I woke up this morning to read a(nother) story about an unarmed black man being shot to death by a police officer, this time in South Carolina. It’s all on camera. This time, the cop is being charged with murder, which is correct, at least.

But, there are so many stories like these. So many. Too many. And though this didn’t happen to anyone I know, and this didn’t even happen in my own country, I am unnerved and upset. I need to explain to my kids when they ask (and they do ask) why this keeps happening. Why it keeps happening to people who look like my son.

I try to calm myself by saying this is Canada… but then I chuckle to myself and wonder who I’m trying to fool, exactly. I don’t have a lot of black friends in my flesh-and-blood life. Really, it’s a scant few. That said, I think every single black male I know has been stopped in his (possibly fancy) car by police, for no reason other than driving in Montreal. That statistic, in my teeny-tiny blacksphere, works out to be about 100%.

*blink*

Some months ago, I read about Mr. Graham’s experience, and I understood where he was coming from. And I read Chookooloonks blog post, and wanted to cry. Because I am also affected.

There’s a problem here, and I don’t know how to fix it. And I don’t know how to help my beautiful boy… how to explain things… how to guide him without planting seeds in his head, or scaring him outright. I’ve been reading and chatting and ingesting and thinking… but I still feel like I’m out in the world without a compass, and it’s a bit terrifying.

* * *

[I wrote this next part last year, but didn’t press PUBLISH because I’m still trying to understand how I feel about about this thing that scares me so much, and I’ve been stuffing it down, because every time I re-read any of these thoughts, I burst into tears, and yet it’s always, always there.]

“Take your hands out of your pockets when you walk around in a store,” I practically hissed at him. His eyes went round, as he let his hands drop to his sides. “It’s just… store keepers worry about people stealing all the time… you don’t want to give anyone reason to even suspect you, okay?”

“I know. But I’m not doing anything.” His shoulders went slack, and his eyes looked glum. I was more harsh with him than I’d intended, but it’s not the first time I’ve warned him against this. It’s for his safety.

“Sometimes people think they see things that aren’t even happening, Oliver.”

As if on cue, we watch as about five or six teenaged boys walk down the narrow aisle where we were, tapping every bag of candy hanging from their little posts, just to see them swing forward and back. They were in a bit of a cluster, with their bags on their backs, and couple had skateboards under their arms. I took my boy by the hand and continued down the aisle, rounding the corner into another.

“When you’re hanging out with your friends, and you’re in stores buying candy or whatever after school… just make sure you leave a bit of distance between you and your friends. Don’t crowd together. It makes store-keepers anxious, and it’s just better to buy what you want, and leave the store. That’s it.”

“Okay.”

“And you can look at things with your eyes… you don’t have to touch everything. You know.”

“Yeah.”

This happened at the start of last summer, weeks before before that thing that happened in Ferguson, Missouri. And yet, I find we’re having more little talks like these. Because he’s growing, and beginning to separate from us in normal ways, like wanting to go to the depanneur by himself, or with friends. Because the space between him being my sweet-looking little boy and him becoming what others might observe as a threatening or scary-looking young black male is closing faster and faster all the time.

It’s for his protection.

I make sure he works hard at school. I tell him it’s because hard work matters. I tell him it’s because that’s the way we do… but really, there’s more to it than that. I haven’t had to break out the you have to work twice as hard speech yet — the same kind of speech I had to endure during the second half of my own childhood, which is the same as every every other black kid I’ve ever known… because baby, that’s just how it is. (Sad as it is.) And how people may expect less of him. And that it will be completely unacceptable for him to be less than he is. No exceptions.

And I have two kids… one male, and one female. Both are biracial, but one is dark, and the other is more fair-skinned. She is with us when we discuss this business of meandering around in stores with fists jammed into pockets. She heard the whole thing. And the same rules apply to her. (Because stealing? I. WILL. KILL. YOU.) But I’m not trying to hammer the rule home to her quite as hard. Because the world will not view them in the same way.

I carry a shameful feeling I try to ignore a lot of the time. The one that I secretly harbour about how glad I am that Ava Scarlett is fair-skinned. She’s also pretty, and she’s got good hair. Her experiences will likely be quite different for her. Easier, in many ways. And that I even consider these truths makes me feel a bit sick to my stomach. It’s confusing to feel this sort of duality under the same roof. It’s exhausting, too.

Besides being well-mannered and well-dressed, I’m raising them both to be respectful of others, but there’s a bit more when it comes to raising a young black male. Stuff about giving women a wide berth when walking around at night. Stuff about riding in elevators with single white women. He needs to learn how to appear as non-threatening as possible for his own protection.

For his protection, I say.

