This article was originally published in Community News.
When he was a young boy, I would try to assess the level of consciousness that my son had about being black. Based on many conversations, I thought that he had none. I would often ask questions about his friends, such as “What do you all like to do? What classes are you in together? Are they male or female? What color are they?” He usually had no problem answering the questions, except when we talked about race, often quipping, “Dad, why does it matter?” It wasn’t until my early 20s that I began to see how race impacts one’s life, so I understood his reluctance to cede any ground that would alter his belief in the uniformity of people.
Throughout his young life I’ve exposed him to several movies and books that focus on and discuss race, such as “Roots” by Alex Haley; “The Kalief Browder Movie”; “13th”, a documentary about race and mass incarceration; and “The Untold Story of Emmett Luis Till.” It was only after a recent incident at my son’s middle school that I realized he has been listening all along.
When I picked my son up from school one day, I could tell something was bothering this typically jovial, goofy kid. After some time, he finally opened up and told me that, within the context of a lesson, two classmates used the “N word”. I tried as best I could to help him process his experience, expressing that the N word does not describe him or others who look like him, knowing full well that this would not be his last encounter with the word or the systems that separate and expose people to opportunity by race.
There are times when it feels like we as a society are committed to discussions about race, equity and inclusion only when there is an event that forces a compassionate and informed response. At the moment of the event, our collective energy is highest and comes off to those most impacted as one-off, seemingly disingenuous and disconnected efforts. This event with my son and others like it are true opportunities to reform our minds, sensitivities and systems. Developing a higher consciousness is a process. We are on a journey to understand and change. Let’s continue to push ourselves to live into our better selves. Our words and actions matter because in them is the power of life or death.