THE BLOG
11/26/2014 11:51 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Black Men Don't Need a Guardian Angel. Who We Need Is Our Guardian Slave.

David McNew via Getty Images

From 12 to 50 it's assumed we're packing, assumed that like the Hulk or zombies we possess superhuman, virtually unstoppable destructive power. So where an average citizen may disagree, even argue and berate a police officer, treating them as the public servant that they indeed are, a black man, if he wishes to continue living, must channel his ancestors. His slave ancestors. He needs to forget there is a black president and remember that the default position of cops, cop wannabes like George Zimmerman, and the population at large is to view him as a perpetual deadly threat.

Our slave ancestors understood this acutely. They understood that paddyrollers, the armed militias employed to ensure wandering slaves returned to their plantations, were all too willing to use lethal force. Every slave in the South knew to make no sudden movement, keep your head down, show your pass, mumble something deferential regardless of the inquisitor's uncivil tone and move along. That survivalist wisdom was passed along for generations as the role of the paddyroller was assumed more by local police officers than the Klan.

And I remembered that wisdom that was passed on to me by my grandfather and father every time I was followed by security guards through Toys R Us as a teenager in Hamden, CT, pulled over in my car in my twenties merely to check my ID in Palm Beach, FL, or stopped by a young cop to again show ID in my thirties in Santa Monica, CA.

Each time after the unreasonable stop I was left shaking and ashamed that I hadn't talked back, asserted my constitutional rights as an equal citizen under the law. But my inner guardian slave reminded me it wasn't worth it. That cop was armed with lethal force, a predisposition to see me as a threat, and a long-standing system behind him built to ensure that whatever he did to me would end without consequence.

In the 1970s, when I was first learning this lesson, the spilt blood of the Civil Rights movement was still fresh. Today, in a world of black presidents, electric cars and talking iPhones, it's so hard to convince young black men, like my 13-year-old son, that if a police officer merely perceives you are a lethal threat, he is explicitly allowed to shoot you dead. However, since the mere combination of your sex, race and age ensures that you are perceived as a threat, police officers are authorized to kill you Q.E.D.

So what I have to drill into him, since I want him to continue to live, is to listen to his Guardian Slave and be preternaturally polite and respectful no matter how ugly and unreasonable the policeman's demand.

Then at least he'll probably only be tased.