He’s four years old. And he is already the size of a six or seven year old—according to clothing manufacturers, anyway. Strangers have always had unrealistic expectations for him based on his size. They expect more from him based on how big he is.
Right now, white strangers stop me to tell me that he’s adorable in his Monsters University sweatshirt. But I worry that these same strangers—or other white strangers like them—might not consider my son so sweet when he’s wearing a hoodie in high school. I wonder and I worry about the expectations that they will have for him then. Because I know that he’s going to be well above six feet tall when he’s done growing, and he will easily look like a young black man by high school.
He will be big. And he will be black.
That is reason enough to feel worried about his future in America today. But that’s not all; my son has a disability—the kind that you can’t tell just by looking at him—the very kind that could end up getting him killed by the wrong police officer. My son has a language disorder—a receptive and expressive one. He doesn’t always understand what is being said to him, but he is expressive enough that you might think that he does. I don’t know what his disability will look like as he grows older. I don’t know how his language will—or won’t—develop. Every single time another black person is killed for resisting arrest, I am fearful for the future of my black son with an invisible disability.
If he were white, would I still worry today that he might one day be shot for resisting arrest?
I worry that he might be shot because he will not understand why he is being racially profiled. He will not understand that he is being stopped or arrested just because he is big and black and “looks the part.” He will not understand that.
So when my black son gets stopped in the street for playing with the same nerf guns as his white cousins, selling CDs, buying skittles, or riding in a car with too many friends who are also not white—
Will he resist?
Will he have a meltdown and be considered a threat?
Will his disability look like non-compliance when he can’t understand the instructions or questions?
To my white friends and white strangers who are right now arguing that the murder of any one of these black men is a justifiable consequence of their own actions or reactions, I beg of you—
Will my son’s disability one day justify his own death?
Will his size and skin color be held against someone else’s expectations and justify their fear-based actions?
Have you ever thought of your child’s future and worried they they might end up being a hashtag?
When you see blue lights behind you, have you ever worried for your own safety?
I worry this for my son.
Every. Single. Time. EVERY time that another black person is killed by a cop, I worry.
But I’ve never once worried it for my husband or myself. Not one single time. That’s white privilege and a sign of systemic racism.
I can’t stay calm or quiet when I feel like I’m drowning in a sea of white denial, white accusations, and white justifications for black boys’ and black mens’ funerals.
The conversation has to change.
Please consider keeping your arguments and accusations to yourself for a moment and just listen to the pain and fear of a people who feel constantly at risk. Another black person killed by a cop feels like a personal invitation to another life and death situation for all black people. It is not just another opportunity for an opinion about what “really happened” like it is for most white people.
So, please. Stop playing devil’s advocate with the details. Instead, maybe pray for more compassion. As a friend beautifully suggested:
“You can jump to compassion without jumping to conclusions. Jesus did it all the time. It is the ministry of empathy, and it is disconcertingly and disproportionately absent from a large sector of the public discourse.” —Grant Jenkins
We need to stop arguing with each other and with people of color about whether or not a black man’s death was justified, but do not read that as an invitation or excuse for silence. I am begging my white friends to speak out. By all means, be part of the conversation. Let’s talk about the systemic racism that likely led us to another black funeral, the racial profiling that exists in Stop and Frisk Laws, the overt and hidden prejudice of middle-class white men in power who have never had a relationship with a person of color, the school to prison pipeline, Mandatory Sentencing Laws, generational poverty stemming from the continued fallout of the Jim Crow Laws.
Will my son be a hashtag someday?
I can’t calm down. I won’t get over it.
Let’s talk about how and why #BlackLivesMatter.
Tiffany and her husband Will moved to Nashville in 2007. They are the co-founders of a non-profit called Corner To Corner that exists to love and serve the McFerrin Park community of East Nashville. They have two beautiful children through adoption—Raylan (4) and Penelope (2 months).