Don’t touch the hot stove.
Look both ways when you cross the street.
Don’t talk to strangers.
Don’t stick a fork in the electric wall socket.
Don’t taunt the dog next door
Mom said all those and more to me growing up. I sure wish I had listened to the fork and wall socket one. The spark and charge that came from the wall socket almost made me tinkle on myself.
The last warning came on the way home from the hospital. After a tetanus shot that followed an incident between Trooper, the next door neighbor’s dog and me. Trooper, took a chunk out of my left thigh. Sure wish I had known that PRIOR to my wrestling match with Trooper. He won by the way.
These are sayings from the parent handbook 101. Parents give their kids these rules to help keep them safe and protected because as parents that’s our job. We frame their life with rules so they don’t have to learn the lessons the hard way.
We don’t question that these rules will shatter their innocence. We don’t question that these rules may teach them stoves are dangerous, and cars and people, as well as wall sockets, and dogs. We don’t pause when they ask, “Why.”
“Why can’t I touch the stove?”
“Why do I have to stop at the corner and look both ways?”
“Why can’t I talk to the guy at the park in the panel van who has puppies to show me?”
“Why? Why? Why?”
‘cause it’s my job to keep you safe.
This logic falls apart when we talk about race. Immediately we begin to debate whether or not telling our children of color the rules will crush their innocence.
As a parent of a child of color there are rules I have shared with my sons that parents of White children don’t have to share. There are rules that I have to share with my sons to keep them safe.
“cause it’s my job to keep them safe.
Our youngest son, Zion wanted to go with his friends to a store in the neighborhood. Zion was the only one in the group who was Black. My wife sat him down and told him the rules.
“When you go in the store you can’t do what your friends can do. If you aren’t going to buy it don’t pick it up. You can’t wear a hoodie in to the store and no pants with large multiple pockets. Keep your hands out of your pockets and don’t fool around when you’re in the store. Keep your receipt for the items you buy. Have a good time.”
These are the rules to keep him safe. These are the rules that will help assure no one will accuse him of stealing. As a parent I have to realize my son with the soft adorable round cheeks isn’t seen like that by everybody. Some store owners may see thief when they see my son. In order to avoid a traumatic experience for my son who is filled with innocence up to his brown eyes I have to give him these rules.
‘cause it’s my job to keep you safe.
When our oldest son was in high school we gave him the rules about what to do when he or the car he was in was pulled over by the police. We told him he couldn’t respond in the same manner his White friends do.
“When you get pulled over keep your hands where the officer can see them. Move slowly. Be respectful, humble, and calm. No sentence is complete without “sir” or “Mam” on the end. There is no such thing as curbside justice. Whether you agree with the police or not is irrelevant. This is not the time to debate whether you did what they say you did. Do what you have to to come home.”
“Why do I have to do all that and my friends don’t?”
“‘cause your friends don’t live with me and it’s my job to keep you safe.”
My wife grew up in a Black household and her parents gave her similar rules. They were presented as we did in a very matter-of-fact way initially and when she got older, and our boys got older the “whys” were answered in a more complete and comprehensive way.
My oldest is 19 now and as he got older I told him much will be assumed about him simply because of his appearance so he has to work hard at giving people what they don’t expect. Don’t be the sagging pants wearing “thug.” Don’t give anyone the reason or excuse to accuse you of wrong doing. He knows and gets it now. He accepts it as everyday and doesn’t question why. He is not traumatized by it or minimized by it. He understands the rules are unfair and unequal and yet understands they are necessary. They have not robbed him of his innocence they have given him security. By knowing the rules he is better at the game and he understands the rules are not personal.