Recently I had a conversation with a friend discussing how the relationship between fathers and sons has dramatically changed. In the past fathers would nervously sit with their sons and discuss important topics including “the birds and the bees” (aka human sexuality).
Traditionally these conversations took place when fathers realized their “little guy” was now in need of sage advice and support. Frequently movies and television shows over the last several years depicted this conversation in various ways. Everyone from Laurence Fishburne’s character Jason “Furious” Styles in Boyz n Tha Hood to Anthony Anderson’s character Andre “Dre” Johnson from Black-ish have tackled this issue. The mood during the conversation varied depending on the T.V. or film Dad’s concerns regarding the choices their son may or may not make.
Watching fictional characters address this issue can provide conflicted Dads’ with some insight on how they should discuss this important topic. Unfortunately the “father and son talk” has evolved from discussing human sexuality to explaining how and why there is no justice for men like Walter Scott. These conversations are far more difficult than sit downs I had with my father. I always had an idyllic picture in my mind of what it would be like to have important conversations with my son about respect, dignity and courage. Now I have to spend time (sometimes weekly) explaining topics related to political rhetoric, racial hostilities and violence against Black women and men. It can be overwhelming.
What are Black parents supposed to do in a society where simple interactions can lead to your unfortunate death? I don’t have an answer for the question because there isn’t a book, documentary or workshop to answer the question. Historically, Black parents have shouldered burdens that other parents can’t relate to or aren’t interested in understanding. From the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, to slavery, to Jim Crow, to today, we carry so much pressure. As a result, it contributes to mental and physical health problems that impacts mortality rates within the Black community.
Encountering race-based problems complicates conversations with children and adolescents. It is extremely difficult to emphasize morals and values at home including honesty and treating people with respect when the needs and concerns of the Black community continue to be ignored.
The dilemma I face along with Black parents throughout the country is like Pandora’s box. Once you have a conversation with your children regarding the ills of society you cannot put the lid back on. When I look at my son I miss the much simpler times when we would rush home to give him the newest Lego set or take him to see a Disney movie. While we still share laughs, enjoy deep discussions about life and look forward to checking out the newest blockbuster I worry about his safety. This includes interactions with individuals that cannot see beyond his race or members of the community struggling with their own demons.
This is the burden of the Black parent in America. Some political pundits would suggest that the experiences I’m describing are a figment of my imagination; that the election of the nation’s first African-American President suggests we live in a post-racial society. However, a recent study contends it would take Blacks 228 years to amass the same wealth as Whites. The startling figure highlights how far we have to go to close the opportunity gap in America.
For Black parents the question of how to protect our children while encouraging them to aim high is complex. In a previous article for JETMag.com I described how difficult it was to talk to my son the day after election. Despite my concerns I had an honest conversation about what happened, how I felt and what I planned to do to counter possible conservative policy changes (fight for social justice). It is okay to talk to our children about concerns without robbing them of the belief that they can change the world. My conversation after the election with my son taught me he was more prepared to challenge negative narratives describing the Black community than I realized.
In the post-Obama era the “Talk” will continue to evolve. We will no longer have the privilege of watching Black excellence host foreign leaders, light the Christmas tree or inspire Black-centric hashtags. Black Twitter will no longer have the opportunity to go after someone for saying something negative about President Obama or Mrs. Obama. While an era is coming to an end we have to think deeply about countering narratives that reinforce stereotypes about Black children and adolescents. In addition, Black parents need to mobilize. If we sit on our hands and wait, our children’s futures could be in peril. We have to follow the lead of pioneers that paved the way by fighting for social justice. Civil Rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer famously said, “I’m sick and tired, of being sick and tired” but she also registered people to vote in Mississippi and challenged the political establishment.
While I don’t know what the future holds for the Black community we will continue to encounter challenges. In spite of the barriers parents have to be prepared to create a sense of normalcy in the lives of our children. This includes continuing to be honest and prepared to challenge anything that tries to rob them of their innocence and future.
Dr. Larry J. Walker is an HBCU mental health advocate and former Capitol Hill staffer. He is the co-editor of a forthcoming two volume set titled, “How the Obama Presidency Changed the Political Landscape.” Follow him on Twitter @LarryJWalker2.