The Bullet Next Time: An Open Letter to My Unborn, Black Son

ajani

When confronted by an armed individual, assume that this person is the police. As such, begin by placing your hands behind your head, fingers interlaced. This will assure that in the eventuality that you are shot and executed, there will be minimum opportunity for analysts and pundits to later ponder if you were the aggressor. Keeping your fingers behind your head is key as it prevents your fingerprints from ending up on your assailant or his weapon. If at all possible, turn your back on the person (whom we will assume always to be the police). In this manner, you will be shot in the back, another telltale sign that you were the victim.

You will not survive your encounter, so it is important to remember to show investigators, the courts, and critics alike that you were in fact the victim. This will be difficult as the assumption is ever-present that somehow, in some way, you did something wrong. That perhaps there was something different you could have, should have done. Perhaps you should have worn something different or walked in a less suspicious manner. I assure you, my son, this is not the case. Regardless of your actions, you were not meant to survive. All you can hope for is an easier postmortem investigation. This will be of some comfort to your mother and I as we cope through your loss, and so I ask you to follow these directions carefully.

Be clear and concise in your cries for help. This will not in any way add to the chance that you will survive the encounter. Instead, it serves to ensure that bystanders and anyone recording just the audio of the encounter will have a clearer depiction of what is happening. Phrases such as “help me!” are not enough. You must be clear. “Please do not shoot me! I am just a kid!” will alert others to the fact that it is you that is about to be shot, rather than your assailant. “I do NOT have a weapon! Please don’t shoot me!” further emphasizes that you are unarmed (for after your death, no one is ever certain).

You may be tempted to avoid such circumstance through excessive precaution. Know that this is futile. You might choose to avoid visiting public spaces such as parks and recreational facilities to minimize your encounters with police. This automatically makes you a suspect, for the one time you do happen across a public space, you will be the unknown, an unfamiliar Black male, and a target for execution. You might also avoid after-school activities, and commute to and from school only with large numbers of people. This too is pointless, for they will come to your school and they will place guns at your temple, under the direction of your principal. Success will not be your shield, as your accomplishments hide not your race. Even with a college education, you will be subject to unreasonable circumstances, and will likely be killed.

Most of all, you may try to avoid driving, for this is where you will most likely be stopped, and possibly killed. This may offer some limited comfort. In my teen years, by not having a car I avoided many of the humiliations endured by my cousins and friends. One of my cousins, a doctor whose father is a diplomat, can tell you of the time he was told to get out of his father’s vehicle (which bore a diplomatic license plate) and lie face down, spread eagle on the side of the highway. He was on his way home from a residency interview. The same police officers came to the other side of the van and asked his white brother-in-law if everything was okay.

Know that we have already tried to take these precautions for you. We agonized daily over what neighborhood to raise you in and what schools you should attend. We thought about being actively involved in your afterschool activities and your PTA. In the end, we realized none of it mattered. Your greatest achievements will be fluff for your eulogy.

My son, you will die. You will perish at the hands of those who fear you. Your death will be likened to a hunting accident. The best you can hope for is that it is not your body that dies, only your spirit, as has been the case with me, your father. When you are older, you will know that you were never meant to be a man. Your very existence, your lifespan and quality of life, are indeed not determined by a heavenly Father, but by the complex societal trappings that deem you, somehow, to be faulty, potentially dangerous, and ill-equipped to exist on equal footing. My son, how could you ever be a man? My prayer for you is that you will grow to adulthood and you will have a family of your own, but know that even in adulthood (should you ever make it there) manhood is a plateau upon which you will never stand.

A man holds at least some sway over his fate, for this is God-given. A man is free to protect his person and his loved ones, for this is just. Most of all, a man is granted autonomy. My son, in this country you were never meant to be a man. From the moment you adjust your behavior to avoid being perceived as a threat (walking with extra precision in a white neighborhood or carefully avoiding walking too close to a white person), you have been stripped of the opportunity to define your own existence, of the opportunity to be a man.

