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Confessions of a Worried Black Dad

James Warren July 31, 2020
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Today, I read a wonderful, wise and loving farewell – and admonishment – from Rep. John Lewis. He spoke to all of us about what we need to do from here, for this nation to live up to its promise. The fact that he planned ahead to share it with us on the day of his funeral has me feeling some kind of good way, but that’s another story for another day.

Lord, it was healing and inspiration to me. Because for the past three weeks, I’ve struggled with what to say. That’s not because I don’t have anything to say, it’s because I was feeling blocked. Six weeks ago, I was uncorked. Am I now… recorked?

No, I refuse that. Some of y’all might think this thing is passing over, but I don’t co-sign that. I will not be recorked. We will not be recorked. We are being heard, but damn it’s a struggle. While I’d love to let my internal optimist rule and focus on the promise of tomorrow, some of you don’t want to let us do that.

You don’t want to let us get to tomorrow.

That’s because you’re terrified of what tomorrow looks like, without your power.

So fine. Let’s talk about what today looks like.

My today.

My oldest son, a 23-year-old young Black Man, has been home for the past month. It has been a treat for me and the whole family. I refer to my kids as the princes and the princess, because that is how I see them. So my oldest, he is the eldest prince. He spent months in relative lockdown in New Jersey, so as he says, he “knows how to move safely.” He has reconnected at home with a few close friends – always masked and in very small groups – but we go through the interview every time he leaves and comes home: who are you going to see? Who else will be there? Where have they been and who have they seen? He knows how important it is to keep the family safe, and I appreciate his sense of protection. Even when we had our grown man / young man trials, I never doubted his sense of protection for the family.

So the eldest prince and a couple of his friends, they love to go fishing. Christian’s always loved fishing. I liked it as a kid, but his love for it surpassed mine early on in his life, and now he is the family angler.

He worries about whether or not he will catch any fish.

When he’s not fishing, he and his friends spend time hanging out, talking, having as much responsible fun as young men can have during times like these. Sometimes he drives our car. Sometimes his buddy picks him up. There is still a curfew of sorts. Yes, even at the age of 23, there are still some rules, because we have the youngest prince and the young princess who can be notoriously light sleepers, even without people coming and going in the wee hours.

So last night, let’s just say he was a little late coming home. And for a while there, let’s just say he wasn’t the most responsive on the text. And it’s getting close to 1AM. Now I respect him, because he is a young Black Man. And, as the saying goes, “I’m your father.” So there was a little, um, shall we say friction. It’s all good now.

He was probably worrying about catching an earful.

But you know what I was really worrying about? I was worried about whether or not he was getting accosted, assaulted or shot by either a police officer or some other person who assumes authority over his black self.

I worried about whether he and his friend had gotten pulled over by police, and that I would fall asleep and not hear him call me when he needed me. That I would wake up the next day – today – to him not at home. That there would be a knock at the door. And that today would be the day I become the parent of a Black child who died because they and their friends were so terrified upon a police encounter, they tried so hard to do everything right, they tried to remember all the things we told them, that they read and watched, that we drilled them on, and yet, the fear won out. They died because they were terrified that they would die.

That’s what I worry about with the oldest prince.

I also worry about the second oldest prince.

He is a 20-year-old young Black Man who lives in an apartment off-campus near VCU. He has a couple of roommates, including his boyfriend. (He is out and told me he appreciated both me asking his permission and telling his story.) He has taken these past few months hard, as have many young people who are both Black and LGBTQ+.

During the second night of the demonstrations in Richmond, I had to go pick up the second oldest prince, his roommate and his boyfriend at around 130AM. They were still at their apartment but there was a fire in the alley behind them and people had just barged into their building screaming that the building next door was on fire. (This turned out not to be the case, but they did have damage to their place, and the roommate’s car.) They called me, panicked, I told them to call the police, pack their stuff, and I was on the way.

As I got close to their apartment on Grace Street, I had to navigate several police roadblocks. Finally, I was told that two blocks away was the closest I could get. So I pulled over on Franklin Street, a couple of blocks up from theirs. I called them and waited for them to pick up. It rang and rang. I held my breath. Finally, he answered. I told them where I was and asked them to hurry over to me, the two blocks.

