Thursday, January 29, 2015

Raising A Black Man In This World

Jasper Speaks:

Over Christmas break my family piled into our minivan and spent some time with our dear friends the Wrights in the Christian Las Vegas (yes, Branson, MO). The highlight of the trip was certainly being with friends in such a faith friendly environment at this time of the year. Branson is not in and of itself a booming bastion of excitement the week before Christmas. A lot of attractions are closed and people are waiting things out for the busy season to pick up again in the spring. We went to Silver Dollar City, drove through the lights at Shepherd of the Hills and went to Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede. It is at the latter where my observations for this post come.

Our son is all boy. He was excited to see all the horses as we walked up from the parking lot to the front doors. He was extra excited to get inside to the gift shop. He had $21 burning a hole in his pocket and couldn't wait to spend it.

We walked around the gift shop for quite awhile before the show. He looked at many things that are basically put out to take advantage of weary parents at the end of the show. There were cowboy hats, stuffed horses, and sheriff's badges aplenty. As I have mentioned he is all boy so he was continually drawn to the guns. Visions of the Old West danced through our minds as he chose the perfect gun and holster to fit our budget.

He proudly took his prize to the cashier and happily handed over his bounty of saved up money. It took just over 18 of his 21 dollars but his eyes grew large as the cashier handed the items back to him. He immediately asked me to take the gun and holster out of its packaging. I obliged cheerfully. He began pointing the silver gun around the room and shooting imaginary bad guys all around us.

Suddenly, I got a fearful buzz in my stomach. I took him by the hand and had him look me in the eye and I said, "Whatever you do, don't take that orange piece of the barrel off the gun!" I did not want anyone to mistake it for the real thing.

Another moment passed and I stopped him again. This time the warning was to never go outside of the house with the gun. It was a toy but I feared for his safety.

As he continued to play and we settled in for the show (and copious amounts of food that come with it) I could not help but be a bit distracted. Would I have needed to have this talk with my son if he was a white child?  Being a white man myself, the dangers of a toy gun had never before crossed my mind.

I was sad as I thought of the world in which we live. My son is inheriting a world where people who look like him are gunned down for some things as benign as having a toy in their hands. It was becoming clear to me that my adopted son (who is as much my son as if we shared DNA) would live a different life than I have lived. He will be followed around suspiciously in some stores. He will be pulled over in some neighborhoods. He will be refused some freedom to have fun. All of these things will occur because of something he cannot change --- His skin color.

My Daddy's heart broke a little as the reality of the world my son will inherit overtook me. A father should not have to quarantine a toy to the house out of fear of someone hurting my child. I should not have to teach my son to be extra careful around law enforcement officers. When I was a kid, Officer Friendly came to our grade school once a year. It hurts to have to teach my son that as a black man in America, officers may not be friendly toward him at all.

I support our police officers. I respect the way they put their lives in danger for us every day. I believe 100% that there are more good police officers than bad. I know many of these dedicated men and women and they are among the most honest and understanding people in my life. The reality is however, there is a different standard that my son will have to live up to that I don't.

Because of those differences, I have to be the responsible parent and make sure the gun stays in my home. It is a toy. I had a bunch just like it as a kid. I could freely spend hours in the backyard with the pistol in my hand taking down the dangerous people who, in my imagination, were a threat to my home. I never had to give a thought to the possibility of someone thinking that my toy was real much less that I was a danger to anyone else. I pray that my son can play as freely but the realist in me understands that he may never have that freedom.

The news is filled with the morose stories of young black men being gunned down. For some there is certainly debatable evidence that shows the officers were acting in a proper manner. In other instances, there was a shoot first mentality. Because I cannot be sure in which situation my son may find himself, sadly, I must err on the side of caution. The gun will not ever go out my front door.

That night, as I heard performers sing about peace on earth, I didn't have peace on the inside. Being an interracial family comes with challenges. I knew that when we signed up to the blessing of being our son's parents. Every day I am praying that the racial tensions in our world will die away before my son is an adult. I pray that we can finally come to a place where we are judged on the content of our character. I pray that I will live to see this happen but more so, I pray that my son will live in a world that sees him as a man first and a black man second. That is a world I am willing to fight to see.