White Gay Dad, Black Son

In what has become a far too regular ritual, my heart aches as news of a black man being shot by police in questionable circumstances overwhelms my TV, Facebook feed and basically, my consciousness.


I’ve realized something very important from this cycle – my perspective is so jaded. I grew up in a mostly white suburb, where the police spend most of their days sitting in front of the school, ensuring kids cross safely or hiding in a speed trap, ready to pick off unsuspecting tourists who are used to driving at faster speeds than our country roads allow.

And that basically sums up my worries about police – getting a speeding ticket. The consequences were a fine, a few points on my license and an increase in my insurance.

Set in contrast to the tragedies that are playing over and over on my TV screen, those consequences seem so minor – and indeed they are. But how, in 2016, can there be such a difference in the consequences of a similar traffic stop?

More importantly to me, though – what happens when this is just a facet of daily life and not a news headline?

You see: I am white; my kids are not.

My son will not be able to turn off the TV. There won’t be an upheaval of consciousness that is forgotten when the next news headline hits. When he begins to drive, he will be Black every day he passes that same speed trap. He will be Black when he walks to the playground. He will be Black when he goes to the mall to buy a pair of jeans.

I can teach him right and wrong, good and bad. But if fear, or worse, hate, is primary to a reaction, a moral compass is useless. As a friend said to me “Bullets don’t weigh out the good or the bad.”

Every time these new headlines hit, I realize just how unprepared I am to help him deal with this especially ugly part of the world. I have been, unconsciously, complicit in my lack of understanding, my lack of concern, my lack of consistency. My complicity is not for lack of caring, it’s a lack of perspective – a perspective I will never really have.

So how, as a parent, can I affect my son’s world? How can I prepare him for the ugly while helping him explore the beauty of our differences? How can I facilitate a conversation when I am not sure where it begins?

I know these questions are minor in comparison to the major race-related issues in our country but maybe, just maybe, they aren’t. Maybe we all need to see our own ugly clearly but focus on the beauty that can come when we stop talking and just listen.

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