Watch And Pray For Our Children

BY: - 21 Mar '12 | Parenting

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My daughter is only 6 years old, yet I find myself teaching her “the rules” without even knowing it. “The Rules” are do’s and don’ts for African Americans living in a racist society. My parents taught me “the rules” because they knew what the world was like for African Americans. They experienced it going to segregated schools and serving in a segregated military. They lived it everyday and prayed for the end of such ignorance and fear. I imagine my grandparents telling them, “Watch and pray, baby. The world is a cruel place.”

Now that I am a parent, I watch and pray for my child, but I also teach her about “the rules.” One day when she is old enough to understand I will explain to her why mommy and daddy insisted that she behave in certain ways. For now, we pray that the rules become second-nature to her, so when she is not in our presence she will watch and pray for herself and her friends, and remember the training she received as a child.

Here are some of “the rules” my parents taught me, and I now that I am a parent, I teach my daughter. Feel free to add to the list.

1. Don’t touch anything when you go into stores. This is the first thing that comes out of my mouth when walking into a store with my child. “Don’t touch anything.” I don’t want anyone accusing my child of stealing or breaking something. I also don’t want to make a scene trying to put a sales clerk in their place for accusing her.

2. Always ask for a bag for the items you purchased. My mom was a stickler for this, and even now when I purchase an item, no matter how small it is, I get a bag (or sack, depending on where you live.) Again, my mom didn’t want anyone thinking that we walked out of the store without paying for our merchandise. Police have been known to suspect African Americans for stealing more than other groups of people.

3. Know who you are. You can’t do everything they do. In other words, just because your white friend does something that doesn’t mean you can do the same. Whether it’s hanging at the mall or going to a house party, police, teachers, and other authorities treat white children differently than black children. When my daughter is old enough to hang with friends in this manner, this will be one of “the rules.”

4. Go where you say you are going and come straight home. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time can lead to being falsely accused of crimes. Every year we hear about another person, usually a black male, who served time for a crime he didn’t commit. As a parent, I’m not trying to smother my child by making her check in with me. I just want to know where she is so I can vouch for her whereabouts.

5. Recognize that if you choose a boyfriend of another ethnic group, you might face criticism and even violence from others. In my opinion, love doesn’t have a color, and my daughter will be encouraged to love people for who they are. Nevertheless, her father and I will prepare her for the challenges ahead if she chooses to date someone of another ethnic group.

I don’t doubt that Trayvon Martin’s parents taught him about watching and praying, or about “the rules,” especially as a young black male. Recent news reports of his last phone call to his girlfriend detail how he watched out for his safety. He was aware of his surroundings and was even afraid for his life. Trayvon watched a grown man pursue him. He watched his life flash before him. And now he is watching us to see what WE will do.

The reality is that our children aren’t as safe as we would like them to be. This could have been any of our children walking from the store to buy candy. So, not only must we watch and pray, but we must teach. Not out of fear or anger but common sense. We don’t need another Emmett Till or Trayvon Martin. Visits to the store should not take our children’s lives.

BMWK family, did your parents teach you rules about being African American? What are some rules you are teaching your children?

About the author

Dr. Michelle Johnson wrote 75 articles on this blog.

Dr. Michelle Johnson is the founder of Alabaster Woman Ministries, an online international women's ministry. She is a wife, mother, writer, speaker, teacher. Through her daily blog, online radio show, and video Bible studies, Dr. Michelle encourages women and married couples to make God the center of their lives.

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59 WordPress comments on “Watch And Pray For Our Children

  1. Shnookems

    I am only 21, but I must say that my mother was very big on #1 and #4. When  younger, like you mentioned,  I didn’t really understand the why’s behind her constantly telling me these things, especially #4, but I have so much respect for her watching over me and being consistent in guiding me to make good decisions  and for eliminating  some opportunities to have to actually Make any decisions because i Knew what her rules and “the rules” were.

