Fear Confession: Protecting My Little Brown Boy’s Life

I prayed for a little nephew. I don’t know why, but I was ready to be an Auntie. (Well technically I already was an Auntie, but all of my nieces and nephews are older than me…that’s a story for another day). Less than a month later, guess what? I find out I’m going to be an Auntie!

Even though I was away from home, I wanted to be very present in his life. I’ve probably loved him way too much since the day I wished for him. I am willing to give up anything to ensure his safety and happiness. I’d trade my life for his.

I want to make sure he grows up with the advantage of learning from all of my mistakes and that I surround him with an overwhelming sense that he is truly loved.

I’m not bragging, but I’ve been a wonderful Auntie in so many core areas of his life — spiritually (he studies the Word, believes in it and lives it), academically (we do Math homework every night…ugh…but he gets 100s), and physically (I make sure he’s full and not funky…ya’ll know how boys are lol). The one area that I have shied away from is talking to him about race, particularly prejudice and racism. I don’t want to admit that I fear for his survival sometimes because of one fact: he’s a young, Black boy.

When I had “the talk” with my mom, I was so young. I didn’t see the differences between me and my playground friends and really don’t remember noticing skin color until about first or second grade. One day after I told her about my new best friend, she said: Don’t feel bad if your White friends don’t speak to you in public when they’re with their family or if you don’t get invited to birthday parties. It’s just how it is. I did not believe my mother. Why would my best friend do that? We talked all the time at school. I thought my mother was just overreacting…until it happened. I saw my “best friend” at the grocery store and as I eagerly waved and said hello, she and her mom walked by like I didn’t exist.

I also remember the first time a red-head, violent little boy on my bus called me the N-word. I didn’t know what the word meant, but it stung. And when he pushed me down I knew for sure it wasn’t something good.

Him: “Notice anything?” I look around the Memphis balcony. We’re enjoying a hotel-sponsored BBQ as guests. I think I know what he’s talking about but I don’t want to plant the idea. I say, “No, what?” He whispers: “We’re the only Black people here.” I don’t tell him I realized that. I don’t mention how they double-checked if we were guests, but I didn’t see them verify others. I tell him: “It’s okay.”

I remember how these moments (and the warnings) felt. They hurt. It caused pain to my heart and body. I didn’t want my nephew to feel that hurt. I didn’t want to project any of the negativity I experienced, assume he would go through similar issues and perhaps bruise his self-esteem. I know that no matter how many times I’ve experienced racist moments personally (or seen it happen to someone else) it hurts like the very first time. Seriously, I am taken back to that childhood moment where instead of calling me Lakeshia, a kid called me something else. More than that I’m reminded of the stories my mom and father told me about their lives growing up as sharecroppers.

It didn’t matter that I wanted to create this cocoon and tip-toe around discussing the harsh realities of the racism I and my family faced. He is very aware of his race and what it means. They say his generation is the most diverse. Growing up in a “post-racial” world, they don’t see race. Maybe that’s the case for some kids, but not my nephew. He notices it and talks about it. He analyzes interactions and the things happening to Black people, but I try to keep him from internalizing the negativity. 

He’s almost a teenager now, watches the news with me and fully comprehended the tragedy of Black teens like Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin. I watch him watching their images splayed on the TV. I can only imagine what’s running through his mind….so we talk through it.

We talk about how people will judge him, not only because of his skin color but his Southern accent, his hoodie, jeans and fancy sneakers; that when he speaks to those in authority, to always be kind and to be careful with his tone and word choice. He’s not near driving age so we haven’t touched on “driving while black” tips, but we’ve talked about how if he’s walking around to be careful.

There’s a fine line I walk between not making him insecure or too anxious, but prepared for the moment he experiences it. That realization that some people view you and your life as worthless…but know that they’re wrong! 

Of all the lessons I share with him, this is by far the toughest, partly because fighting against prejudice is an ongoing battle. I can’t tell him things will get better. I thought they would, but they haven’t. We have our talks, but it seems like the measures we thought protected our brown boys’ lives aren’t always successful. The be careful formula doesn’t work 100% and I don’t know how to fix it.

I’m scared I’m not doing this right. I fear that his livelihood, no matter how much it means to me, no matter how much we prepare to protect it, no matter how much I wish for a better world for him…it’s all out of my control.  I’m proud that our family welcomed another nephew a couple of years ago, but I can’t help but dread when I have to tell him what my mother told me: It’s just how it is.

6 Responses to “Fear Confession: Protecting My Little Brown Boy’s Life”

  1. Eboné Smiley August 31, 2014 at 1:05 PM #

    Now I’m crying. Well written and such an important lesson to share. I just wish it wasn’t necessary.

    • Lakeshia September 8, 2014 at 3:26 PM #

      Thank you for reading. This was a tough piece to write, but it’s been on my mind for so many years. I’m constantly questioning: Am I doing this right? But there isn’t a guaranteed path and it is sad that he still has to go through this.

  2. Allison August 30, 2014 at 9:00 AM #

    It is scary but thank God he is an observant and intelligent child so he is cognizant of what’s going on around him.

    • Lakeshia September 8, 2014 at 3:28 PM #

      Very scary! I am thankful that whether I’m READY or not, he’s aware and taking notes. I appreciate you reading.

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