My grandson just turned six years old. He's smart, funny, loving, affectionate and kind. He's also an African-American male. I remember when his dad, my son, was six. His dad was six and little and cute. I recall his pediatrician in our small Alabama town commenting on how energetic and precocious my son was. That doctor was white and only 15 percent of his patients were black.
Then my son turned nine and his fourth grade teacher in Cobb County Georgia called me and said she was concerned that he was in a gang because he wore a Chicago Bulls athletic outfit too often. He was enamored with Michael Jordon -- just like his white classmate was. That teacher was white. And 10 percent of her students were black. When my son was 13 and buying Valentine's Day candy for the first time for a girl he liked, a policeman followed him around the grocery store until I asked the cop if he had any crime he needed to pursue and assured him my son was spending my hard earned money to buy the three dollar box of chocolates.
As a young adult my son made some unwise (and even dangerous) choices. He was arrested and beaten up by police. Beyond his actual, real mistakes, he has been profiled and harassed for just being. Thank God, he's lived to find his place in the world and redeem himself of his youthful folly. He and my daughter-in-love are doing a great job rearing my grandson, his sister and their baby brother.
But I am afraid now. One day my grandson won't be six and little and cute. In fact, in 12 years, he'll be the age Michael Brown was on the last day of his life. In 11 years, he'll reach Trayvon Martin's last age of maturity. And it won't matter what values his family has instilled in him, nor what the "content of his character" is. That part of The Dream is still a fantasy in America.
I'm really scared. Right now he likes Ninja Turtles, but someday he might prefer music that he plays louder than a person pumping gas near his car may like. I'm worried that he might be coming to visit me in a neighborhood, and because he's wearing a hoodie or talking trash with his friends, some woman will look out her window, call the cops and say, "I feel threatened." He might even knock on a neighbor's door to innocently ask for help, and they won't wait for the law, they will simply "stand their ground," shoot first and not ever ask questions.
I'm concerned that even if he makes a juvenile mistake, or commits a petty crime, he won't get to be admonished or learn from his foolishness. I'm worried I can't vouch for him. Or his dad and mom can't protect him from his wayward thinking. Instead he will be gunned downed like his ancestors who were defenseless against unjust laws and lawmen.
I am petrified that someone who has sworn to protect and serve him will instead maim and kill him. I am convinced that unless something changes, the chances of him being a species more endangered than any other is ever increasing at the hand of gun-strapped thugs, racists and maniacs who hide behind government-sanctioned clothing and duties.
And in the midst of the genocide occurring, one life at a time, I watch and listen to pundits on news stories criminalize these victims. In fact, they make sweeping statements that judge and misjudge my culture and make up details about my community that rationalize irrational abuse of power.
And then there is the complexity in my professional life that dictates that I show up in spaces and suppress my pain and anger. Otherwise I too am deemed unsafe and threatening if I dare point out this not at all subtle or disguised vile hateful behavior is indeed a reality for me and those I love. Not to mention, I have to negotiate to protect myself based on which of my identities make those in power feel uncomfortable. Or "threatened."
My grandson just turned six. What act of justice and change of systems will actually give me serenity that he will turn 16 and live to tell about it?