Don’t wear dark colors, don’t wear hoodies, don’t go outside after sundown, always get a receipt, make eye contact and smile, don’t wear sweat pants, don’t wear high tops.… It kind of reads like a list of don’ts on how not to attract some monster in a horror movie. But it’s the all too real list of things Lawrence Otis Graham won’t allow his sons to wear, and how they should act, in hopes that they won’t be racially profiled.
Sounds stressful doesn’t it? This is the anxiety many black and brown American parents are going through. How do I protect my children? Teaching your kids how to avoid danger is one thing, but to teach them how not to be perceived as a danger is nearly impossible. Humans aren’t mind readers. As people of color, whether wearing a hoodie or suit, we don’t know what will make someone feel that we are a threat. Fitting yourself into a box trying to conform to someone else’s possible perception will drive one crazy. It is painful, unfair, dehumanizing, and grossly opposite of what being a citizen in the “land of the free” is supposed to be.
He said his son said he’s taking the fun out of being a black kid. I wasn’t quite sure how to take that. I’m not sure what the particular fun is of being a black kid versus any other American kid. He may have just worded that weirdly, or there may be a whole other discussion needed about that.
But I digress.
I understand that as a parent he’s just desperate to make sure his kids are safe, and if that means don’t show your individuality then so be it. His only concern is safety. He’s not the only black parent to feel this way. We actually have a history of parents beating the snot out of their kids in order to teach them how not to be killed by white folks. This is the same thing, just done mentally without the physical whipping.
There’s enough to worry about just being a parent in general. The added stress of racism is one that the [steadily shrinking] majority of the country doesn’t understand, because they don’t have to. It’s a problem that the minority has no choice but to understand.
I look at the blacks who were attacked by water hoses and police dogs in the 50s and 60s. All of them were dressed nicely. None of them had on so called “thug” clothing. The women were wearing skirts, dresses and blouses that covered them up, and the men wore slacks, button down shirts and hard bottoms. It’s 100% color. Clothing has nothing to do with it. White kids dress just like black kids. They follow the trends that black kids set, but they get to express themselves, while black kids need to be on guard.
Ultimately, he’s a parent who is scared for his children, trying to work rationally within an irrational system. It’s not a plan that will work because our risk of being profiled has nothing to do with clothing. He left out his daughter as though black and brown women aren’t racially profiled.
I expect there are whites who agree with this type of control, and even get a perverse thrill off of being able to make blacks feel this way. However, I expect that many will see this video and get how awful it is to have to be this on guard about clothing and behavior. Maybe seeing the desperation of this parent will allow them to see some of the costs of their active and passive racism.
What do I think? The “good negro” campaign has never worked. I don’t have any children, so it’s easy for me to say I wouldn’t kill their individuality in order to save their lives. I do know this much about me; I HATE conformity, and I cannot stand being stifled by rules, especially those that show complete and utter bias. I might end up moving to another country where I can be treated more humanely. Racism is everywhere, but American racism is its own special brand that refuses to die, and causes compromises to my dignity and integrity on levels that make me really wonder if I should try taking my chances elsewhere. I highly doubt I’d ever give up my citizenship, especially not after what my ancestors have been through in this country, since the 1600s. But I don’t want to raise sons or daughters who are in fear because of their color. And I want their individuality to shine. I just want them to be treated like humans. That’s not too much to ask. I shouldn’t even have to ask.