No, we won’t allow him to get a tattoo or ear piercing. We are constantly nagging him if he sags his pants.
It isn’t about appearance. He’s not a rebellious or defiant kid. He’s just an ordinary American teenager, trying to figure out who he is. He’s watching rappers and sports heroes, paying close attention to Facebook conversations. And hopefully looking up to the pastors and lay-leaders at our church who look like him.
But, admittedly, we are trying to teach him how to navigate a culture foreign to us.
My son is Black. We are White.
We turn often to advisers, co-workers and friends who are insiders to the experience of being Black in America. They are the ones who strongly advise – no tattoos, ear piercings or sagging.
It’s about staying alive.
I am the first to admit I have very little idea what it feels like to be hunted.
The movie Selma taps me into that emotion.
My son tells me he was awake deep in the night after the death of Philando Castile. He is only sixteen. It’s a lot to absorb.
My heart breaks. I love this boy more than life itself.
I suggest we watch Selma together.
I can’t help but see him in the crowd on that bridge between Selma and Montgomery, beaten and bruised because of the color of his skin. I can’t help but hope I would have had the courage to walk among the sea of White faces who finally linked arms with their Black brothers and sisters.
My son and I wonder, what would Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. do and say if he were alive today?
He tells me he is scared. It shakes me to the core to reply this way, but I tell him it is healthy to be afraid. Yet again, we cover the same old, weary path – how to act in the presence of police: absolute respect, no matter what, no talking back, immediate obedience to every request. He’s about to get his learner’s permit, and he needs to know these things.
Don’t get me wrong. Both my son and I have the utmost respect for police officers. We talk about the UCCS security officer, Garrett Swasey, who rushed without thought for his own life, straight into the shooting at the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood last year, in order to save the lives of others. There is no greater love than to lay down your life for another, or to be willing.
But the nightmare video footage of Castille’s death bears a horrifying resemblance to the scenes in Selma.
There is a deep and bitter wound in America. My son and I stand in its festering depths – weeping, wondering, praying.
Holding each other tight.