At first glance he’s a swagged-out hip-hop head. His Beats by Dre headphones boom with songs by Wiz Khalifa, Kendrick Lamar, Future, Drake, and Biggie. With both ears pierced, he rocks a little bling. He’s a sneaker collector, rocking Air Jordans and Roshes. And he has a hat to match all his kicks. To many, he’s one of America’s “stereotypical” Black teenagers: thugged-out, boisterous, menacing, and even suspicious. Speaking of stereotypes, he’s an athlete, playing basketball, football, and baseball like a pro. That is, after all, where society expects him to excel.
But, take a deeper look, and you’ll discover a scholar ( with a GPA hovering between 3.2 and 3.6) as well as an insightful, eloquent, and respectful young man. His teachers describe him as a leader and a critical thinker. So who is this dichotomy personified? He’s a grandson, a brother, a nephew, a friend, and a member of this society. To his father and I, he’s a son. To his community, he’s the promise of tomorrow. To those who don’t know and understand him, he’s suspicious.
To those who would view him as suspicious, I challenge you: see him as we do (his family and community), as a complex, multifaceted human being with flaws and near perfections. I challenge you to see him as you see yourself.
Like Trayvon Martin, my son reflects the racial divide in American society – deeply loved by those closest to him, yet misunderstood by much of America. As a Black male living here, he is at greater risk of being profiled and violently pursued because of his skin color and the stereotypes our society associates with it.
As his mother, I know he’s no angel but I dare you to show me one teenager who is.
As President Obama said in wake of the Zimmerman verdict, “Trayvon Martin could have been me 35 years ago.” Because like Trayvon, our President has been profiled. He knows what it is to be prejudged based on the color of his skin. Today there are millions of young men being profiled and at risk of being accosted, even murdered, the way Trayvon Martin was on that February night, especially if we don’t begin to see their humanity. Since I began writing this piece weeks ago, we have already lost several of our young men to this senseless violence rooted in prejudice. Jonathan Ferrell is the most recent victim whose murder has begun to garner national attention.
Today there are millions of parents around this nation who are desperately searching for answers and solutions as a preventative measure. This open letter is my attempt on behalf of those parents to humanize our precious children, particularly our sons. Here’s what I want the world to know about them:
They are beautifully imperfect and divinely flawed, which makes them human (with all the civil rights of every other human being in this country). As parents, our instincts tell us to protect them with every breath in our bodies, and yet we know we have to let go just enough to send them out into this world.
I’m hoping someone reading this, perhaps a police officer, someone else in authority, or some random gun owner, will open his or her eyes to see these young Black men (like Jonathan Ferrell, Trayvon Martin, Oscar Grant, Justin Davis, Darius Simmons, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo and I could go on) as deserving of respect, dignity, and compassion. Maybe instead of seeing a stereotype or a threat you can see another human being. Instead of accosting him and opening fire, maybe you can strike up a conversation that isn’t filled with harmful assumptions. What about beginning your next interaction with a young Black man with an open mind, that builds a bridge to understanding instead of a destructive wall of prejudice? Doing so may save a life, change the discourse, and move us closer toward a truly post-racial society.
Damali Robertson is a single mother of two beautiful children. Her children are 15 and 12. Her son and daughter have changed her life. She thanks God for them and this experience every day. Damali is a Grant Writer by day and an activist and poet in those late-night moments of solace and inspiration.