What Is Wrong About Ferguson
What Is Wrong About Ferguson
Everyone has an opinion on the tragedy in Ferguson. From politicians to preachers to professional athletes, everyone is chiming in with their opinion on what is right and wrong with the culmination of this event. As a White parent with a Black son (he is 13 by the way), I have been torn between understanding these same things and helping to provide my son with feedback that is fair, unbiased and teaches him to understand that there are 2 sides to every story and both sides need to be heard … right or wrong.
I see a Black community in transition. Civil Rights have been passed as law, yet a failing in the Black community is the lack of understanding of the power that has yet to be unleashed fully for the community to prosper. Some of this is a self fulfilling prophecy and I use the word “Nigga” here to prove this point. Weeks back, my son left his facebook account open on our family computer and while I am not a snoop, I monitor my son’s activities both in social media and his associations out in the world as best I can. Remembering my youth, it’s the same cat and mouse game I played with my own parents during my teenage years and I saw an opportunity to see where my son was at in his own maturity and social development. So maybe I am a snoop! What I found shocked me. “Nigga this, Nigga that”. If I counted the use of this word once, I probably could have counted it 100 times on my son’s Facebook page. I was embarrassed, angry and ready to confront him immediately but decided to give myself the time to soak this in and think about the why’s behind this.
I started thinking about our past summer in the blue collar town, diverse town we call home. I think back to the day the local police shut down my son’s basketball court in our alley, calling it a nuisance. As a person that respects law enforcement I grudgingly moved the portable net into our own backyard, figuring problem solved … right? Wrong. Not only were several attempts made to shut down our new court, but several neighbors began to systematically complain about the noise, the basketball hitting the fence, profanity, etc. I came to realize pretty quickly when complaints would surface … when my son invited his black friends to the house to play ball.
I thought about the day I had to have ‘the talk” with my son. He was entering the 8th grade and his horizons would begin to expand in this world and it was time. Did we talk about sex? That would have been easy. We talked about the reality of Black youth walking the street in our town, especially in groups, and the dangers that lie there without self control. We talked about personal accountability, not playing follow the leader and choosing his friends wisely. We talked about respect for authority and for one’s self. Was it hard to tell my son that our police force would cast a wary eye on him for walking down the street? To tell my son to keep his mouth shut when confronted by the police, follow their orders, and never ever run lest you get shot? Was it hard to tell him these things could happen simply because he is Black? It was embarrassing to tell you the truth but I felt the need not only for my son’s safety but to admit my own people’s shortcomings … yes I mean white people.
I thought about the changes I was seeing in my son as he was coming of age. The changes in his appearance, the clothes and shoes he wanted to wear and how he wore them, the way he spoke to his friends vs. how he spoke to his mother and I, the need to “be cool” as we called it back in the day. And I thought about that word … Nigga. When I was finally ready to confront my son about it I admit I was still angry. Not raging angry but more disappointed angry. Why does my son use that offensive word so freely with his friends yet in the company of authority, be it me as a parent, a teacher, a coach, he wouldn’t dare. So I asked him, why? “It’s just a word”, he said. In my mind I’m thinking about all the pain and suffering that many heroes of the Civil Rights era endured to eliminate that word from our vocabulary and now “it’s just a word.” A term of endearment amongst friends, a little smack talk on the basketball court, even a way to say hi to your friends on the way to school. While I tried to explain the meaning and origin of this word I could tell I was up against something much more powerful, more seductive than what I had to say. It’s a word that’s back in social mainstream, the Black social mainstream. It’s a word I won’t use, because for me it is not only an offensive term in my heart but it’s probably the single most symbolic racist term coming from a White man. Ever.
So how did this word make a comeback? It comes from the peers of my son’s youth. It comes from the music he listens to every day. It comes from the videos he watches and video games he plays. It comes from the media. It comes from every parent that ignores the opportunity to teach a child the road to success is truly open to them but instead teaches them to merely survive by whatever means availed to them, right or wrong. It comes from justifying breaking a law as “a kid being a kid”. It comes from ignoring a kid failing in school and the parent allowing them to wallow. It comes from not knowing what your child is up to, where he is, who he is hanging with. Does it come from not teaching self respect? No, it comes from not demanding self respect.
Michael Brown physically died from a policeman’s bullet. It was a wrong way to die for sure. But who really put this kid on this path? Who is really guilty here? The parents? His peers? The musical artists he listens to that glorify violence as “keeping it real”? The race baiters that pounce on opportunities to be heard and glorify this violence as “a struggle”? The community that refuses to take a hard look at how this happened (theft and multiple assaults, be real folks) but instead looked at it as another chance to say racism still exists and we will prove it by burning down our own community? It’s all of the above. Like I said, it’s a self fulfilling prophecy. I know my own son’s journey through life won’t be perfect and he’ll continue to face challenges because of his race from my race. There will be things I have to continue to learn so I can teach him. There will be moments of empathy and anger for the slights my son may have to endure. There will be moments where I am angry at him for typical teenage stuff where I have to clamp down for his own good. But make damn sure, I will fight to teach him right. I will teach him self respect. And that word “Nigga”? Not in my house. It’s the first step.