A Mother's Rules for Being Young, Black, and Male

Like many mothers across the country, the Trayvon Martin tragedy still haunts me and makes me want to hold my son closer, knowing that his life as a young Black man in America is not getting any easier. As I wrote in a blog post last year, I've done my best to protect my son, a young man who is 23 and about to enter law school, by teaching him to anticipate prejudice and understand that for some, his skin color is an invitation to scorn and mistreatment. But one heartbreaking lesson to take from this tragedy is that there is essentially nothing that parents can tell their Black children—especially young men—about how to survive in this world that will protect them from violence, and that must change.

Right now we send our Black children disturbingly contradictory signals on how to conduct themselves so that they are free from discrimination and violence. Here are a few examples:

  1. Black boys and men should not walk too quickly or run because that suggests they've done something wrong. They also should not walk too slowly because that suggests they must be looking for trouble.
  2. Young black men should not put their hands in their pockets but should instead always keep their hands where others can see them. They should also avoid gesticulating, because others might misinterpret their gestures as aggressiveness.
  3. Black boys and men should wear business attire at all times because casual clothes—especially hoodies—suggest they're up to no good.
  4. Black youth should never hang out with more than three friends at one time, because large groups are likely to be mistaken for a gang. They should also be careful about walking alone—young men hanging out by themselves, like Trayvon Martin, are suspicious.
  5. When shopping, whether at a grocery store or a department store, young Black men should check out quickly in order to avoid suspicion. But they should not check out too quickly, because that means they've pocketed merchandise on their way out.
  6. Young black men should never make eye contact with others because it is threatening; they should never avert their eyes because that looks furtive.
  7. Black men must be careful about walking, driving, or flying while black, especially in neighborhoods or in destinations where there are typically not a lot of black people. But they should avoid low income neighborhoods, because that is where the police are even more inclined to respond with brutality and arrest.
  8. And the most important lesson of all to be learned from this tragedy is that Black boys and men must be careful about defending themselves because, no matter what happens, they will be seen as the aggressor.

I simply don't know what to tell my son about how to live his life under these circumstances. I have known for a long time that there is nothing I can do to protect my son from prejudice. But I simply refuse to accept that there is nothing I can do to protect him from violence. This is the current reality that my son and countless parents like me face, but we cannot stop here.

We must call on the Justice Department to update the guidance on the use of race in federal law enforcement, and we must get Congress to Pass the End Racial Profiling Act, for the sake of my son and Black children across the country.

For more on the widespread problem of racial profiling, see "The Value of Black Life in America."

Want to do something about racial profiling? Ask Congress to pass the End Racial Profiling Act today.

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Anonymous

You might add a ninth item:

People of all genders and ethnicities should probably call the police and proceed quickly home, or to the nearest police station when they think they're being pursued, instead of confronting and doing a "ground and pound" on the nosy fat neighborhood watch guy.

Anonymous

Blah blah blah I get allot of negative feed back (racism) from black people all the time as a white guy

Rosalind Welch says:

Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X were shot while wearing suits. So formal attire doesn't matter really does it? Just saying.

Crystal Y.

This breaks my heart.

Anonymous

Training your child using those rules is setting the stage for suspicion,and problems his entire life."don't make direct eye contact" lady are you for real ?,This kid will NEVER get hired by anyone if if can't look someone in the eye while talking to them. I understand your need to protect him but your crazy over the top. Maybe if you live in Detroit your rules fit. From one parent to another if where you live is that bad it is your 1st responsibility to provide a save environment, so move and stop teaching your child to be paranoid.

Yapah

I love it! Ignore the ignorant white man who wants to rant about his white privileged life.Anonymous 6:00pm, I DON'T believe you.The seed of Easu always coming to the Hebrews(so called blacks) to rant about how hard it is to live in their skin leave us alone, we don't go to your pages and rant why must you come here? SMH "Black people" learn your history you are the descendants of the Hebrew Israelites aka God's chosen one's this is why our race has so much hate, read deuteronomy 28:15-68 and leviticus 26 you will notice we fit all of these curses and the only ace of people that the atlantic slave trade took by boat and sent us to every corner of the world through slavery and sold our people...

Remember the white man beat,killed,whipped,destroy our people until they would stop practicing their heritage so it would not be passed down and stripped us of our names(think Kunta Kinte) and instilled fear into them so our history would never be passed down about who we really were, white man forced Christianity onto the slaves as well as the names and the language, jesus is Greek for iesous= Hail Zeus Christ name was Yeshua Ben Yosef. We are hated due to the curses that came upon us as a result of our people sinning against God so he finally inflicted the curses sense they wanted to whore after the heathen who hates us ,now look at us down getting destroyed and no one knows why well, I'm telling you why feel free to GOOGLE and use your Bible(the original 1611 kjv) originally the word "Jew'' was NEVER in the Bible it didn't show up until the 18th century the letter j was invented a few hundred years ago. For those who stole our history enjoying our riches revelations 2:9 and 3:9... We will inherit the Earth but only if your meek meaning keeping the commands he did NOT do away with the law, you can not eat pork or shrimp etc Sabbath is Not Sunday(Google it ) it's sundown fri-sundown sat... who has our people so messed up that unless a white person validates this is not true smh our oppressors we must stop clinging to them, you see you cling and they still destroy you smh repented and turn to God stop following religion they are corrupted and God said don't follow it...who can destroy your body? man...but who can destroy your body and soul and cast you into hell? GOD ...Shalom.