You will read that slaves sometimes spared their children from the cruelty of their condition by ending the child’s life. It is out of my own vanity that your mother and I could not do this. I need your inevitable suffering to be witnessed by many. I need you to feel the confusion and helplessness I felt everyday growing up, and continue to feel now. At times, I truly felt I was going mad witnessing the consistent assault against and eradication of us. I need you to experience this abomination so that I know I am not riddled with insanity, but that in fact what I have seen over so many years, the clear and concentrated intent to eradicate masculinity from Black males, is real. Perhaps it is merely for selfish reasons that I hoped to have a son, so that I might observe firsthand what has been weighed upon me all these years. For my vanity, for my selfishness, I apologize. You will needlessly suffer in this world for no other reason than you were brought into it by a Black mother and father. All I can leave you with is what Rudyard Kipling wrote to his unborn son:

“If you can fill the unforgiving minute
with sixty seconds worth of distance run
Yours is the earth and all that’s in it
And what’s more you’ll be a man my son”

His words are inspiring, but the expanse of their promise is not meant for you. My words to you are much more simple, more appropriate for your lot in life:

Live with humility, that you may die with grace, for this is all we have been allowed on this earth, in this country.

Ajani Husbands is a writer, traveler, avid comic book reader, and undeniably Black in America. The views expressed here are his alone. You can follow him on Twitter at @DreadlockDipset and on his blog at sakpasediplomacy.wordpress.com.

86 Comments

  1. Brian Foulks

    March 20, 2012 at 3:05 pm

    How far we have not come my friend…great peice

  2. Tanisha Neely

    March 20, 2012 at 6:10 pm

    This is one of the most touching pieces I’ve read about the fear and plight of Black parents (Mothers, Fathers, Sisters, Grandmothers, Aunties…) who must raise our Black sons in this country… The helplessness we feel when we realize that despite our best efforts at giving them the full glory of life, they will be disproportionately trapped in a system set up for them to die prematurely. As a Mother of 1 Black son and 3 Black daughters, I have repeatedly said that I spent 80% of my parenting energy trying to ensure that my only Black son survived to manhood. He is 18 and 3/4 years and the fear NEVER leaves.

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 22, 2012 at 1:35 am

      Tanisha – MANY thanks for your personal insight. That last sentence, about spending 80% of your parenting energy so your son survives to manhood, is exactly what I believe my mother has been doing. I look back and literally all the advice has been so that I survive as a Black man in America. It’s specialized for the demographic.

  3. Cole Terry

    March 21, 2012 at 12:55 am

    Great depiction of the trials and tribulations of black males in America. From black babies to black children to black men. Im 23 and I hope for a boy. When I have a child as true as this letter is I hope that this is not a letter or burden I have to bestow upon him. Times may have changed but the world we live in remains the same.

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 22, 2012 at 1:37 am

      Cole – thanks for the love. I’m 28 (no children as of yet) and I wonder at what point will I explain Blackness to my sons. I didn’t start to see it until around 8th grade, coinciding with when we moved to Savannah (but that’s another story!!)

      • Kate

        March 30, 2012 at 4:03 pm

        Thank you so much for this beautiful piece. I am a preschool teacher and firmly believe that teaching about race should start from the very beginning. 3- and 4-year-olds are already internalizing messages from the media and the world around them and need skills to critique those messages. If you haven’t read it, Dr. Beverly Tatum beautifully addresses the outline of children’s racial identity development in her book “Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” I think it’s essential that we share the reality of race with children, in age-appropriate ways, so that kids of color can survive and don’t grow up thinking they’re crazy and white kids don’t learn to accept a privileged, unaccountable position as their entitlement. The system of racism takes away my humanity as a white woman by teaching me that I am superior to other human beings, and does immeasurable damage to children of color growing up not only in a country where black boys can be murdered without accountability, but where a huge part of the system and the population will defend that murder as “not about race.”

  4. taurean

    March 21, 2012 at 8:09 am

    This is well-done.