    Reply
  2. Lis

    I was never taught the “black kids rules” per se, but we definitely could not touch anything, if they had already warned us. Regarding the white children, black children issue, my daddy never was fond of that anyway, mostly because of the truly racist time period he grew up in. However, with so much of this nonsense still going on in 2012, I will definitely be training mine. I will have to teach that certain looks on black people’s faces can get you killed–sadly!! This is disheartening.

    Reply
  3. Lanita

    Hi Dr. Michelle,

    As sad and unfortunate as it is to have to post something like this, the reality is it’s true.   While I will not generalize an entire race of people for the ignorance of many, I will say that we as African-Americans must be more cautious and that’s just the way it is.   As you stated, not out of fear, but out of the reality that there are many ignorant people in this world that hate us without reason and prey on our young black males.

    I have many white friends and associates, probably more white than black; and   I love them dearly and would do anything for them just as I would my friends of another race.   I am not intimidated by race or gender, I know who I am and have had to stand my ground a few times.   I always encourage the youth and teens that I have the opportunity to talk to, to love and embrace all people as Christ does, but do not be naive.   Know that your race only limits you when you set the limitations, and NEVER give someone a reason to believe that you are a thief, a criminal, or a bad influence. My heart breaks for black children because I see the effects of racism in the current school system where I serve and have heard teachers make unnecessary comments.   The sad part is, they were responding to how the kids were presenting themselves. I make it a point to let them know those students do not represent an entire race, they represent themselves.

    We must teach our children young to know their place and to behave in decency and in order just out respect for themselves as a person, but to fear no one.

    Reply
  4. DJBrothaJ

    I find any implication that Trayvon Martin is in some degree responsible for his own murder offensive.  Trayvon is not dead because he broke any of your “rules”.   He was not murdered because he did not “know his place”.  Trayvon is dead because George Zimmerman broke the law.    George Zimmerman is solely responsible and as such needs to be punished.

    Reply
  5. Exotikink

    I didn’t grow up in this county and had no need of the rules. This quickly chanded when I moved to Florida from Ohio. I’m teaching them to my 14 year old son who has lived here for three years. We are from a country where blacks are the majority and run the government. The issues there are based on origins, not color. I am hurt when my son says he cuts his basketball game short because racist kids came or he had to ignore things said by a group of young adults as he skateboards home. I’ve restricted his movements in our neighborhood and pay for memberships so he can do what he loves in relative peace. We know he answer to why this nonsense continues, but are we as a people going to pick up Mr. King’s baton in the new millenium? The battle is the same but the method in which we fight is different.

    Reply
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  6. Kellee Halford

    I am a mother of two and the rules you’ve listed are rules I grew up with and am teaching my children daily.   I would also include, Keep your hands visible at all times, never put them in your pockets or clothing and always always always carry your identification.

    Reply
  7. Lawanda

    “The Rules” you listed are absolutely correct and I appreciate you listing them for all to see.   Unfortunately the world we live in requires that we utilize those rules to minimize misunderstandings.   Thanks as always.

    Reply
  8. Tami

    I teach my son the ‘rules’ and remind him everyday.  As he gets older this list get longer and I don’t fear for him but remind him of how other races fear him. They fear him dating their daughters. They fear him succeeding ahead of their children. They fear him being a strong and charismatic leader.  Sadly, he has seen this fear in action. He has done his own research on the treatment of Black in America. It makes him both outraged but determined to succeed beyond the stereotypes. I am honored to be his mother.  I pray for the family of Trayvon Martin and the soul of Zimmerman and people like him.

