He grabbed my arm, saying, “Let’s go before somebody shoots me.”
Wogauyu had just finished playing the marimba in a fun concert at the farmers market and I suggested we wander up main street before heading home.
I looked at him in surprise. “What do you mean?” I asked.
“Mom, they shoot people like me,” he said, as he rubbed one finger on the back of his other hand, “and I think that black lives matter.”
I tried to reassure my nine year-old, “Honey, nobody is going to shoot you. You are safe right here,” but even as I said it, I felt deep sadness knowing that I cannot shield him from the shift that is coming as he grows from a cute black boy to a not-as-cute black teenager.
Try as I might to truly understand racism, I come from a life of white privilege – don’t even argue with me about this, it’s simply true.
As my sons grow older, my window into their world grows larger, and what I see does not comfort me.
Last year, in the wake of an argument, a fourth-grade classmate of Ebenezer’s said, “No wonder black people go to jail.”
Where did he learn that? Television? Music? His parents? Sadly, his words speak more truth than I care to admit.
In our state of Idaho, black people are represented 4.4 times more in prison than in the general population. Nationwide, black people make up 13% of the population and 40% of the prison population. Poverty, racism, and a host of complex factors contribute to this injustice.
Wogauyu doesn’t know who he is afraid of; at nine years old, his fear is vague and unformed. He only knows that he is afraid.
He isn’t afraid of police officers. His uncle is a police officer and he loves him, in fact, he can’t wait to see him in a week when we’re on vacation. Several of our friends are police officers too.
He isn’t afraid of white people. His Dad is white, I am white, and many (thankfully, not all) of his siblings are white.
He isn’t afraid of black people. In fact, he wishes he had more people who look like him in his life.
Sadly, his beautiful brown skin makes him feel he is not safe in the world because he knows there are people who don’t value his life the way they value their own.
Today I have more questions than answers – and let’s be honest, most of us do. We white parents who adopt black children have a weighty responsibility.
We cannot say that color “doesn’t matter,” or “we don’t see it.” Race does matter and we do see it.
So how do we walk with our children in these difficult times? How do we support them in their discovery of themselves as young black men and women?
We need to listen, read, and learn, even when we’re uncomfortable or afraid. We need to find voices we respect and choose them as our mentors even if they never know who we are.
Our sons’ lives may depend on it.
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