I’m scared. I’m scared of the future. At this point, you may be thinking, “big deal, who isn’t scared of uncertainty?” The frightening abstract specter made up of job offers, grad school rejections, and simply trying to survive and live life as a functional human being. Allow me to be more specific. I’m scared for the fate of my sons, strong black boys whose names I do not yet know, whose faces I cannot yet picture. I’m scared for the lives of all the unborn sons being brought into a world set on destroying, rather than nurturing them. This may seem irrational or extreme to some, but for me it is a daunting reality that I face each time I think about my future. I am growing more and more convinced that I could not possibly stay in the “Land of the Free”, build a life here and maintain my sanity. What if I have a son? Would I have to live in the constant fear that every time he walks out the door, he might be ambushed with any kind of weapon; a spit in the face, a sawed-off shotgun, a sharp-edged insult? How comfortable would I be, launching my son into a world that automatically assumes that he is dangerous; stopping and frisking him (figuratively and literally) for the mere fact that his skin tone is on the wrong end of the spectrum?
What irony; someone from a continent perceived to be raging with war and disease is declaring another place on the planet is too dangerous for her future family! After all, aren’t my hypothetical sons more likely to die of famine or be abducted as child soldiers in a bloody civil war? This may have been true at some point in history (even today) and in some regions in Africa, but one could argue that any type of danger could befall your loved ones at a moment’s notice. I suppose that would mean none of us are really safe. Whatever the case may be, what frightens me about this country and what I have come to learn about its dynamics is that even in a supposedly “post-racial” era where a black man sits in the Oval Office, black men are still seen as a threat, a menace to society, a liability, a walking child support check, or a food stamp card.
My fear lies in the system that has proverbially been described as one that destroys those it claims to protect. The pervasive nature of the negative attitude towards black men is more than a false stereotype or two; it appears to be more like a deeply implanted gangrene, slowly killing all opportunities and potential for growth. “There are more black men in prison than there are enrolled in college.” “Police brutality? They are killing themselves off anyway!” Violent. Hypersexual. Drug dealers on the street corner. Single-parent homes. Looking at the media today, you can’t be blamed for thinking that black men are single-handedly responsible for the epidemic of unemployment, drug abuse, and all other ills that can be found in society. Everywhere you look, you are reminded of all the problems black men contribute to society, and hardly ever their achievements. If ever, heaven forbid, a black man should show too much pride and satisfaction in his work and talents, he will be christened Kanye West and relegated to the realm of Internet memes and Buzzfeed articles.
Even if my imaginary sons were admitted into the elite Ivy club and wore sweater vests and khakis in the name of “doing as the Romans do,” I fear that he would still have to shoulder the burden of representing a whole race of men. He would have to prove that he could speak as meticulously and intelligently as his classmates, and that he wasn’t just handed admission in near game-show fashion “just because” he checked the African-American/Black box on the Common App. He would constantly have to grimace in silence when his friends tried to “act black” around him, or if his teacher asked him to expound on the theories of “la Negritude” by Leopold Senghor as if he automatically should understand the life of a pre-colonial thinker in Senegal by virtue of being of African descent. He would constantly have to dodge the darts of narrow-mindedness being thrown his way with the aim of making sure that he ended up on the corner or porch steps where all the “brothas” deserve to be. I would live in constant worry of others being threatened by his sexuality, quick to hand out guilty-of-rape charges based on one teary-eyed account. I would have to be wary of talent agents or coaches who sell dreams of fame and fortune while exploiting my son’s ability to rap faster or jump higher than the next young man, making him grow to believe that he really is a demi-god, only to laugh all the way to bank to cash all the royalties of a now washed-up has-been when the show is over.
Every time he was out of my sight, I would mentally flip through the pages of history, praying my absolute hardest that my son wouldn’t be the next Emmet, or Trayvon, or 8 year-old D.J. who was shot in the face while playing outside his home. I do not mean to reference these momentous acts of injustice simply for the convenience of my argument, nor am I suggesting that children of all races aren’t victims of horrible crimes. My point is that I am fearful of a system that turns its back on an entire section of people, both explicitly and implicitly, all the while blaming those very people for their circumstances. “If only you weren’t so lazy/entitled/irresponsible, maybe you would actually get somewhere in life.” Maybe now you’ll understand that I couldn’t live in an environment that couldn’t guarantee to at least try to ensure that my loved ones were afforded the same fair treatment and protection, regardless of the amount of melanin embedded in their skin.
Zoe Gadegbeku, Editor-in-Chief