  5. Joe Scott

    March 21, 2012 at 11:20 am

    A powerful, truthful but incredibly sad piece. As the white father of a Black son (“one drop”), my wife and I continue to hold these fears for our 26 yr. old son; and although he is college educated and a successful businessman, it is as Mr. Husbands writes, “…we realized none of it mattered. Your greatest achievements will be fluff for your eulogy”.

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 22, 2012 at 1:40 am

      Joe – your story alone would make a powerful piece. I would love to read it. What does your son say about being a young, Black male in America?

  6. nono

    March 21, 2012 at 11:53 am

    To hell with that. We should train our sons for both academics success and in the event it is necessary for war, freedom isn’t given and it isn’t free.

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 22, 2012 at 1:43 am

      This touches on some important questions. What of proper preparation? Yes we will be discriminated against, but is this something that we can overcome with sheer mass of success? Might be.

  7. Kim

    March 21, 2012 at 11:56 am

    My heart aches

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 22, 2012 at 1:41 am

      And yet we march on, for we must. Is it a Sisyphean vice? This I know not.

  8. The Suburban Thug

    March 21, 2012 at 12:34 pm

    Exquisitely written piece. I fear the day if I ever have a son for many of the same reasons you spoke on. I’ve got two daughters, and it pains me knowing the issues that the men they choose to deal with will have to face a myriad of issues, such as I did. If the stresses of being a black man in America break these young men before they are ever get a chance to truly experience life as an adult, what does it do to the women who are/will be in their lives, and the families these men are going to establish? The problem America has with Black Men is a problem for our whole community.

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 22, 2012 at 1:53 am

      The Suburban Thug – couldn’t have expressed it better myself! It is a problem for the whole community. As long as we know this, we can actively move forward with solutions in mind.

  9. Marc

    March 21, 2012 at 12:49 pm

    Beautifully written. I ache for these words to not be true. My daughters will know no hate. Best to you and yours.

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 22, 2012 at 1:51 am

      Marc – here is a survey question to ask your daughters (when you think they’re ready): Would you rather be Black or a woman? The discussion that follows will be hefty, to say the least

      • Gloria

        March 22, 2012 at 6:47 pm

        That’s not fair. How do you divide the two when you’re both? They affect one another. You’re not a woman one day and black the next; you’re a black woman. Suburban thug, if you think your black daughters will know no hate, remember that people can hate you with your other parts of themselves than fists. Black women are hated because they’re black by others, and by men cause they’re women. Dual edged sword.

  10. JoAnna

    March 21, 2012 at 2:10 pm

    This is the saddest, most profound and painfully honest written reality of our Black Men and boys that I’ve read in quite some time. I am moved to a place of deep seated pain, This is gut wrenching. Along with the sadness I am feeling, I am angered as well. At this moment I don’t know how to express that anger constructively and in a way that could possibly make a difference, however I will begin with prayer. God help us all!! Head up Black Men!
    Jahlove!

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 22, 2012 at 1:49 am

      JoAnna – Amen and Amen. As mentioned earlier with T, local community activism (such as volunteering or mentoring) is a fantastic place to channel this rage. It’s easy to do, yet many of us don’t (I’m often guilty of this). You would be SURPRISED at how much of a difference mentoring once a month can make in a Black child’s life, adequately preparing them to take on the reality of being Black in America.

      • Matthew Smith

        March 22, 2012 at 3:11 am

        Dear Ajani,
        What I admire about you is that you do not just sit back and take pot shots. You legitimately engage and make a positive difference in people’s lives. I read the article and while it makes a timely point that needs to be made, I hope people don’t walk away thinking that Ajani Husbands is someone who has given up on building a better America and a better world for his future offspring. If that is the truth, it is a truth that I would be very surprised to learn.

