Earlier this week, I wrote a column about how black parents are talking to their sons about race in America after the murders of Black teenagers Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis, both gunned down in Florida by white men who claimed self-defense under the state’s controversial Stand Your Ground laws.
While it’s necessary to have thoughtful and candid conversations with black boys about their vulnerability in America, a few friends and my father-in-law reminded me that black fathers, myself included, should also have the same discussions with our daughters.
Here’s why: Last November, 19-year-old Renisha McBride, a Black woman from Detroit, was shot and killed while seeking help in Dearborn Heights, Michigan, after a minor car accident. She was unarmed. Theodore Paul Wafer, 54, a white male, pled not guilty, saying he acted in self-defense because he thought McBride was breaking into his house.
Michigan District Court Judge David Turfe ruled that there was enough probable cause for Wafer to stand trial in connection with the shooting.
“Defendant came to the door with the shotgun,” Turfe said. “His first thought was to bring the gun, not call for help, or not answer the door. It suggests to this court, the defendant made a bad choice.”
McBride’s friend told the court that she and McBride had been drinking vodka and smoking marijuana the night of the shooting. At some point, McBride was involved in a minor car accident and sought help at Wafer’s house. She was killed instead. Wafer didn’t see a teenager in distress; he only saw a black person and he manufactured a break-in attempt.
Just last week, Willie Noble, 48, of Little Rock, Arkansas, was arrested after allegedly firing several rounds into a car full of teens, killing 15-year-old Adrian Broadway, a teenage girl riding around with six other teens. Noble, who was charged with first degree murder, fired into the car because the teens threw eggs, mayonnaise, toilet paper and leaves at Noble’s car.
Noble is black. Adrian is also black. It’s not a story about race, but a story about the dangers of unsupervised teenagers hanging out with the wrong crowd. I received several emails this week from concerned parents whose daughters are often innocent passengers riding through neighborhoods where handguns are a dangerous part of our culture.
In the case of Adrian Broadway, she was shot and killed by an angry black man, not a racist white man. Nonetheless, her death was tragic and could have been prevented had Noble exercised some restraint.
The deaths of Adrian and Renisha are stark reminders that teenager girls face serious and sometimes deadly consequences because there are so many irrational people – black and white – who are waiting for any excuse to pull the trigger.
Here is how one friend from Washington, D.C., — a black father with three daughters – expressed his concern.
“The sad thing is I have talked to my oldest daughter about this as well,” my friend, a respected journalist, told me. “I’ve told her if she is riding around with a group of her black male school friends she should be aware of the likelihood they will be stopped by authorities and perceived as trouble makers by others and there is little margin for error.”
“Frankly there is no margin for error,” he said. “Our kids don’t get to make the same mistakes that other kids do. Our kids don’t get to react to confrontations the same way others do.”
A devoted dad, my friend makes a lot of sense.
I talk to my teenage daughter, too, about race, injustice and acting responsibly. It’s now evolved into a daily conversation where I borrow a phrase from a dear friend, a mother: “Show good judgment.” Those are three simple, yet powerful words to live by as we send our children into the world.
I wrote this week about a friend from Chicago, a black female physician, who had a sobering conversation with her three school-age sons days before a Florida jury failed to convict Michael Dunn of the premeditated murder of Jordan Davis.
“I presented the concept of “Strange Fruit” to them through poetry, music and the frightening visual …but with Trayvon Martin as an example,” she told me. As a mother, she is understandably concerned about how white men view young black men.
She offered her sons a powerful historical testimony to connect the past to the present. The crisis of perception of young black males in America today is one that could be described as modern-day version of the lynchings of that plagued them into this century.
“Strange Fruit” was recorded by Billie Holiday in 1939. The song exposed American racism through the ongoing lynching of black men in the South. A chilling photo of two black men who were lynched as white men celebrated in 1930 inspired teacher Abel Meeropol, who wrote the song. In the video, eerie black-and-white photos of Ku Klux Klansmen in hoods, burning crosses and watching half-nude black men hanging from trees, accompany Holiday’s voice.
It’s critical that we talk to our black boys about the consequences of racism in our society. But as I was reminded firmly this week, we must include our daughters in this discussion, too.
What do you think?