Trayvon, predicated on the racial profiling of the African-American male in this country.
So I repeatedly have asked myself, what can an African-American male and father do to protect his son from the prejudice of profiling and the bigotry of many, who will never take the time to get to know the intelligent, witty, and fun-loving young men that are our sons. One answer is that we must educate, educate, educate, on all levels, and with all types of people, since so much of people’s fears and bias stem from their ignorance.
With that being said, I have a few thoughts about what we as African-American fathers can do, or continue to do, to educate. I understand the complexity of these issues and by no means am I suggesting that these 5 recommendations are some type of magical elixir that will make racism and the profiling of our young men go away. I also know that some of this is going to sound like “the talk.” Yet, this type of education is however one place out of many where we can all start.
1. Do every thing you can to educate our children about the existence of subjective and discriminatory perceptions surrounding their appearance, demeanor, and language, with an emphasis on how these perceptions sometimes become heightened in some environments (e.g. predominately White communities, affluent communities, and those communities and police departments with reputations for racial intolerance, etc.).
2. Do your part to educate our children about actions and behaviors that can hopefully de-escalate encounters with law enforcement or strangers (e.g. appropriate and truthful answers and responses to questions, keeping one’s hands visible at all times during an encounter with the police, turn the interior lights on inside the car when stopped by police at night, do as you are told-I will fix it later-as opposed to having a funeral), and with strangers, do not allow them to get too close, run, scream, make noise, and use some basic self-defense strategies.
3. Explain to your child that despite the advances of African-Americans socially, economically, and politically, we do not live in a post-racial society. It is a wonderful goal with lots of terrific people trying to get us there, and others with bad agendas for trying to make us believe that we are there. Unfortunately, a post racial society has by no means been reached. Our sons innocence and naivety in this regard may be the very thing that costs them their life.
4. Do everything you possibly can to have open and honest conversations that educate and inform White people. There are lots of them who are open-minded and willing to learn from you, about you, and your perspective. Also, take the time to learn from them, it is equally as important. There are a lot of these types of constructive conversations that take place everyday in America, considerably more than those who live on the respective fringes want us to believe.
5. Pray for all of our children and work hard as a Black man to lead by example. It will help debunk the negative stereotyping that is prevalent in our society and often is the catalyst for harm to our youngsters and the racial profiling we seek to eliminate.
For so many of us, these things may seem to be simple and straightforward tasks that we take on everyday. If that is the case, I am glad and not trying to come across as some know-it-all. Please continue to do them and know that this is just a friendly and timely reminder from a fellow brother in the struggle. If the murder of Trayvon Martin has caused you to re-focus and you are looking for some food for thought, I hope these suggestions give you some.
We are all in this together. Sometimes, education is not learning something new but reviewing those principles that are important so that your education continues.
I pray for peace and blessings.
Read, learn, and share……Have a Family Meeting!
C. Randolph Keller