  11. T

    March 21, 2012 at 2:54 pm

    This is a sad commentary on our lack of hope for a better future and a defeatist attitude. If you say I will fail…you will. If you say we are beaten…you are. If you blame others your troubles…you are only left with yourself to blame. Real talk…let’s stop killing each other first. We are the #1 perpetrators on ourselves but we act like the police and the government are causing the genocide. Even if they started the cause don’t mean we have to perpetuate it. A real man does not make the excuse but finds a way to solve it. Let’s start in OUR communities first and start the real revolution through education.

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 22, 2012 at 1:47 am

      T – an excellent rally cry and I sincerely hope others follow suit. An easy place to start is to be a mentor at a local school or community center. It’s free and is an easy time commitment. I would love to see more local community activism to combat the daily issues we face collectively.

  12. Jim Bullock

    March 21, 2012 at 10:07 pm

    Great but sad piece. This article expresses the fear of every black parent in this country since 1619 .. that our children will be murdered by racist white folk. The sad thing is that it has happened so often that we are not not shocked when we hear of another innocent black man being killed!

    What is their fear of young black men, by some white people so great that their immediate instinct is use deadly force? This is a sickness, a mental illness nurtured and fostered by the myth of white supremacy…that somehow black men are somehow more dangerous, “untamed” than other men. A myth of which history has shown to be false time and again. One will have to search very hard to find atrosities against mankind any worse than those committed by the caucasian race.

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 22, 2012 at 1:46 am

      Two really good books to read that give much to think about:

      Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome – Dr. Joy Degruy

      The New Jim Crow – Michelle Alexander

      They both give a lot of answers, and pose even more questions!

  13. Ajani Husbands

    March 22, 2012 at 1:34 am

    Brian – very appreciative of your support.

  14. Vangelina

    March 22, 2012 at 11:22 am

    What I read broke my heart. I did not know this is how Black American people feel. To live a life feeling unsafe. I am very sorry. No human being should feel this way. My parents raised us to be accepting of all people and that God himself is not partial so we should get to know a persons character and always look for the good in everyone. To always be kind and show concern for people. I guess I assumed eveyone else was or is the same way. Perhaps I have been in a bubble of my own world and I just never noticed. Then I read about Treyvon Martin and I put my self in his parents shoes. I imagined how would I be feeling? I have a 17 year old son. I realize I can not know exactly how they may be feeling however just the feelings I began to feel if it were my son that was treated the way Treyvon was and then murdered, were enough to make me see how devastating it is. Then I realized the bubble Im in is not realistic. I am truly sorry that there is so much injustice in this world that other human beings are so mistreated. Everyone of us on this planet are priceless, precious and all of our children are “fruitage of the belly”.

    • Roger

      March 22, 2012 at 11:49 am

      Very well written and stated. It is the very same advice I give to my sons who are white. Be compliant, never-ever run, hands behind head until told otherwise, plead for help particularly if certain it is not a law enforcemant officer and never owna gun or carry it out of your home or anything that remotely resembles a gun, especially at night. And most importantly resolve any potential dispute with anyone with diplomacy (only) or just let them prevail. Live for another day. Everyday our society has become more uncivilized. Coping skills are essential. Machoism and looking imtimidating will only get you killed.

  15. Redeye

    March 22, 2012 at 11:52 am

    Thank for your writing this.

  16. Duane

    March 22, 2012 at 1:53 pm

    Thanks so much for writing this! I felt this way as a boy growing up in Detroit, and because of this feeling, I vowed I wouldn’t have children to suffer this. I vowed that it would stop with me…My vanity is extinguished.

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 22, 2012 at 11:16 pm

      Duane – wow. I’m beyond saddened to hear this. I encourage you to speak to more people and let them know. To be frank, no one believes us (Black males) nor the extent of our damaged psyches unless we speak consistently about it.

  17. N. Amma

    March 22, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    This is a heartbreaking piece. The heartbreak in it is that so much of it is true, reality, inevitable! It breaks my heart as a black woman – who will someday (maybe) bring forth a black man into the midst of this insanity!

    Maybe the best thing I can ever teach him will be to: “Live with humility, that you may die with grace, for this is all we have been allowed on this earth, in this country.”

