By Richard Hart
I’m not sure when the first conversation will start but I have a feeling of how it will go.
I’ll sit Elijah down, look him in the eye and tell him things that will likely rob him of the innocence I so admire.
I’ll tell him to be a chameleon — blending in where necessary, never giving people too much of himself. I’ll tell him about the African-American history he won’t learn in school, about the mistreatment of his people from the time we arrived in this country. I’ll tell him to feel comfortable in his own skin but to understand there will be times when he’s around people who will be uncomfortable because of his skin.
I’ll tell him that police officers — who, to him, for now, are no different than anyone else — have killed black men, which he’ll be one day.
Again, I don’t know when that talk will come. He’ll be older, obviously, and at the age where he’s had more experiences and started noticing the difference between how people treat him and how they treat his friends. So, I have a few years to prepare. Elijah — my son — is 2.
If you read the piece of my story I shared when we started this blog, you’ll recall that Elijah’s mother and I divorced. Still, I’m confident he’ll grow up in a very loving and nurturing environment. Both sides of his family have rallied around him.
But I’m concerned.
With his mother and grandparents, Elijah lives in an affluent, predominantly white neighborhood. He attends a predominantly white day care. I want him to have diverse experiences. I want him to know where he comes from. I want him to know what to expect.
And what is that exactly?
It’s a world where unarmed black people like Alton Sterling and Philando Castile can be gunned down by law enforcement because implicit bias and racism prevail. It’s a world where Black Lives Matter demonstrations are condemned as divisive and militant by people who find it too discomforting to talk about race. It’s a world where my son’s interactions with law enforcement can start harmlessly enough but end with him in a casket.
When my dad had “the talk” with me, we lived in a predominantly black neighborhood. I attended a predominantly white middle school. I grew up in a town where if the police were there, it wasn’t necessarily to help. I always felt uneasy around them and second-guessed their motives.
Before I would go out somewhere, I’d always hear: “Keep your seat up,” “watch your speed,” “take that rag on your head off,” “don’t give them a reason.”
I’ll tell Elijah the same things with the hope that he won’t develop the same toxic thoughts I did. I’d rather not have this talk with him but I have no choice — it’s part of the burden of being black.
When I look at how he interacts with people, especially his white school friends, there is a beautiful innocence to it all.
The talk will steal away that naiveté.
It’s part of growth — the passing of the torch that sticks with you like a disease.
I don’t have a script prepared. Whatever I say will probably correlate with the times.
But I do have an expectant outcome.
I want him to feel empowered. I never want him to feel subservient, or like a second-class citizen, or like the only way it can be right is if it’s white.
We, as black people, have to do a better job of working for our own stuff. Our children can’t live in a world where they’re always looking for a job, looking for employment, looking for seats at the table when the table’s never been set for us.
That’s the lesson I hope to impart in Elijah — work toward having your own so you’re beholden to no one. Become a man of power, a man of influence, whether it’s in your own business, your field, whatever. Employ your own people — make them your executive team.
Work so hard that you’ll never be in a position where someone else has power over you. Do what you have to so you never have to answer to anyone else except yourself, God and your family.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want my son to be angry or frustrated. But I do want him to be vigilant and always on his guard. I want him to be smart; to know his rights; to know himself. I want him to know the world is cruel and unforgiving if you allow it to be.
He’ll have to stay humble and not allow anger to cloud his judgment. He’ll have to swallow his pride and know how to maneuver.
He’ll have to survive.