My son Zane is black. His life matters. My son Aidan is of indeterminate race. His life matters.
I am a white gay man. So is my husband, Brian. And our lives matter.
There is a part of me that will always feel guilty, that will always question my cultural competence when it comes to raising a black son. We celebrate Kwanzaa. We watch Sidney Poitier films (although boy boys greatly prefer Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury). We listen to rap. This month, for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, my ringtone is the “I Have a Dream” speech. But I will always know that this is not enough. I will always know that I don’t understand the marginalization of people with different skin colors.
I did a radio interview about a year ago where I felt ambushed. The interviewer kept asking me what right I had to foster a black son, calling this a “plantation adoption.” He did not ask me about my cultural competence. He denied that it was possible for me to have any cultural competence; that, in essence, because I grew up white, I could never understand growing up black.
That is probably so.
But it got down to this: Zane was a crack baby, and a difficult baby at that. There weren’t any other foster parents, black/white, straight/gay, thin/thick who wanted him. The social worker said that he would probably end up in a group home. And Brian and I are the kind of people who take the long odds: boys with colostomies, crippled dogs and unadoptable babies. And, ultimately, Brian and I were the only two people who chose to treat Zane as someone whose life matters.
Now, I grew up different from my parents, in a day and age when a boy had to hide the fact that he would not be heterosexual like his parents. Zane will also grow up different from his parents.
There is a double burden on me because I am not a black man, and I am raising a black man. It is my responsibility because I have chosen. I did not choose to be white. I did not choose to be gay. But I did choose to be a father.
Zane earns an allowance, as does Aidan. He gets $12 a week just for being Zane, but if he does something special during the week, he gets a little extra. If he does something especially bad, he loses a little something. So most Saturday mornings, I say something along the lines of: “Well, you started out with $12, but you socked your brother at dinner on Wednesday. On the other hand, you did do your homework every night without drama, so this week’s total is $14.”
Zane can spend that money any way that he wants. It is why we call it an allowance: he is allowed to choose the way he spends it. So last month, in December, Zane earned an unprecedented $17. That Sunday, while my husband was performing in the Nutcracker, Zane, Aidan and I walked into Cliff’s Hardware store, my favorite catch-all store in the Castro, the kind of store where I could buy washers for the sink and a marabou feather boa all at the same time. As I looked through Christmas decorations and needlepoint accessories (yes, I am that gay), Zane and Aidan wandered off into the toy section.
Zane came back with a white and orange plastic Nerf gun. Despite the fact that I work as a deputy sheriff, I do not purchase toy guns for my sons. I don’t believe in glorifying gun violence. Just me. If we had girls, I would probably not buy Barbie dolls because I don’t believe in an 18-inch waist either. But this was Zane’s allowance, and I thought that by the rules we had made about it, I could not deny him the purchase.
Neither Brian nor I checked his backpack the next morning. Neither Brian nor I thought that parents should be snooping in their son’s backpack. And Zane went to school, and during study hall, he pulled out the new toy he bought and waved it around.
The teacher freaked out, went home sick. When she returned three days later, Zane was charged with terrorist threats and expelled from the school.
Yes, I work as a peace officer, and, yes, I am aware of gun safety. Yes, I have discussed with Zane more than a dozen times that 12-year-old boys with darker skin colors who held toy guns have gotten shot by police officers with lighter skin colors.
This is a place where cultural competences collide. I have friends who are teachers, and when I have told them this story, they shook their heads and said, “This is sad, but that is what the school district needed to do.” I have friends who are peace officers and they shook their heads and said, “This is crazy.” I have friends who are black and they shook their heads and said, “This is an overreaction.”
Truth of the matter is that the majority of people who shoot people in schools are not 12-year-old black males. Truth of the matter is that a 12-year-old black male who carries anything looking remotely like a firearm is suspect in America.
Zane’s is a 12-year-old black boy with learning challenges being raised by gays in the wild. His life matters. I do what I can to let Zane know that, yes, black lives matter.
I have friends (well, associates really), who tell me that Black Lives Matter as a movement is wrong because all lives matter. And I understand their perspective. But I also understand, as a father who fiercely loves his son, that too often in this world there are people who don’t treat my sons, and other black sons, like their lives matter. So I need to underscore this, that when the school abandons him and he gets kicked out of basketball camp:
Zane’s life matters.