young black men

this morning, on my way home from driving my daughter to school, i passed my neighbors-- a father and his son-- in their front yard.  the father, in his tee-shirt, pajama bottoms, and slippers was picking up the newspaper from the driveway and saying goodbye to his son-- the son almost as tall as the father, was wearing a hoodie and a back-pack and heading off to school.  an every day morning ritual of parents and children in small towns.

except we live in a mostly white town and this father and this son are black and all i could think of when i saw them is that if i were this father it would take everything i have to send my child off to walk through a mostly white neighborhood to a mostly white school every morning.  

yet my neighbor and i live in a politically and socially liberal new england college town, where the schools teach about race and diversity from a very young age and the teachers (who are themselves a culturally and racially diverse group) celebrate our cultures and quickly move to address inequality; where we have black adults in high level administrative and academic positions; where our restaurants and coffee shops and stores and streets and neighborhoods are diverse and culturally integrated-- and the white people in our town congratulate ourselves on how well we do with this issue of race.

YET we still live in a mostly white town.  and this town, like every other mostly white town in our country, carries with it the legacy of racism and white supremacy that is what our country is made of.  this town, like any other mostly white town in our country could as easily have been the location of the killing of trayvon martin as sanford, florida.

in other words: george zimmerman may well be an extremist but the kind of every day stereotyping and treatment of young black men that then can lead to extreme cases is something we all participate in, every day, all over this country.

in this country white people are taught to fear young black men as sources of trouble and violence.  the stereotypes of young black men are filled with images of drug use and erratic, criminal behavior.  never mind that the statistics do not bear out that young black men are any more violent (or likely to do drugs, or likely to participate in a crime) than their white counterparts-- in fact some statistics show just the opposite to be true.  but because of what we are taught white people's first image when presented with a fearful scenario, is of a young black man.

yet what trayvon martin's tragic death has shown us yet again is that white people are the ones to be feared.  white people pose a much greater threat to the average young black man than he will ever pose to white people.  young black men bear the burden of having to prove white people's stereotypes to be untrue-- when walking to school, when applying to college, when applying for a job, when opening a bank account, when applying for an apartment.  for a young black man-- his success in life, in fact his very safety,  is largely based on how well he proves those stereotypes to be untrue.

this is where i am most adamant:

young black men should not bear the burden of their own safety.

the safety of young black men, along with the safety of every other child and young person in our country, is OUR collective responsibility. 

i want to live in a town in which my neighbor's son, walking through his neighborhood on his way to school knows that those houses contain people who are conscious of his safety as much as any other child walking to school.  he is not walking through a neighborhood of people who might pose a threat (or to whom he poses a threat), he is walking through a neighborhood of people who will catch him if he falls, and keep him safe from harm.

in fact i want to live in a town in which young black men can walk along unconsciously, not thinking about race at all.

it takes a village to raise a child safely.



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