I wrote these words earlier this week. I attended a town hall type of meeting to discuss the violence we have been seeing on the news over the past 2 months. The CEO of the healthcare system I work for spoke, as did our chief of police. This meeting had “big deal” written all over it.
I watched and listened as these and other black men stood up, describing the world they live in. They told of the times they had been pulled over for no reason at all, other than the color of their skin. They talked about the feelings generated by the viewing of the recent events. The culture they live in makes them feel like their lives are not worth any more than a cockroach you might step on in your house.
One woman described her fear when her husband or her now adult sons do not arrive as scheduled, and how she calls and texts repeatedly them to confirm their safety. Tears ran down her cheeks as she shared fears and feelings I am unfamiliar with.
Many of them described “the talk.” In my world, having “the talk” with your children is a term used to describe the uncomfortable situation of discussing sexuality. For these black men and women, it had an entirely different, though no less awkward, topic. “The talk” was about what their children need to do if they got pulled over.
My mind whirled.
I never had this talk. I never needed this talk. What kind of world are we living in where someone needs to tell their children how to act so they don’t get shot? What level of fear must these parents have as they release those children into this world?
Through it all, I thought of my nephew, Austin. He is an 11 year old boy who loves superheroes and sports with a passion bordering on obsession. He was at camp when many of the shootings that triggered this conversation happened—the ones in Baton Rouge, Minnesota and Dallas. When he came home from camp and heard about the horrific events, he started crying. He asked my brother to pray about our country the next Sunday morning at church. I think that’s when my world began to unravel.
Austin was adopted, and is the child of a mixed race couple. He is half-black and half-white, and is now coming to grips with his darker skin tone. What I realized is that Austin is going to grow up as a young black man in America, no matter who his parents are. And I am now terrified.
Austin will grow up to face struggles and prejudices I have never had to face. He will battle against things I never had to battle. He will need to have “the talk.” All because of the color of his skin.
It is hard to say I have lived a life of privilege. I worked hard and do not feel as if I was handed anything in my life. But when I look at the way the world around me has treated my darker skinned brothers and sisters, it is a world with which I am unfamiliar.
Not once have I been pulled over to ask why I was driving in that neighborhood.
Not once have I been followed around a store, or asked to leave.
No one looks at me as a threat. And yet, it is apparent through these recent events that our culture will view Austin as someone to watch, someone to fear. And it breaks my heart.
I wish I had answers. I wish I knew what to say or do. When I look around, and hear the stories of what life is like for those who are a little darker than me, I only have one response.