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Raising Daughters and Black Sons in America Really Isn't So Different

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In the aftermath of Trayvon Martin’s death, a national discussion about parenting and race began to take new form. A whole slew of black parents began speaking about what it meant to raise a young black male in American society.

For many (if not all), it meant worrying late at night that his/her son would not come home because someone thought he was dangerous, and consequently called the cops on him and/or stalked him and brutally killed him.

It meant sitting your son down and teaching him some simple guidelines about how to avoid violence in everyday life. For example, Levar Burton, the former “Reading Rainbow” host, taught his son that in the chance of being pulled over to 1) take off his hat and sunglasses and 2) stick his hands outside the car window and place them on the outside of the door so the officer can be “as relaxed as possible.”

It meant, essentially, living with perpetual fear for your child’s safety.

But wait a minute – doesn’t this sound an awful lot like what it means to raise a daughter (of any color) in America, let alone the world?

Parents of all backgrounds have had to live with a very similar anxiety, worrying whether  their daughter(s) is walking alone at night, if a date (or a stranger) will rape her, if ruphees will be slipped in her drink at a party, if the older brother at her friend’s slumber party will sneak into bed with her at night, etc.

Since the beginning of time, parents with daughters have had to sit their girls down and teach them simple guidelines about how to avoid violence in everyday life, too.

So, really, the anxieties and responsibilities of parenting young black males and young women in the U.S. aren’t so different. In fact, I think they are remarkably similar.

Let’s take, for example, what one parent blogging on the Huffington Post called the Black Male Code – a series of guidelines that he taught his 12-year-old black son to prevent him from becoming the next Trayvon Martin.

It went like this:

Always pay close attention to your surroundings, son, especially if you are in an affluent neighborhood where black folks are few. Understand that even though you are not a criminal, some people might assume you are, especially if you are wearing certain clothes.

Never argue with police, but protect your dignity and take pride in humility. When confronted by someone with a badge or a gun, do not flee, fight, or put your hands anywhere other than up.

Please don't assume, son, that all white people view you as a threat. America is better than that. Suspicion and bitterness can imprison you. But as a black male, you must go above and beyond to show strangers what type of person you really are.

With a very slight reworking, the code is likely something parents of daughters might use:

Always pay close attention to your surroundings, daughter, especially if you are walking at night, and especially if you are alone (but please don’t ever walk alone at night, or down alley ways). Understand that even though you are not a slut, some people might assume you are, especially if you are wearing certain clothes.

Never argue with police, but protect your dignity and take pride in humility. When confronted by someone with a gun who is demanding your purse, do not argue, just give them your purse. But don’t be afraid to use your pepper spray.