As a wife, mother, and clergy person I struggle with what to tell my son about Trayvon Martin. As the mother of a five-month old black male, I am particularly concerned about what I will tell him. There will be a day when my son will ask me some hard questions and I hope I am ready to answer his questions. I hope that I’ve laid the groundwork for him to understand how incredibly valued he is and how racism is not his fault.
Because I needed to grieve for Trayvon and because I needed to think through what I was going to say in the future, I pulled together a list of the things we say to him now. I have seen several of these lists already, but they all seemed to be missing something. They were all missing God and they were all missing an important lesson, that humans are valued. This list is my attempt to make sense of a world that sometimes doesn’t make any sense, to myself or to the tiny human that is my son.
What I say to Isaac :
1). You are loved. Isaac, you are loved and beloved by God. God loves you and knit you together. God loved you so much that he sent his only son to live, die, and be raised again so that you could have eternal life. Isaac, God loves you every second of every day and will love you forever. God loves you in your joy and in your sadness. God is always with you and God always loves you.
Isaac, your parents love you. We love you and will do our best to make sure you know that every day. Some days we will definitely fail and some days we will not get along, but we will always love you. Your extended family loves you. Your grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, (and because we are southerners all of those people we aren’t related to but call aunts and uncles — they love you too).
2). You are wonderful, you are beautiful, you are strong, you are smart, and you are worth it. God holds you in God’s hands and cherishes you as something marvelous. God surrounds you with his grace, not because you are perfect, but because you are complex, interesting, and wonderful. Thankfully we are not made to be perfect. We are made to stumble and fall, we are made to be human. Our humanity makes us fragile, but we are made to be good. We are made to love mercy, do justice, and walk humbly with God. You are so wonderful; you are so worth it, so keep trying.
3). We expect you to strive to be a good man. We expect you to be respectful, helpful, thoughtful, and kind. We also expect that you will not live up to those expectations all the time. You will eventually be a teenager, you will probably rebel, and that is part of your job as a child. You will have to figure your own way to be a good man. During all of this though, we expect you to be a good man. We will work very hard to teach you all of this by modeling this behavior, but as I said in #2, we are all human and we make mistakes. We promise not to just say these words, but we will try and live them out everyday. I pray that we can live in a way that teaches you how to be a good man, and I promise, we are doing our best.
4). Some people are mean and it has nothing to do with you. There are a lot of hurting and broken people in our world. There are a lot of people that are mad and that don’t know how to deal with their anger. You have seen firsthand that there are people that are hurting, both your parents are clergy; we are up to our eyeballs in the hurt and pain of others. Some of these people might take their own issues out on you. Their issues have absolutely nothing to do with you. Some of these people will assume terrible things about you just because of the color of your skin. Never. Ever. Believe Them. Re-read #’s 1 and 2; there is nothing wrong with you. Some people may even try and harm you, do not engage them. I can imagine you will want to stand up to them, (you have a lot of me in you) but sometimes to survive you have to run. Keep walking, run if you have to, call an adult, call the police, and ask for help. (Sometimes the police will not be on your side, but please assume that they will be). Do not try and fight crazy; crazy will always win.
Right now my little son is exclaimed as cute wherever he goes. Our congregation lines up to exclaim at his cuteness, and little Isaac obliges with giggles, coos, and smiles; he’s already the overly accommodating PK (we’ll have to talk about that). We live in the south and since we are all generally cousins and overly friendly, whenever we are out with him we are stopped and told that he is very, very cute. It is true, I think he is absolutely adorable and his fans have fomented my belief that he is as cute as I think he is.
When most people see him they see an adorable little face they want to kiss and hold. But what is society going to see when he becomes a teenager and then an adult black man? If he is so incredibly cute right now, what are we all going to see when he is big? Are we going to see that same cute face only bigger, with opinions, attitudes, and thoughts? Or are we going to see a threatening face, meant to rob and kill? Are we going to assume my little Isaac is nefarious or are we going to remember that he is Isaac? Something changes in people when a black male child becomes a black teenager and then a black man. And so I am working to prepare little Isaac for a world that is not ready for him.
I saw a cartoon the other day that hit entirely too close to home. It showed a mother handing her black son a sign to pin on himself that said, “Don’t shoot, on my way to school.” Am I going to have to make Isaac that sign? I know that most of the time we don’t know what to do or say when it comes to talking about race. And that makes me afraid for my son.