Anonymous

To the author: I too am the mother of black sons, teenagers both, and honestly I find it difficult to take a deep breath these days. I have held the awareness and fears that belong to mothers raising black sons since the moment my eldest son was placed in my arms, and like you, I have worked hard to prepare them for the bitter(sweet) realities of becoming a black man in our culture.
Your words, however, illuminate the impossibility of any preparation I might have imagined I could impart. The weight on my heart and soul is heavy, for my sons, for our sons.
And to the two previous commentors, to those of you who are filled with hate and venom and fear, I say: These boys, these young men, are our sons. They were our babies once, beloved so deeply there are no words for it, and they are brothers and friends and cousins and uncles, and someday they will be fathers and grandfathers. If you are very lucky, they will become your friend or son-in-law or co-worker or spouse, and I only hope and pray that your heart and soul will open to love and not be crushed by the fear that is crushing all of us today.
Respectfully, Another Mother

Anonymous

It saddens and sickens me to know as Mothers we have to think like this in America. I think the same is true for brown children as well my son is Mexican. I can't tell you how many members of family have been racially profiled. Especially my Husband, at stores and by cops. God bless you and family:)

Anonymous

No way...screw that it's is open season now.. so when I am out taking my night jog I will be packing and If I feel threatened , nervous, or just nosey I will be prepared. Notifying the police has not and will not do any justice as seen previously..SO STAND YOUR GROUND!...

Michael Meyers,...

By now, we all know that Laura Murphy has an African American son; still, it is unprofessional of her, and an improper use of an ACLU Bill of Rights Blog, for this ACLU official to keep personalizing a public policy issue and for her to keep inventing facts and harping about a supposed "injustice" done by a Florida jury when they acquitted George Zimmerman of 2nd degree murder. Zimmerman was not on trial for "racial profiling." Indeed, there was no evidence presented before or at trial that Trayvon Martin was "racially-profiled" by George Zimmerman.

That so many African American young males may or are "profiled" by some actors as potential criminals is not a burden to be placed on, much less blamed on either the jury or George Zimmerman. Zimmerman was found not guilty--and as such the ACLU should not be engaged in hysteria or racial rhetoric about how the verdict needs to be part of a national conversation or nay conversation about "race." There have been many ACLUers like myself questioning why the ACLU has not publicized its policy against any kind of second prosecution of Zimmerman. Since that pressure from us Laura Murphy sent a letter to AG Eric Holder that we thought would strongly challenge their investigation and consideration of a federal prosecution of Zimmerman. Boy, were we misled! The letter from Murphy to Holder was wimpy, wimpy, wimpy. As wimpy as it is, why has the ACLU buried the lead in its letter to AG Eric Holder? One would never know just from reading the web site the ACLU's latest statement of "clarification." You have to download the letter to see that the ACLU is opposed to a federal prosecution of Zimmerman. Many ACLUers will not let up our pressure on the ACLU to be a true civil liberties watchdog in this matter--We must and will insist, for example, that the ACLU rescind its prior letters and statements from Anthony Romero and Laura Murphy that the U.S. Justice take a look at prosecuting Zimmerman for alleged civil rights violations; sadly, to date, we have seen no press release or prominent blog post that states the ACLU's policy against such a federal action. Indeed, with all the postings--where is the ACLU's policy against the retrying of an acquitted person by a different sovereignty for the same crime? WHY ISN'T THAT POLICY POSTED ON THE ACLU WEBSITE?

Laura Murphy's recent letter to AG Holder merely restates--as if in a forced way--that the ACLU does not support a federal reprosecution of George Zimmerman--when a stronger, bolder challenge should be coming from the ACLU. The ACLU should announce that it will challenge any federal prosecution of George Zimmerman and that, if Zimmerman wants, the ACLU will help defend him against any reprosecution. And, why hasn't the ACLU yet challenged the Justice Department's opening an e-mail account soliciting "information" from the public about George Zimmerman, after his acquittal? The ACLU ought to take the lead in challenging this kind of governmental misconduct but instead it keeps the dialogue going about "racial profiling" and about the "imperfect criminal justice system" in the context of the acquittal of George Zimmerman (another minority) of murder and manslaughter--he who was never charged with any kind of bias crime because, as the FBI long ago determined, there was no evidence of any such hate on his part before or during the encounter with Trayvon Martin that fateful and tragic night.

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