    Reply
  9. Claudia

    Dr. Michelle,  
    Thank you for sharing this. I am a Hispanic educator working in a majority Hispanic neighborhood with many African-American students. I am also married to an African-American man. I had never heard of these rules but realize the importance of teaching them. The world continues to be such a dangerous place and grows in how unfair it can be. I did want to share that there are some teachers that do not treat their black students differently or unfairly. I work hard at trying to motivate each of my students to do their best because they are a precious child of God. I wish I could say all educators believed this and therefor taught this way. I pray for change in this world and for God’s hand of protection over my students and my future children.  
    Claudia  

    Reply
  10. Pingback: For both of my sons | Under The Acacia Tree

  11. TheImageCoach

    Yes – I was taught “the rules” as a child, reinforced them as a teenager when on my way home from school with a group of friends, waiting at a bus stop, we were accused of prostitution by a group of cops in an unmarked car (anyone grow up in Detroit during the STRESS era?). I had to teach my son “the rules” when he wanted to go out for Halloween as an “Axe Murderer” in a pair of black sweats, a black hoodie, facemask and a big fake knife. He did not understand, but I KNEW what would happen if I let him leave the house that way. My dear husband learned “the rules” as a kid, and when visiting a friend in an unfamiliar neighborhood, he had to wait parked on the street as the friend was running late. When he saw the police car crest the hill near his friend’s house, he rolled down both front car door windows, put his hands on the steering wheel and waited. He was removed from the car and handcuffed before his ID was checked and the friend vouched for his identity and reason for being in that neighborhood.

    Parents today want to HOPE that “the rules” are not necessary, but times unfortunately have not changed ENOUGH. Teach your children “the rules” and pray that they will help keep them alive.

    Reply
  12. Neka0025

     I agree. It is very unfortunate that we have to make our kids aware of the hate and stereotypes that are out there. My coworker never understood when I told her my children already have a strike against them~The color of their skin~ She asked why do I teach them that I said it’s teaching them to be aware and unfortunately it’s Reality! Trayvon Martin is not the only case there are several too many to ever compare where our children are treated differently because of their appearance! Thanks for sharing definitely going to re-post!

    Reply
  13. Anonymous

    Enjoyed your post. “The Rules” have certainly received attention. I’m a 40ish year old black female, no children and I live with my 40ish white boyfriend, also no children. We have had several discussion about the Trayvon Martin homicide. I wonder if white parents  teach their children about rules on how to deal with black people or other ethnicities in social or public settings?

    Reply
    1. michtom

      My parents taught me to treat each person as an individual, regardless of ethnicity, sex, sexual identity, etc. It has always stood me in good stead and allows me to have friends of many descriptions.

      Unfortunately, we still live in a racist, sexist, homophobic world where people need rules forced on them by hate and fear, not just blacks, but women, LGBT people, and so many other minorities who are blamed for the crimes of their attackers.

      My heart goes out to all minority parents, because there is nothing worse than losing your child.
      Trayvon Martin’s death is another added to a very long line–of black males, especially– who died because they were feared for the color of their skin or their (perceived) sexual orientation–nothing else.

      Reply
  14. Pingback: Trayvon Martins shooting: The ‘rules African American parents follow « metaretriever

  15. Chaton's World

    Indeed. My parents taught me similar lessons growing up. And it is unfortunate that those lessons are still applicable today. America is very schizophrenic. We have a Black president and yet Black boys and young  Black men are in danger, daily of something like this. My heart breaks for Trayvon’s family and for all of us who love Black men.  That being said, it is not a Black person’s issue.   Every American by this.   When the legal system of a state supports these types of actions, this country isn’t safe for anybody. I  referenced his death on  my blog today: http://chatonsworld.blogspot.com.  

    Reply
  16. Peg Keller

    Amazingly, I have an autistic teenager and I teach him almost all these same rules and we are white. The first “command” we taught him was “Stop” and then “Put your hands up.” So that he can do it without thinking. He is never allowed to touch a thing, if we have a cart he must keep his hands on it in full view at all times. He is not allowed to “loiter” or “hang out” in a public venue no matter who he is, even if another adult or teacher is there. He has a difficult time defending himself and can be talked into anything so I fear things like coerced confessions. The other thing we have taught over and over, if you are arrested-you answer NO questions and repeat “I want a lawyer” and “I want to call my parents” but say NOTHING else no matter how innocent you are, no matter how much you want to “help”.
    Society and the powers that be see him, and your daughter and Trayvon as “the other” – not like them- and therefore they get no benefit of the doubt regarding anything. Guilt is automatically presumed.

