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I have seen numerous articles written by parents outlining lessons they want their children to know as they get older. It prompted me to start thinking about the lessons I want my son to learn now that he is entering the tween years.
Initially my list sounded like every other list I saw. This didn’t surprise me because I think most parents want their children to be happy, safe, successful, and healthy.
However, as the parent of an African-American son who already looks older than his age, I had to come to terms with the fact that there are things that I have to include on my list that other parents do not.
As much as I know and believe that all people are created equally, the reality is inequality exists and racism exists. I can’t simply prepare my son for the world I wish we lived in. I have to prepare him for the world he actually lives in.
Here are the 10 things I want my son to know:
1. There are people who will judge you because of the color of your skin. They might clutch their handbags when they see you or form an opinion of you based on whatever stereotype they believe. They won’t know how sweet you are and that you have a heart of gold. They won’t know how you indulged your baby sister by pretending to be Elsa when she wanted to act out all the scenes from Frozen. They won’t see the sweet boy who used his allowance to buy school supplies for a school damaged by hurricane Sandy. Don’t let their ignorance change the person you are. Hold onto your sweetness and the love you have for humanity. Know that you were created perfect in God’s eyes and love the skin you’re in.
2. Anything can be accomplished through hard work. You have the potential to do great things. However, if you don’t put the work in, all you will ever have is potential. You get from life what you put in. On the days when you feel like quitting, give one hundred and ten percent effort. Even if you don’t get the results you want, you will know that you did your best.
3. Life isn’t fair and that’s OK. Bad things will happen to good people, and sometimes you will work harder than the next person and they will reap the rewards. I don’t know why this happens, but I know it’s pointless asking yourself the ‘why me’ question. Don’t let self-pity stand in the way of your happiness. Even though things might not happen the way you want them to, you have to find the strength to persevere. Learn from your failures and keep pressing on.
4. Don’t be a hater. Envying the way someone else’s life is unfolding is a waste of time. You don’t know the road they traveled or the sacrifices they made to get to where they are. All you see is the end result. If you want to be where they are, ask questions instead of stewing in jealousy.
5. Sometimes it’s better to be happy than to be right. You are a righteous young man and I think it’s wonderful that you stand up for what you believe in. However, being a right-fighter will not always be in your best interest. Sometimes it’s OK to concede, even when you know you are absolutely right. When you start dating you will appreciate this advice.
6. Life is a journey, not a sprint. Since you were a little boy all you’ve wanted to do is grow up. There’s no rush. You don’t get a prize for finishing life first, at least I don’t think you do. Life is filled with possibilities. Give yourself permission to explore as many of them as you can and enjoy yourself. Don’t get caught up in what you think you should accomplish by age 18, 21, 30 etc. As long as you stay true to yourself, you will end up exactly where you are supposed to be.
7. Remember to laugh. There is always a reason to be sad and depressed. Just watch the evening news. However, never miss an opportunity to let loose and laugh from your gut. It will instantly put you in a good mood. If you can’t find anything to laugh at, I have tons of pictures in your scrapbook and home movies to entertain you with.
8. Be grateful for what you have. You might not always have the things you want, but you do have what you need. You have a family that loves you unconditionally and will be there for you through thick and thin. You have your health, your sanity (this might change if you have kids) and you have breath in your body. I know that this seems like a bare bones list and somewhat cliché. However, when you have love, health, breath, and peace of mind, you can weather any storm that comes your way.
9. Help others who are in need. No matter how hard you think you have it, there is always someone out there less fortunate than you. If you have no material thing to give, then give a kind word. You never know what a person is going through and sometimes a word of encouragement is all they need to make it through.
10. When you interact with the police, remember the do’s and don’ts. Understand that although the police are there to serve and protect, some of them are among those who will judge you based on the color of your skin. We’ve taught you to respect everyone, but it’s important that you are ALWAYS on your best behavior when you come in contact with the police. Do answer all questions with either a ‘yes, sir, no sir’ or ‘yes ma’am’, no ma’am’. Do as you are told and ask no questions, even if you believe you are being treated unfairly. Do keep your hands in plain sight and don’t make any sudden movements.
I know some people won’t understand why it’s important for my son to be aware of numbers 1 and 10. However, I can still remember comforting him after he was called the N word for the first time. Sadly, I know that there will be other times people will use that term to define him. As for number 10, I can’t in good conscience not prepare my son when I know that he fits the profile of who statistically the police aim to protect society from.