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 22, 2012 at 11:10 pm

      N. Amma – it’s weird to say, because I wrote it, but I struggle with that last line. I just wanted to hammer home the point of it doesn’t matter really how welll you’re prepared. You could be Trayvon Martin TONIGHT. So be prepared, consistently. Be humble and gracious (which of course does not mean to not be great and ambitious!) because at the end or in the middle of it all, you could be shot in the head through no fault of your own.

      It’s cold… but it’s what keeps me going.

  18. Jim

    March 22, 2012 at 3:54 pm

    I don’t suppose that it is any comfort to you, but I feel the same way around police officers.

    I am a white, university-educated, professional man living in Canada, and I have no criminal record. I have served 28 years as an officer in the Canadian Forces Primary Reserve. I dress like my father did. I have short white hair, a military bearing, *very* pale skin and all those things that are supposed to protect me. I do not for a moment doubt that my case is much better than that of any black, brown or beige person in this city, but I will still cross the street to avoid contact with the police.

    I did not always feel this way, but in the last decade I have stopped trusting them to let me live, let alone treat me reasonably.

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 22, 2012 at 11:35 pm

      Jim – you raise a good point. Few people feel naturally comfortable around police. After all, they are imposing by nature. The chronic internal dystopia felt by Black males in America comes from the added layer of consistent inconsistency, that is to say, the fact that anything can happen and is likely to happen because one is a cop and the other is a Black male. The probability of this scenario taking place supercedes proper preparation. Being a scholar, a model citizen, a good parent, all these are irrelevant when it comes to these encounters and the split-second that decides whether one will arbitrarily survive, or arbitrarily be killed.

      It sounds incredibly fatalistic, I admit.

      • Jim

        April 30, 2012 at 7:04 pm

        The awful thing is that I *did* feel comfortable around police twenty years ago.

        An unexamined part of the problem, I think, is that policing has lost its way in the last decade. Of course, it always had lost its way in dealing with black people, but I think the situation is worse at least in this: Fifty years ago, I think that black people could at least aim at a day when they were treated the same as white people.

        Now, I’m not so sure that that goal even exists.

  19. Karen

    March 22, 2012 at 4:00 pm

    Thank you for this heart-wrenching piece. My husband cried when he read this – as a Black man, this was his worst fear. As a white woman married to him, my stepsons’ and nephews’ welfare became my growing concern. When will the hate end?

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 22, 2012 at 11:02 pm

      Karen – thank you for your sincere honesty. I do not know when the hate will end, but it is no time soon.

  20. Juanita King

    March 22, 2012 at 9:21 pm

    THIS HAS TOUCH ME DEEPLY. There is to much of this goin on in the world today. My cousin Michael Lembhard was murdered by 4 police officers on March 7, 2012. The officers are on paid leave pending an investigation. It is a shame the officers have lied saying Michael lunged at them with a knife. If u Google his name u can see the story for yourself. We (his family) refuse to give up until we get justice.

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 22, 2012 at 10:56 pm

      Ms. King – I am truly sorry to hear of your loss. Hearing of these tragedies is precisely why I penned this letter. I wish I had some words of comfort. I will absolutely monitor the story and keep your family within my prayers.

  21. Harlan Gaston

    March 23, 2012 at 7:11 am

    Good stuff Ajani. There are two things I will teach my son that aren’t in your letter:

    1. The richest man is not he who has the most but he who needs the least.

    2. The most dangerous man is not he who has the power to take your life, but he who isn’t afraid to die.

  22. Christopher B

    March 23, 2012 at 7:40 am

    To be honest, I don’t not feel that this is a good writing. I say this because in this letter, you are giving negative energy and speaking death unto your son before he is even born. You are writing as if, “Yeah son, it’s gonna happen!”

    I do understand that you want to send a message to young black men when they face these encounters of racial injustice and the possibility of losing their life to a gun, but these situations happen to a few, not the majority. Looking outside of the Treyvon Martin case, most brothers bring these circumstances upon themselves based on the ‘thug’ lifestyle that they live. Some come from broken homes, endangered communities, etc. But after a certain point in your life when maturity kicks in, they have to self reflect and say “You know what, I can do better, I have to change my way of living and thinking”, began the change from there.

