Fear of a black child

One of the most obnoxious things you can do with a blog is hijack a tragedy by trying to make it about you. So I’ll say these were not my first thoughts as the nightmare in Ferguson, Missouri unfolded. But these are some of the thoughts that have stayed in my mind.

I’m frightened because I expect to be the father of a nonwhite child one day.¬†Amber and I want to have a family. If we have biological children they’ll be biracial, and if we adopt we will probably take a nonwhite child into our home. Every time a story like this makes the news, I worry that much more about the world those children will live in.

I think I’m informed about the history and the state of racial issues in America; I didn’t find out last week that there are giant economic problems and disparities in policing and sentencing and on and on. And it’s not that I haven’t been shocked, grieved, or gotten angry over individual tragedies or the broader state of affairs in the past. And I understand that the death of Michael Brown is a tragedy for his family first and foremost and that his parents are suffering more than anybody right now.

But it’s also part of a larger picture, and it’s an especially grim picture for dark-skinned boys and young men. It’s not just that I worry our child could end up like Michael Brown … Ezell FordJohn CrawfordRenisha McBrideOscar GrantTrayvon Martin … and on and on. That’s only the most extreme end of the problem (and these stories aren’t all identical). What I’m worried about is that society won’t give my children a fair shake and that I can’t do much about it. It’s frightening and infuriating. To make it worse, I feel ill-equipped to help them handle this.

Overall our society sees black kids as guiltier and scarier than white kids. Black children are seen as older and therefore less innocent then white children. Consequently, they’re much more likely to get suspended from school even when they’re very small. Of course I can’t overlook New York’s stop and frisk regime, which essentially presumed that black men and Latinos didn’t belong in some nice neighborhoods. But the police and criminal justice issues are only the most dramatic part of a more nebulous situation.

I worry that I won’t be able to do the things a parent needs to do. I’m concerned that I won’t be able to protect them from a complex and pervasive attitude. I’m fearful that as an outsider I won’t be able to educate them, to help them avoid trouble, to navigate all of these things and succeed in spite of them, to make the world we’re all in a little better.

And when I try to calm myself by remembering that I live in a very nice area in Brooklyn and that our kids may not even look black – well, I know that’s my way of hoping this problem won’t knock on my door. And that in itself is a frightening new feeling. We’re determined to have children; we talk about it almost every day. And my determination isn’t wavering. But these days I’m more worried about the world we’ll bring them into and how we’ll help get them through it.

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