There is something troubling me. Last week the media was agog with R&B star Chris Brown’s latest outburst. For those of you who don’t follow pop culture, Chris Brown is the R&B singer/dancer who notoriously beat up his then-girlfriend pop star Rhianna two years ago. I think everything that can be said about Chris Brown has already been said. He’s a young man who clearly has anger management issues, is immature and in desperate need of a strong, positive male figure in his life. I feel for his mother who must be distraught over the constant turmoil her son seems to invite into his life. I thought hip-hop journalist and activist Kevin Powell eloquently and movingly reached out to Brown in an open letter entreating him to get his act together and confront his demons. Even more powerful was Powell’s contextualization of the struggle that young African-American men face in our society that cannot reconcile its discomfort with race.
Seeing the non-stop coverage on Brown’s Good Morning America appearance and reading Powell’s letter got me thinking about my own son. D2 is not yet a year and a half old and already I worry about him. It may seem irrational but I watch the news and read the papers and am struck by the persistent negative images of black and brown boys. Just the other day on my commute to work I saw inmates picking up garbage on the side of the road. As far as I could tell, they were all black or Latino with the exception of one. Often young black and brown men are portrayed by the media as violence-prone “thugs” coming from broken homes and distressed neighborhoods. They are deemed lost causes before they have even come of age. With this constant drumbeat of negativity, how can any young man possibly feel his own self-worth? How can I arm my son with self-confidence, self-mastery and a vision for his life to help him traverse the difficult road that lies before him? I want him to understand and believe he can become anything he sets his mind to be. I want him to look at the long history of powerful Black men who have paved the way for him like Thurgood Marshall, Nat Turner, Gabriel Prosser, Frederick Douglass, Hiram Revels, W.E.B. Dubois and Martin Luther King, so many great, great men who suffered but triumphed through intellect, an unrelenting vision for their lives and a warrior spirit. I want him to claim the sword and shield of faith coupled with wisdom and self-knowledge.
I want D2 to learn the lesson that Chris Brown has yet to fully understand: the world is different for black and brown young men. That neither fame nor wealthwill exempt him from the double standard that exists where the Charlie Sheens of the world get a free pass but the Chris Browns will be made to relive their mistakes over and over (made worse by his own self-destructive behavior). That he will never receive the same level of forgiveness for his transgressions that others may get. That he must take responsibility for his actions and admit his mistakes – then learn from them. And when he feels hurt and rage, to let those twin emotions propel his self-actualization and God-given purpose rather lashing out, hurting others and engaging in self-defeating behaviors.
I am fortunate to be married to an amazing man who take his role as a father very seriously. Dr. D. and I talk about what we need to do as parents to raise D2 into a strong man. I feel confident that we can do this but still I can’t shake this nagging worry. My friends with sons tell me to get used to it because it doesn’t go away.
The other night D2 was tucked into bed between us. I don’t know what awakened him but just for a moment he opened his eyes, threw a chubby little arm around my neck, kissed my face several times, sighed and fell back asleep. I know I can’t protect him forever but I’m going to do everything in my power to prepare him to meet the world head on and succeed on his own terms.