I don’t have any kids. Between my two brothers I have a whopping nine — uh, that would be 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 — nephews. They range in age from a few months to 14 years. All boys, no nieces. Nine little black boys who will wake up one day and be young black men. The oldest, let’s call him Malik, is navigating adolescence and fast approaching high school. Here’s a quick run-down of his last year of middle school:
- Straight-A student,
- Reads at 11th grade level,
- Likes basketball, but is no Michael Jordan,
- Only black kid in his honors classes,
- Called a “porch monkey” at school (by students),
- Told (by students) that “Africans are disgusting,”
- Asked (by a student) whether black mothers produce chocolate milk when they breastfeed,
- Accused (by the Vice Principal) of being “a snitch” when he told a classmate that another student had taken the classmate’s belongings,
- Removed (by a gym teacher) from a team of students because “the black kids can’t be on the same team” (insinuating that it wouldn’t be fair to the white kids),
- And finally, suspended for a week for fighting (he unleashed on a white kid who said in class that he (the white kid) knew more about being black than Malik does, since Malik “can’t play basketball”).
My other brother (Malik’s uncle) has a colleague (let’s call her Jasmine) who recently recounted an experience she had with her own adolescent son (let’s call him James). Jasmine is black and lives in the city; her son James attends private school with mostly white kids from the suburbs. Parents were hosting socials at their homes (with the kids) just to get acquainted. At one social, Jasmine offered a hand with the dishes as the event wound down. One of the white kids then said to James, “your mom looks like a slave.” When it came time for Jasmine to host her own social, no one wanted to come to her house, and they told her as much. In an attempt to accommodate what she assumed was their fear of safety issues in the city, Jasmine arranged to relocate her social to the suburban home of one of the other moms. They still didn’t come.
If there is a God, perhaps this is why he/she/it chose not to grace me with offspring. I’m simply not qualified. I don’t envy Jasmine for having to explain those events to her son. And I don’t envy Malik’s parents, my brother and sister-in-law, who are faced with the daunting task of turning Malik’s experiences into teachable moments and preserving his faith in humanity. And I can’t imagine the sinking feeling in their guts when Malik asked them, after the Zimmerman verdict, whether it was still safe for him to walk to the store.
I know it’s not that simple. But to a 14-year-old black kid having been bombarded with questionable media coverage of the Zimmerman case, it’s that simple.
Now. You might be thinking to yourself, “That’s an easy one; just tell Malik that if you don’t bash people’s heads into the pavement you won’t get shot.” I know it’s that simple. But to black families approaching the situation from the context I just outlined above, it’s not that simple.
This case is so complex (and so emotionally raw) that I can only tackle it in chunks. So please bear with me. I’ll be coming back to this topic in multiple posts.
19 comments on “The Zimmerman Conundrum”
Are you sure you don’t live in Selma Ala circa 1963? Dear Lord, I hoped we were past this (apparently not). I know that on some level Malik and Jasmine’s son know it is stupidity and ignorance speaking and acting regardless of where it comes from but I can only imagine the frustration they feel. I pray they stay the course and grow into men any community would be proud of. They are fortunate to be in your family.
Thanks so much for the kind words! And no, we are not past this. Not by any means. That is not to downplay the tremendous progress we’ve made. But we have promises to keep, and miles to go before we sleep.
I’ve found the Zimmerman case easier to approach from just the critique of pure tactics involved.
Yep, I agree the tactics are (at least for me in this instance) a lot easier to analyze than the other stuff. A LOT easier.
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Good lord. I just had a flashback to the 60s. In what bizarre world is that an appropriate manner in which to treat any other person? I am mortified. I’ve seen/heard some of that kind of garbage, but I don’t often, and it has been years.
Years ago, I prosecuted a young black kid (juvenile court), who although short, was very muscular. He kept thumping another kid at school under circumstances that made no sense. He never presented a problem to any of us in the system, so I had been curious about what was going on. Finally, a cop got lucky and heard some rumors about the triggering incidents, which involved the same kind of conduct.
I quit filing on (R.M.) for that stuff, because there was no just purpose. (I really did not like that we had been manipulated into empowering the little jerk who was acting that way, and I felt like he needed a poke in the snoot.) While he was on probation, I ran in to him in the hall, and tried to convince him that he was going to be dealing with filth like that all his life, that I had real sympathy for his anger, and that some day he was going to get in serious trouble because he did some real damage. He’s not the most functional young man anyway, but he at least stopped that stuff. It might not have been the most polished conversation, but he was not a bad person, and he deserved the courtesy.
Welcome to my nephew’s world! Never boring. 🙂 Kudos to you for taking the time to speak to that kid, even though you had no obligation to do so. Hope he was listening.
Your family anecdotes have absolutely nothing to do with the events of that day, and absolutely everything to do with the events that followed. Looking forward to future installments.
Yep, I agree 100%.
My advise to your nephew or any other young man is develop an inquisitive inquiring mind and gain an excellent education. The objective goal is becoming an independent thinker and leader rather than a blind follower.
Exactly right! Now we’ve just got to assure him that education can still be excellent despite being called a porch monkey. Yes, yes, yes, sticks and stones. Still.
Would you like for me to sit down with him and provide a reality check of what happens to angry young men without a superior education in a good career field?
Thanks, but I think his parents are covering that part. 🙂 It is just difficult. One of those things that’s easier to say than to do.
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