    Reply
  17. James J.W. White

    My wife and I are the newly adoptive (White and Asian Mix) parents of a beautiful African American girl. This article has given us a lot to talk about and prepare for in her future. Thank you for a great article.

    Reply
  18. Prentiss Whitley Jr.

    6) My parents always drilled in my head that I would have to be three times as good as my White peers to SEEM equal, if never actually be equal.

    7) My uncle, less ceremoniously, told me to never be alone with a White woman you don’t know REAL well..  

    Reply
  19. Dustinp76

    Awareness and education are so important.  It makes me so sad… I pray to god justice prevails for this child and his family.   All those who ever were treated based on their difference.   Rest in peace in gods arms Trayvon.

    Reply
  20. C.J. Williams

    I guess I just don’t understand. As an atheist I feel the loss of Trayvon and wonder what he may have accomplished in this life. He was a beautiful child.
    You tell us to watch and pray.  I imagine many of Trayvon’s relatives prayed for him on many occasions, prayed that he would be able to avoid just this situation in his life.  Those prayers were not answered.  What I do not understand is the depths of your feelings at Trayvon’s death. You seem fairly sure that he is in heaven as you state, ”  And now he is  watching  us to see what WE will do.”.  Why are you upset?  According to your religion Trayvon is now in paradise.  Would you rather be here with us on this “cruel world”?  I would think you’d be rejoicing.I am not trying to be cruel. I am deeply saddened by Trayvon’s murder and I would never use it to try to jab a barb into religious people.  I am just trying to understand why Christians are so sad when someone they love dies. Someone they are sure is saved. I know that if I were sure that heaven were real, and that I and my loved ones had completed the requirements to get into heaven, I would be happy when a loved one died. Oh, yes, I would miss that person deeply.  But knowing that my loved one was in a place where they would never again experience pain or sadness would make me very happy. I know that anyone’s lifetime is just a drop in the bucket in the face of eternity and the little joys we experience here on earth couldn’t hold a candle to even one hour of time in paradise.

    So, this sadness is really mind-boggling to me. Please, someone, explain!

    Reply
    1. Kyle Martin

      That is such a deep theological discussion that requires a different forum, I think than this message board. The short answer is something like this: That kind of believe in heaven is only a surface level understanding. Grieve is a human emotion that cannot be contain, regardless of what you might believe comes afterward. We don’t rationally decide to mourn, we just do because we are wired to do so. Second, we mourn for our ourselves more than the dead. It’s a selfish reaction, but one that Jesus experienced himself when Lazarus died. Lastly, while we are built by God to live in his presense he created us to live here and this is where he wants us to be. When the cruel acts of men extinguish the life God created, he grieves as well. Not because of the death, per we, but because of the cruelty of hate displayed by his creation toward each other. Some of this is based on sound biblical theology that’s been researched and studied, other bits are just my own opinion, but I hope it helps a little.

      Reply
      1. michtom

        Although I, too, am not a believer, I wanted to say thank you, Kyle, for this excellent answer that speaks to the power of belief and the strength it brings to many.

        Reply
  21. GUEST

    OTHER RULES: Don’t ride in a car with a group of other black teens; keep  the number  to a minimum. When the store clerk keeps reappearing everywhere you go in the store, she suspects you. If you are in a car  accident, and the cop and other driver is  white, the cop may be inclined to believe the account of the white driver (based on parents experiences with white cops who came off as biased at the scene, sympathetic to the white person). COMMENT: The rules would not be relevant to our generation, except that we have seen them play out unfairly and learned from cold experience why these unspoken rules are needed. We get used to having to always having to operate in life like this. We get comfortable beig uncomfortable with the rules.