IMG_9896

A few days later, I watched over his shoulder as he played some kind of car-racing game. His man was on a motorcycle, and he careens and sways his body in time with each move. “The cops are after me…” he said, with a smirk.

I smile weakly and take a breath.

“You know, um… if you ever get stopped by the police for any reason at all… just be cool.” I smile at him breezily. “Do whatever they ask. Don’t argue… even if you think what they’re doing is wrong… just say yes, sir and don’t fight them for any reason.”

“Okay.”

“Because the police are just trying to do their jobs… but sometimes people get heated in a tense moment. Everyone has a bad day sometimes.” I swallow hard as I try not to make it sound like a lie.

“Okay.”

“It’s just… don’t struggle if it ever happens. Just stay calm, and do whatever they say.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

The child is ten years old. He won’t be behind the wheel of a car anytime soon, but the years are flying by already. There’s stuff he needs to know about that I’m not sure it will even occur to his white father to tell him. Because Martin might not have any idea about any of these things… but it is for Oliver’s protection.

For his protection.

And often chide my own rigidness about some things, and I think you worry too much and I try to wish my fears away, and try to give myself a bigger break and let children just be children, but there’s a problem more and more these days of people shooting first and asking questions later. Blond kids don’t get shot by the police very often. Young black males get shot all the time. And not just in the southern United States, either.

* * *

I wrote that last part in the summer of 2014, and worried that I was being… extreme, or something. Since then, I’ve come to know of other parents who have had similar talks with their black boys. And in the past week or so, I’ve seen this thing flying around the internet:

11068240_771696846232131_4506364497384658084_n

I suppose no one likes trying to navigate through stuff we can’t control. Oliver is eleven now, and this all just makes me want to cry, really. None of this is easy.

G.G.

{ 11 comments }

This Little Light of Mine

February 13, 2015 The (misc.) Adventures of Grumble Girl

Oftentimes now, while she’s dressed in some sort of get-up for her own amusement, she’ll sidle into the kitchen where I’m tidying up, or getting dinner prepared, and she’ll casually set upon a stool at the island and play make-believe with me. It’s her new thing. Kinda like this: Hello. The other day, she sat […]

Read it all →

Going Forward, Looking Back

January 12, 2015 Random Grumbles

I do love the birth of a New Year, unspoiled and still shrouded in some mystery about what might lie ahead… I love it. I feel the New Year differently than I do on my birthday, which is it’s own time of renewal and reflection for me — and November 24th isn’t so long ago, […]

Read it all →

Spray It, Don’t Say It

November 18, 2014 house stuff

Okay so, you know I hate ironing, right? I do. For me, it’s right up there with vacuuming… though to be honest, I loathe vacuuming just a little bit more. (Okay, a whole lot more.) So, what does a lady trying to curb her perfectionist ways do about all the wrinkles and things? She gets […]

Read it all →

Kickin’ It

November 13, 2014 Conversations With Oliver

Oliver plays soccer. For the first time this autumn, there’s indoor-soccer activity organised by the city we live in, where all kids could join — the boys were sorted by ages 8-10, and 11-15. He’s ten and a half, but smallish for his age, so he was originally grouped with the younger kids, but as there […]

Read it all →

Fully Loaded

November 5, 2014 Random Grumbles

I read an essay about what it’s like to be a stay-at-home mother the other day, which was really one of the best pieces I’ve read along these lines. Everyone knows it’s hard. Though this woman’s story wasn’t mine — for instance, I only have two children, and they were intentionally spaced four years apart […]

Read it all →

Break. DANCE!

October 17, 2014 entertainment stuff

My kids watched School of Rock maybe fifteen times this summer, which pleases me to no end. The soundtrack is pretty good, and Oliver’s been hooked on this particular tune by The Ramones ever since… I can’t help but smile about it. He’ll say, “Can you please put on that head upside down song, please?” (Yes, […]

Read it all →

All You Need Is Help

October 9, 2014 Conversations With Oliver

On Facebook, my friend Fiona once wisely stated: Homework — Kill it. Kill it with the fire of a thousand suns. I wanted to kiss her because I couldn’t agree more. (And she’s Irish, which would make the sound of this statement that much richer-sounding. That lilt, you know.) But oh, how I loathe homework hour(s). […]

Read it all →

The Things I Keep Getting Asked to Play

September 10, 2014 Random Grumbles

Perhaps you’ve noticed all these memes flying around the internet lately. Frankly, I don’t love playing them at all, but that’s just ME… enjoy your Internets any way you wanna. I donated to the ALS fundraiser after I’d been challenged by a caring friend of mine, though I was a bit reluctant to do so. […]

Read it all →