As mothers, we worry about the quality of the food we feed our children. We worry about the potential dangers of vaccines. We worry about the adverse affects of the violent and hypersexualized content the entertainment industry thrusts upon our innocent children daily on television and billboards. And, of course, we worry about pedophiles. But, as an African American mother, I am troubled by the added worry that comes from the realization that my children are seen as second-class citizens and expendable “thugs” by an uncomfortably large number of Americans. This is not justice.
“Be mindful of your blackness.”
This is what I tell my bright and beautiful teenaged boys each time they leave home. It’s a sentiment born from a deeply rooted and historically justifiable fear that it may be the last time I see them alive. Not because they may fall victim to a car accident or succumb to an unforeseen fatal disease. Not because they are involved in gangs or because they may become the unfortunate targets of radical extremists. No, I teach my children to be mindful of their blackness at all times because I know that they need to live constantly on guard. Because they need to know that they run risk of being murdered in the street for the crime of simply being black at the wrong time and place. This is not justice.
Fear for the safety of black children is not just felt by African American parents, but by all parents of black children. In his essay, “I Hope My Son Stays White,” Calvin Hennick outlines some of the privileges his biracial son will never be afforded like losing his “temper in public” or shopping without being watched. He says he dreads having the conversation on race, “the one where we tell him that the rules may be different for him than for his white friends; the one where we tell him that, if the cops bust him and his buddies for smoking pot, he can’t count on being treated the same as everybody else; the one where we tell him that white kids generally don’t get shot just because they’re not perfect citizens, but black kids sometimes do.” This is not justice.
Blogger Maralee Bradley, parent to a black son, pleads with his future white friends saying, “Whatever trouble you get into, he will likely not be judged by the same standard you are. Be understanding that he can’t make the same mistakes you can. She also expressed concern over the way her biracial son will be viewed “as he transitions from an adorable black boy to a strong black man.” Being mindful of your blackness is an awareness that if you are black or brown, you can’t do what a white person can do. This is not justice.
Indivisible Unless By Race
The culpability for the prevalence of racial inequality does not rest solely with individuals. The media helps to create a society where racially based double standards are acceptable. It uses carefully camouflaged—barely perceptible—tactics to perpetuate the perception of the black thugs vs. white “kids just being kids” stereotypes. For instance, Brock Turner, a 20-year old white man convicted of rape, was widely referred to in the media as the “Stanford Swimmer” and received a 6-month jail—yes, jail, not prison—sentence. Judge Aaron Persky offered this statement in defense of the sentence: “A prison sentence would have a severe impact on him. I think he will not be a danger to others.”
Instead of publicizing his mug shot, the media and law enforcement made the decision to circulate an old high school yearbook photo of Turner wearing a suit and tie. In contrast, 22-year old, African American ex-Vanderbilt football player, Cory Batey, whose mug shot was made immediately available, was sentenced to 15 years in actual prison for the same horrific crime. According to Shaun King of the New York Daily News, “Black men consistently pay the harshest possible price for crimes they commit. Just off the top, black men are given prison sentences 20% longer than white men for the exact same crimes. Cory Batey’s minimum possible prison sentence, though, is actually 3,000% longer than what Brock Turner was given for a comparable crime.”
This is not justice.
In the “Star-Spangled Banner,” Francis Scott Key wrote that, America was the land of the free. But, in 1814, not all Americans were free. The “Pledge of Allegiance” was penned with the words “liberty and justice for all.” But, in 1892, not every American enjoyed civil liberties. In 2016, all American’s experience a semblance of freedom. But, as in the case of an increasing number of instances, freedom, liberty and justice is not measured out with equality. The guarantee of unalienable rights for all Americans is not yet fully realized. Many reject the broken promises of the national anthem and the “Pledge of Allegiance” and view them as lasting symbols of oppression.
Justice for Some, not All.
In light of the state of racial equality in America, the silent protest of the national anthem by San Francisco 49er, Colin Kaepernic, may not be so farfetched. As a loving mother of two young black men who may be classified as “black thugs” instead of “kids being kids,” I empathize with his position. Once all Americans face the same punishment for the same crimes and are not judged on the color their skin, we will have racial equality. Until then, we can only claim freedom and justice for some, not all Americans. And, this is not justice.
Maralee Bradley is the author of “Dear White Parents Of My Black Child’s Friends: I Need Your Help.”
Shaun King is the New York Daily News author of Brock Turner and Cory Batey, Two College Athletes Who Raped Unconscious Women, Show How Race and Privilege Affect Sentences.