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?