My son was locked out of the house yesterday, in the middle of a snowstorm.
He called me at work to ask me to drive home and let him in. None of the neighbors we knew were home, and the neighbors across the street are brand new. So he had nowhere to go.
When I told my co-workers that I was leaving because my son was locked out, one mentioned that they used to climb in a window, or pry the door open with a credit card, when they were locked out. And my reply was, “I can’t tell my son to do that”.
My son is African-American and he’s fourteen years old.
When we go shopping after school, I tell my son he has to leave his backpack in the car.
When he’s hungry in the grocery store and sees customers eat food they’ve yet to pay for, I tell him he can’t do the same.
When he wants to take a walk past dark with his friends, I tell him “no”.
If he bounces a ball in the sporting goods store, I make him stop.
He’s not allowed to play with guns that aren’t clearly Super Soakers.
If we’re stopped by the police because our headlight is out, I say, “Remember what I taught you.”
Because my son is African American and he’s fourteen years old.
When my son couldn’t get in the house, he walked down the street to the local drugstore, to seek refuge from the relentless snow.
I drove to the drugstore as fast as I could and when I was near, I called to let him know I’d be there soon. I suggested he stay inside until I arrived, but when I got there he was out in the snow.
When he got in the car, shivering and wet, I asked why he didn’t wait inside.
His reply was, “Mom. The people who work there kept staring at me and following me around. It was like they thought I was going to steal something. I felt like I didn’t belong there. It was awful. And I had no money on me to prove I wasn’t a thief.”
Because my son is African American and he’s fourteen years old, he can’t just be a teenager shopping for acne cream. He has to make a purchase to prove he’s not a thief.
Those who know me will tell you that I’m not one to claim every scuffle with the police is police brutality. And I’m not one who sees racism in every unique article of designer clothing or every news anchor’s slip of the tongue.
But I do remember moving to a nice neighborhood as a child, and being awaken during the night by a cross burning in the front yard and the “N” word carved into the fresh concrete sidewalk that led to our front door. And I remember the nails in our tires, every morning when mom tried to leave for work.
I remember the neighbors staring at us, like we didn’t belong. And I remember, for our safety, mom told us things that other moms didn’t have to tell their children.
Yes. That was over forty years ago. That was then and this is now. But just because you’re uncomfortable talking about it, doesn’t mean it no longer exists.
Accept it. Talk about it. Change it. And don’t get caught outside in a snowstorm.
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