One day my 8-year-old daughter asked me one day what it was like to be me. At first, I didn’t understand her question. Did she mean what was it like to be tall? To be unstoppable at Mario Kart? To be an adult?
“No,” she said. “What is it like being Black?” Dang, I thought, that’s quite a loaded question, kiddo.
My kids are multiracial — 50 percent Black, 25 percent white, 25 percent Japanese. They aren’t as as dark as I am, but they certainly won’t be able to pull out any “White Privilege” cards anytime in the near future, either. Regardless, similar to the “birds and the bees” conversation, I knew the discussion would start eventually. But as we all know, being prepared for something doesn’t always make it easy when it actually lands in your lap.
I thought about my approach. I could’ve shared some of the outright racist stories in which I played a leading role, but I decided to save those for a little later when she’s better equipped to handle them. Not to mention, as ugly as those stories are, they aren’t all that common. Instead, I decided to share some tales about what it means to be a Black man that are way more frequent and what lessons I wanted her to take from them. Here’s what I told her.
1. Sometimes, I’m Viewed as a Threat
My Reality: I’m not a small guy. I’m 6’2 , 215 pounds. Being Black on top of that makes things a bit complicated for me. For example, I live in a predominantly white neighborhood, and I’m very cognizant of how I appear to others when I’m out and about. I never wear hoodies over my head, I rarely walk alone at night, and whenever I host a large gathering like a birthday party, I always let my neighbors know beforehand.
Why do I do this?
Because I don’t want someone calling the cops on me for being suspicious. And in many instances, just being a Black man is suspicious. And before you write me off as being paranoid, just conduct a quick Google search of the umpteen instances of people calling the cops on people of color for dumb reasons.
What I Told My Daughter: Sometimes, the color of my skin makes things a bit difficult for me, but I can’t control my skin color and I can’t control how others view me because of it. As easy as it could be to harbor bitterness over it, I show up everyday being the best person I can be. I know I’m a good dude, and being angry about how people perceive me doesn’t serve me well in life.
2. Sometimes, People Have Low Expectations For Me
My Reality: A while ago, I was interviewed by a local television station. After they cut to a commercial, the host said, “I gotta say, this was a pleasant surprise. You’re so well-spoken and thoughtful.”
Cue they eye-roll.
Part of being a Black man in America is realizing the bar is so low for us that we could trip over it. I’m not sure what that dude was expecting from me — maybe strings of monosyllabic grunts like a Neanderthal, perhaps? I would be lying to you if I said that doesn’t get very old.
What I Told My Daughter: Sometimes, people have preconceived judgements about people of color. But, there are countless examples of Black people doing amazing things — hell, one became President of the United States. It’s good to be aware of this. It’s also good to always strive for greatness and shock the world in the process.
3. Minor Offenses Happen all the Time
My Reality: A few years ago, I went shopping at a men’s clothing store. The guy at the register was a white dude in his 30’s, and the man whom he was helping was also a white guy around my age. During the entire transaction, the checkout guy was very polite to the white customer — “Yes, sir”, “Thank you, sir”, “Come again, sir” etc.
Then it was my turn. And when I placed the items I wanted to buy in front of him, his greeting was, “What’s up, bro?”
Wait, what? What’s up, bro? I wasn’t happy. And before the white folks reading this roll their eyes at me, picture this: If you’re a white woman and the woman in front of you in line was greeted with “Yes, Miss”, “Thank you, Miss” and he greeted you with, “What’s up, girl?” You’d demand to speak to the Manager faster than…uh, you normally demand to speak with the Manager when a service employee irks you, I guess.
The issue isn’t the “What’s up, bro?”, as a matter of fact, I’d be okay with it if he hit the white dude in front of me with the same line. So I gave him a quick life lesson, “Hey, man — I’m a paying customer just like the guy who just left. I’m not your ‘bro’, I’d appreciate the same courtesy you offered him.”
What I Told My Daughter: Sometimes people act differently around me than they would others. And oftentimes the offender has no idea they did something wrong. When people lob an off-color comment at you, instead of getting upset — use it as an opportunity to educate.
4. Many Still Think We Aren’t Good Dads
My Reality: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve encountered the “Black men are good at making babies, but not taking care of them” noise. And that’s just what it is — noise. Every Black dad I know is exceptional. Not good, or okay — exceptional. My late father, my two brothers, the guys I grew up with, and many others are absolute superstars when it comes to raising tiny humans.
What I Told My Daughter: I remember when I pitched my first book and a publisher said “I’m not sure people would want to buy a book on fatherhood from you.” He was wrong. A lot of people have been wrong about Black men. You know how much I love you and your sister, right? Well you should know that there are millions of men who look just like me who feel the same way about their kids. If people just took a moment to meet some of us, they’d realize how true that is.
As I mentioned, my daughter is eight years old. She’s already aware of her skin color, but I don’t know her level of awareness around how others may view her because of it. My role is to prepare her for what will eventually come to her — because, let’s be real, not one person of color goes through life without being impacted by racism. I want her and her baby sister to be proud of their skin, to never use it as an excuse to settle for mediocrity, and be productive members of society.
Because at the end of the day, they’ll need to be as mentally tough as possible to handle the smoke I give them in Mario Kart on a daily basis.