I’m thinking this is a 60-second thing, but it was more like five minutes.

I get out of my car and wait on the corner, so they can see me, and I can see them. I saw a group of three young men come from the opposite direction. We gave each other the requisite head nods, all good.

Then I saw my son, his boyfriend and his roommate. Our boys. Relief started to rise as they got to the car and started to pile in. And just as the last one was getting in – I’m still standing outside, monitoring the situation – a pickup truck pulls up. It’s 130AM. It’s full of white guys. They looked us up and down. I wondered what we were encountering. They asked us which way the protest was and if it was still going on. I said I didn’t think so and made sure all our guys were in the car. I got in, locked the door and turned on the car, watching to make sure they were pulling off. They continued to head towards the demonstration. I said a prayer and we headed home.

Over the next two weeks, we worked through his pain, his fear and his anger, as he came to terms with his own uncorking. I don’t know what all of that pain feels like, but I do know what some of it feels like, and he is my son and that is all that matters.

So you know what I worry about? I worry that if he gets stopped in the street, it may not be a case of police brutality that brings him down. It might be just a good old-fashioned case of racism mixed with homophobia, an extra-deadly cocktail.

So I worry about his fear and his anxiety, and what that will turn into. Because already, I sense that he knows that when the hate-seeking missile find him due to the color of his skin, the racist who fired it will realize, “Oh, he’s Black and gay?!?” And then send another hate-seeking missile his way for good measure.

That is what I worry about, when I worry about the second-oldest prince.

And finally, while they are much younger, I already worry about the youngest prince and the young princess. The youngest prince has already displayed a remarkable sense of justice, exclaiming with pride, unprompted, that Black Lives Matter. And I worry that while the world is becoming more tolerant of biracial children, as he and his sister are, I worry that he will feel the weight of otherness, that he will feel the pain of the empathy for his older brothers, and that he will struggle to express his identity. I worry that the youngest princess will feel the pressure to be one thing, even though she is so many, because that is what often happens to girls and women of color.

So that is what I worry about, when I worry about the princes and the princess of our family.

Now, if you are the parent of a Black or Brown child, you already know why this matters.

If you are the parent of an LGBTQ+ child, you already know why this matters.

And Lord knows if you are the parent of a Black or Brown LGBTQ+ child, you definitely know why this matters.

But if you are not the parent of a Black or Brown or LGBTQ+ child, you might be wondering why this story matters to you.

Let me help: imagine, for a second, what it’s like to worry about whether your child will come home because of the color of their skin or how they identify or who they love. If you can begin to visualize that, you can begin to empathize. And if you can begin to empathize you can begin to take action.

And taking action requires you to confront the resistance. Not ours. Yours. Your resistance to taking a stand. To doing something about the hatred, the injustice, the inequality you KNOW we are living with. Some of you are making good statements. Okay, it’s a start, but action is required after that. Love, in action.

And some of you don’t even do that. You literally turn away when you see our oppression, because you don’t want to make the sacrifice. For some of you, the resistance to change is so. Freaking. Intense. Some of y’all are seriously like, “Oh hell no. We’ve had just about enough of this, this protest, these riots, this, this uprising.” (We know you don’t call it that, but I can’t help but picture the sneer and disgust of a racist person having to acknowledge the uprising.)

Are you so incapable of humanity that you can’t see a fellow human hurting and do something about it?

Here’s the thing, we’re not asking you to give up all your power, just to share it equitably. Look, you can call it what you want: equity, reconciliation, reparations, whatever. But if you need an example of what I’m talking about, look no further than what Mackenzie Scott did.

And you do not have to be a multibillionaire to make an impact, to share power, to use your privilege for good. You can do it every day in small ways, at work, in your neighborhood, online and in what you teach your children at home. Speak up. Speak out. Amplify Black Voices. Choose a side. Dare to love.

Prove to us that Black Lives Matter to you. (Because when Black Lives Matter, then and only then do all lives matter.)

Allies are good, but action is better. Get in the fight.

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