    Reply
  22. Kyle Martin

    This truly breaks my heart. Im a teacher who has always been in racially diverse schools. I have always been frustrated with the attitudes of fellow white teachers who acted this very way toward African American students. They all have black students they adore and white student that give them headaches but the black kids who are unknown are certainly under more scrutiny. No one should know the truth of this more than white people because we get the unedited version. White people don’t mince their word around each other, unfortunately.

    However, before reading this I never realized how it could truly affect the psyche of young black children. Another part of working at a racially diverse campus as a white teacher is trying to convince African American students that they don’t have to adhere to the stereotype. I became convinced that white kids have it easier the time a black student told me he couldn’t go out for theatre, even though he wanted to, because he was black. He saw it as a white thing. Maybe I’m wrong but I don’t think I’ve ever heard a white student say that they couldn’t do something due to their skin color. I certainly never felt that way. Now I’m reading this and thinking to myself how truly blind I’ve been to an everyday luxury of which I was never aware I had. My mother never had to teach me any such rules because no one was ever going to suspect me as a threat.

    African American parents have obviously learned to deal with this phenomenon and aren’t as shocked as me, and perhaps this is simply the way it is for now. I know this doesn’t mean much, but my heart goes out to you. Not just Trayvon’s family, but all people who feel that they are treated like a second class. It’s wrong. I Have felt insignificant to speak my peace about racial matters most my life because i felt like it would come off as condescending, patronizing, naive or arrogantly superior. I never wanted be accused of trying play the savior for someone else, who are perfectly capable of defending themselves. But, this tragic occurance in Florida has convinced me that white people only understand enough to not want to seem like racists, because it’s socially unexceptaple. They don’t really understand what it’s like to be black, and they probably never will. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t recognize there is a a disparity in how different races are treated in America and make pains to change it, instead of simply saying, “I’m not racist,but…”

    Reply
    1. Baluga

      The theatre kid episode sounds really odd, since there are loads of Black actors. But maybe acting in theatre is somehow  different than acting in Hollywood.

      Reply
      1. Fred Fnord

        Even in Hollywood, black people get cast as the ‘black person’. And as for ‘loads’, they’re still hugely underrepresented.

        Black people in theatre, though? Most plays older than 20 years or so don’t even have the ‘black person’ part, and many of the ones that do end up with a white person cast into it anyway. (C.f. ‘Othello’.) Most community theatre companies wouldn’t think of casting a black man into a leading role, because they don’t have the ‘right look’. It’s not even conscious racism, it’s just… well… “would the audience really think ‘leading man’ when he came on stage?” That’s the kind of thinking.

        Reply
      2. Kyle Martin

        There are plenty of black students in theatre, but they have expressed that doing so leaves them at risk of being labeled “trying to be white” or “acting white.” Remember we’re talking about impressionable, insecure teens, who fortunately care less about that stuff as they become Juniors and Seniors. White kids also have insecurities of course, but as far as I can tell they don’t seem to be centered around race.

        Reply
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  26. Angela in NJ

    I am a single mom with a son in college. I was born in Trinidad but my son was born in the USA, but still  I raised him with the rules I feel all black parents use. I have a little story to tell you. When he was 8, we moved to a town where we were the only black people and I must say, we were not SHOWN any hatred. I stress the word shown because the hatred eventually surfaced. My son had a play day with one of his school friends at their home. My son took some of his video games so that they had a wider choice from which to choose to play. After a few hours I arrived and my son said goodbye to his friend and sat in the car. He was a bit quiet when I asked if he had fun. At once my mommy alarm was ringing. I did not drive off but sat there until he told me what had happened in that home. He said a little while before it was time for him to leave, he was packing away his games when they  realized  that one of his friend’s games was missing. Would you believe that the friend’s father told my son to assume a position so he could pat him down to check if he had hidden the game on his person? As soon as the pat down was over, the friend found the game which had fallen between the  cushions  of the sofa. That’s when I drove up and my son came outside. (Deep breath here) I took my son and we rang their door bell, but long. I asked the wife to have her husband come to the door, ’cause I was not going into that house. I asked him if he had placed his hands on my son. His face was red as a beet and he was babbling  apologies  left and right. I told him that it was the first and last time he would ever touch my child and if my son ever told me that he so much as placed a finger on him, to maybe make room to walk by, that  he should have his finances in order and made provisions for his wife and children welfare without him. I asked..”Do you understand what I am saying to you?” He nodded.. I said, ”Answer me!”  He answered. We never had any trouble with him or anyone else in that town for the remainder of the 10 years that we lived there. Guess the news of my temper got around. We have since moved and my son is a freshman in college and wears his hoodie to keep warm.

