Since I’ve had the chance to watch the entire series of When They See Us on Netflix, I can’t help but feel heartbroken. I’m at a complete loss. Five innocent teenage boys of color accused of beating and raping a white woman in 1989 in Central Park in New York amidst high racial tension and the debut of the crack epidemic. I was born in 1988, so I was barely two when this happened. I don’t know why I seemed so shocked that this type of occurrence would happen when African Americans were fighting for civil rights up until 1968, making this incident just a little over 20 years outside of the civil rights movement.
Of course there was backlash as is expected for a film of this caliber. Whether everything depicted was completely accurate in the film or not, when they see us, they see our black skin and unfortunately it has caused us to be reminded of a painful past in American history.
The media’s coverage of the story heightened the attention of the case and tainted the teenagers by calling them “the wolf pack” which is inextricably tied to a lineage of racial slurs. As I sat and watched When They See Us Now where Oprah interviews the exonerated five as well as the director and actors from the series When They See Us, I wasn’t able to find any closure. You would think that since the men were freed, all charges dropped, and they received a 41-million dollar settlement that these men would be in a much better place and they weren’t. Yes, some of them have gotten married, had children, moved to new cities, sought education, and even started campaigns for wrongfully convicted people – but they were still largely broken. They reminded viewers that being exonerated didn’t give them back the years they spent imprisoned and that no amount of money could ever justify the injustice against them.
I recently watched The Hate U Give (again) which is a movie about a young black male who was pulled over by the cops and was mistakenly shot to death as a brush is assumed to be a weapon. There are a plethora of cases that I can generate to show the broken justice system and the mass incarceration of African-Americans (a multi-million dollar industry) but for a moment I digress because I’m wondering what all of this means for my son.
I am a mother of a young black boy. I have the privilege of raising him. I say privilege because I am proud of my skin as I am his. I’m proud of my lineage of ancestors that have lived before me. I am proud of the resilience of black people especially after being prosperous in a nation that we have been forced into; for continuing to thrive amidst racial tensions, being treated unfairly, not being given equal access to a fair educational system, and living among many segregated systems.
My son is only eight and I have already began to have the conversations about our place here in America. I’ve talked about our history including slavery. I’ve began to make him aware of some examples of cases and situations where blacks are mistreated (in subtle ways). I’ve explained to him the importance of education. I’ve reinforced that we have to work so much harder and even then we can still be 10 steps behind. I’ve talked to him about the word “fair” because none of what I’ve just said has proven any level of fairness and quite frankly is a broken reality of our place here in America. I remind him regularly that I am raising a strong black man.
In the midst of these confused positive affirmations and harsh realities, I think about the difficult task of having to raise a black man in America. I think about so many incidents near and far that have happened with the sole reason of black skin being present. I think about how soon his father and I will have to sit him down and give him proper instructions about his interactions with police officers. I want him to be aware of his rights but want him to understand that he still has to be very careful about how he pursues those rights. My parenting has become political.
My heart breaks for my son because so much tragedy has happened at the expense of black skin.
I want him to know that our skin is not a weapon and that he should never be ashamed of who he is. Here in Charleston, South Carolina (where we’re from) there have been two major racial injustices in my son’s lifetime. Walter Scott (a black man) was pulled over in his car in April of 2015. He decided to get out of the car and run away from the cop. The cop shot him and killed him as he ran. The white officer was sentenced to 20 years in prison but it doesn’t bring his life back or justify his death. I can’t still help but wonder if Walter Scott was white, would the results have been the same?
In June of 2015, a white man walked into Mother Emanuel A.M.E Church in downtown Charleston and murdered nine African-Americans during a bible study. I grew up in a church in downtown Charleston and although I didn’t know any of the victims personally, this was a lost for all of us. Not only as a city but as a nation we mourned the loss of the lives of these people because this was bigger than Charleston.
I went to see the movie Emanuel two nights ago (detailing the church shooting in my hometown) and I have to be honest, I went in somewhat indignant. I’m tired of being reminded through media of how unfortunate it is to be black in America. I was looking for something different from this film. What happened in that church is undeniably a tragedy but the perseverance and strength of the victims’ family members was so powerful as forgiveness was interwoven throughout the entire movie. I was burdened when I walked through the doors but left with a sense of relief as I walked out.
I was relieved because I was reminded that God doesn’t make any mistakes. He created us in His own image long before we were even conceived in our mothers’ wombs. He is the writer of our stories. He’s omnipotent. With that, I carry hope now. Hope that things will get better. Hope that even in the thick of our history as black people in America, that none of what we’ve ever endured was in vain. I believe in the impossibilities as I am my ancestors’ wildest dream! I am able to remind my son that he is a child of the most high God; that he’s special.
So my heart breaks for my son because everyone won’t understand just how great he is. Everyone won’t tap into his potential. Everyone won’t be able to experience his intelligence and be exposed to his talents. Everyone won’t recognize his God-given light because they’ll be misguided by his skin. The good news is Jesus! Jesus died on the cross for all of our sins. He gave His life to cover everything we’d ever go through here on Earth. He’s bigger than anything we could ever experience.
God’s covering will protect him and others like him as they journey throughout life. Yes, the journey will be arduous and there’s more that we will go through but I have faith that even in the depths of troubling times, God will blow our minds and allow us to come up as we never have before!