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Dorian O. Burton Headshot

America's Greatest Lie

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I can remember the day my eldest son was born, and on that very day, how the sun shined a bit brighter and how the sky was a much more vivid shade of blue. On that day, my machismo was on ten, I felt about two inches taller, I held my head up a bit higher, pushed my shoulder back and poked my chest out just a bit more, my voice might have even got an octave or two deeper, I was the father of a beautiful baby boy, and it was one of the proudest days of my life. If you are a parent of a young boy -- or have nephews, baby brothers, or even godsons -- I am sure you can relate to the euphoria you felt when they took their first steps, the joys of rough housing, the pride of the first time they hit a baseball, the funny frustrations of potty training and toilet target practice, or the complete comfort of the weight of their perfectly shaped little heads on your chest as they fall asleep after a bedtime story. My sons are everything, and I am reminded of that every time they creep up behind me, jump on my back and steal a kiss or when they wake me up at 6:30 in the morning asking for chocolate chip cookies and wanting to play Mario Cart.

But, I am starting to get scared; my sons are getting taller by the day, their speech more complex and actions more deliberate, my sons are starting to grow up. Why does that frighten me? Because as they grow an inch here and there or as they move to their next shoe size, I know that the world will see the actions they used to find so adorable less acceptable by the day. I know that their rambunctious behavior that they, like most boys, exhibit might get perceived as something a bit different. I know that my beautiful Black baby boys are growing into young black men, and I am terrified.

I know my sons live in a world where I can send them to the store to grab a bag of skittles and they might not make it home. I am terrified because I know that if I let my kids go out with their friends, somebody might feel authorized to steal my everything's because they had their music up to loud. You see, I am terrified because I know that America thinks it has a black boy problem. America doesn't have a black boy problem; it has a lying problem. Sometime between the times our beautiful black baby boys start to grow into young black men, we forget about the genius in their short stories or the Picasso like masterpieces they are able to create with a minimal pallet of water colors and crayons. We start to see our beautiful black baby boys as broken and objects that need to be fixed. Somewhere along the line of our beautiful black baby boys growing up into young black men, we see them as threats, and that is where the lie ceases to be lily-white and balloons into something far more sinister and dangerous. Why? Because our biological wiring tells us we can deal with a threat in one of two ways, we can run from it or we can fight it.

With this lie or half-truth that we are all complicit in, has come even greater consequences for our black boys and I don't think it is an exaggeration in saying even put my son's lives in danger. By failing to see the assets in our black boys and perpetuating a lie, we are robbing our cradles of arguably one of this nation's greatest assets. As Howard University professor Ivory A. Toldson shows us that we fail to account for there being more black males enrolled in higher education than there are in jail, or as BMe CEO Trabian Shorters frequently points out that black-owned businesses are one of the fastest growing segments of the U.S. economy and that you probably know more black males that are in collage or proudly serving our country in the military than who are violent criminals, despite what the media portrays. That is not to say that there are unquestionably challenges in education, the economy and in the justice system for black boys, but much of these are more representative of a problem that Americans -- black, white, all of us -- have brought upon and lied ourselves into.

Some will say we live in a color blind society, I would then ask: is the society color blind or simply blind because we have closed our eyes to the truth? The truth is that we are not color blind, but honestly who wants to be? I would much rather live in an honest world where the wonderful brown tones and hues of our black boys are seen as nothing less than beautiful. The truth is little black boys don't need to be fixed. The truth is you would never tolerate your child being unjustly seen as a threat because of a conflated lie. The truth is that our nation's president was once a beautiful black boy that when given the opportunity, seized his moment to grow into a strong black man and the leader of the free world. And, lastly, the truth is that I want to not be terrified and to have the peace of mind that my beautiful black baby boys will be able to go out for a bag of skittles or a night on the town with their friends and come home to the endless dreams and possibilities that await them in manhood. Let us all grow as a nation and simply start to tell the truth.