In her article, “Why Being Angry in the Age of Trump is Deadly”, Ezinne Ukoha writes, “Everything is about race, it always has been.” Though I’ve tried to dress up the sentiment and at other times, flat out deny it, the truth is the truth is the truth. Nothing has made me more aware of racism and how insidious it can be until I had children. As if my own traumas as a black woman in America were not enough, I have had to watch my boys become members of a society, that more often than not, will want to see them dead. Someone will read this and say I am being extreme but the truth is that racism is extreme and I’m just matching the tone. Recently, I have had to come face to face with just how unyielding and prevalent racism can be and how no one is safe from its exacting blows.
Twenty-four crayons in a box and my baby chose the brown one when he drew a picture of a bad guy. I asked him why was the bad guy brown? Why not purple or orange or blue. He said, “Because all bad guys are brown”. My soul shriveled, my heart cracked, and yet I didn’t reveal the hurt. I calmly asked him, “When have you seen a brown bad guy?” He thought about it. As I put his baby brother's shoes, I mentally went over everything they had watched, meticulously. Nothing we had watched except Black Panther had a black villain and even then my boys were enamored with Michael B. Jordan and felt like cousins fight and that he was just the other black panther. They deemed Klaw the villain and kept it moving. They watched The Flash on the CW and there was no black villain on that either. When the mental catalog of movies and shows my boys have watched turned up no black villain, I was at once perturbed and disheartened by a thought that was taking anchor in my mind. I would have no peace if I let this go so I continued the morning rituals and without making eye contact with my son, I asked him “do you think brown people are bad?” I knew I hit a nerve when he didn’t say anything. Now for the question that had my stomach in knots: “Baby, do you think you’re bad because you’re brown?”
His eyes, once with so much light and laughter, met mine with tears and a look of sadness. His voice, angry and petulant said: “I hate being different.” This year, he is in a school where only 16% of the students are black. In his 2nd grade class, he is the lone brown face. I don’t want to dismiss him but I don’t know what to say and he needs me to say something. I say “everyone is different.” He says “but their different is better.” He’s too young for me to shout that their ‘different’ is a privilege that comes at no cost to them but will afford them things you cannot imagine, including safety in spaces where you could be killed. They are not better or smarter or stronger, just privileged due to a lack of melanin. He’s too young for this. I am not prepared for this but I’ve been preparing for this and this was not how it was supposed to go. Those images of his dad and I getting married that are plastered on the walls in our home was supposed to expose him to black love early on. He has an active and loving father in the home. He has all granddads on deck. He has been around successful and educated black people his entire life. How is this happening? How is this the narrative that my baby is buying into when I’ve been masterfully crafting another one and reading it to him since before birth?
I honestly have no answers. Maybe it’s because the PJ Masks are all white and all the major players of Adventure Bay (Paw Patrol) are white or the season of the Power Rangers he was obsessed with had no black characters (but two racially ambiguous brothers). Maybe he feels what studies have proven about the perception of black boys, that he can be cool but not good. I don’t know why my baby feels the way he feels but I know I’m going to be working like hell to prove him and society wrong. Brown/black guys are not always the bad guys. They are loved. They are brave. They are leaders and lovers and fathers and brothers and they are necessary. They don’t exist to stand as props for white supremacy and homophobia. They exist for more than showing the world how beautiful bronze can be when kissed by the sun. They are human and deserve to be treated as such. My son is too young to know what he deserves. He deserves a better world.