    Reply
  27. Pingback: Trayvon Martin, “privacy,” and privilege | a paper bird

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  29. Naturalblonde0190

     Why do people continue to make everything race-related??? Everyone talks about not being prejudiced, yet those same people always gotta make it about color??? SICK of it…

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      To answer your question: no one made anything about race, it just is. Self reflect for a minute and realize that your reality may not be the reality that all people in this country face. Possibly your idea of what’s “normal or expected” is not so normal and easily afforded to others.

      Reply
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  30. Anonymous

    I am not naive. Racism does exist and needs to be fought. But did it ever occur to you that by indoctrinating your children in the way you describe you are reinforcing the very stereotypes of racism that you want to fight ?

    Rosa Parks did not make history and initiate change because she played by the Racist rules of here time.

    What Christ and praying has to do with the entire issue escapes me a little bit. I do not think mixing religion into this helps solving the issue.

    Reply
  31. Scooping it up

    Thank you for this post. I am a white mother raising a black son and I do not know the rules. But Trayvon’s death has put fear into me. Fear that my adorable little boy will be hurt, judged, singled out, treated badly, and feared as he grows older. I don’t know the rules. That is my burden and awful privilege. It sickens me. I need to do right by my boy. This whole thing makes me ill. Terrified and ill.   Time to buckle down. All my boys will be expected to follow these rules, but they may be needed to keep my sweet brown boy safe.

    Reply
  32. SeanO.

    I am a white
    middle-aged father of three young children and when I read ‘the rules’ I am
    filled with such anger and revulsion and disbelief. My parents both immigrated
    to the United States in the fifties from Europe and it wasn’t until I was in my
    early twenties that my eyes were really opened to the blatant racism in America.   It wasnt ever recognized or brought up in
    our house I like to believe because we as a family were not ‘part of America
    and my parents were somewhat oblivious.  When I read ‘the rules my anger stems from
    the realization that they exist in the first place, and the dismissive ‘thats
    not true nature many in the white community need to believe for whatever the
    reason.   Raising my children none of
    these rules have ever entered my mind, and perhaps it is high time the white
    community at large to takes a hard look at ourselves and 1.) Realize that our
    fellow citizens have to teach their children ‘the rules to help keep them
    safe. 2.) Educate others in their community that we are failing as a society if
    we continue to turn a blind eye because it makes us uncomfortable to face the
    truth.   3.) No longer accept that any
    parent in this country have to teach their precious children that they need
    live in fear to get along.  

    The reality
    is that African-American mothers and fathers have to teach their children different
    rules to get along in this country.   I
    for one am ashamed.   I for one will not
    teach my children this is alright.   I for
    one will no longer accept this in my community.  
    I hope my words are not inappropriate or that I am intruding for it is
    not my intent.  

    Reply
  33. Pingback: Why Race Matters and Why It Matters That It Matters | World of Amy

  34. TORIA TAIWO

    The joy of every parent is to labour and reap the reward in joy and not in tears.children so to say grow up having both good and bad character growing with them,but by watching and with prayer,we able to bring out the best in them.MY fervent prayer fo all labouring parent is that devil will not rule the affairs of our wards for us to reap in joy and not in tears over them “especially single parents”

    Reply
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