    There is nothing wrong with schooling your son on how to handle such encounters, but to speak as if certain that this will happen, it’s not appropriate and I’m not feeling it. As long as you are strong in his life as a father/role model, his chances of such encounters will decrease drastically. The scripture says, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”

    • Harlan Gaston

      March 23, 2012 at 11:55 am

      I could be wrong … but I think the intention of this letter is not to outline what Ajani will actually teach his son … it’s much deeper than that … part of it is to illuminate the perspective and experience of black parenting in America while highlighting the harsh reality of the black experience in America to people who don’t understand the black experience.

      In that sense it’s brilliant to me.

  23. Anonymous

    March 23, 2012 at 1:15 pm

    Ok I’m sorry but this needs to stop. I am in no way racist as I have black friends and coworkers whom I adore but this piece really ticked me off. You have black history month, black entertainment television, black scholarship funds, black schools etc etc. If white people did any of that there would be an uproar from the black community. Trayvons death should not have happened, I signed the petition myself for his killer to be convicted. But that doesn’t excuse the fact that when I watch the news at night 95% of it is black people committing rape, murder, burglary etc. Maybe if more of you stopped dressing like thugs and acting like you don’t care things would be different. Get rid of the ibonics and speak properly. Again, this is not all black people. There are many highly intelligent, beautiful, talented black males and females making incredible contributions to this country and the world. Just look at the president! So tired of the pity party.

    • Michelle Cheatham

      March 23, 2012 at 1:51 pm

      “You have black history month, black entertainment television, black scholarship funds, black schools etc etc”…. You do realize we would not have to have those things if equality amongst races exsisted…..Blacks from the beginning of time have been overlooked for their accomplishments and acheivements(do your homework)…where as white people are simply born into this entitlement, this privledge so much in fact you don’t even realize it….And as a people we have the right to wear what we wish….Who are you to classify our fashion and sense of style as one of a thug…how would you like your style of dress classified as anything but what you intend it to be?….And I’m sure the news you watch does project blacks in a negative manner, but again do your homework, because I can assure you that rapes, murders, burgalries, etc. happen just as often amongst the white community but surely not as publicized as those in the black community….but of course the media couldn’t be racist huh?….Wonderful you signed the petition, hopefully you can remain open-minded….But tell me…What have you had to fight for? Almost everyday of your LIFE? You came into the world privileged, where as try walking into a room and being judged before even opening your mouth simply because you are different….Even the most intelligent, well-dressed, talented, and beautiful have been judged and discriminated against simply because we are BLACK! No other reason…..and guess what? WE LIVE WITH IT EVERYDAY…So tell me how many days do you live like that?

    • Cerise

      March 23, 2012 at 5:41 pm

      What you said filled me with shame to share your skin color.

      • Cerise

        March 23, 2012 at 5:48 pm

        …which I assume to be white, Anonymous. Apologies if I’ve assumed wrongly.

    • Jason McDonald

      March 23, 2012 at 7:58 pm

      Racist always start a racist rant with “I have black friends”. Didn’t read the rest of your comment. I assume it got worse.

      • Danielle

        March 24, 2012 at 4:11 am

        Wise choice.

        (Racist comments also frequently begin with “I’m not racist, but…”.)

    • Vickey

      March 23, 2012 at 9:24 pm

      Some things don’t even deserve a reply.. Especially when its cloaked in anonymity just like the KKK hood.

    • Beckie

      March 24, 2012 at 12:50 pm

      Wooowwwwwww. I’m not entirely sure that I can make more coherent wording than that. I mean, I know I should have stopped reading after ” I am in no way racist as I have black friends and coworkers whom I adore..” but I just couldn’t stop. You, sir or madam, have made a complete bingo!

      I’m not racist but
      I have black friends
      You have Black History Month
      Stop dressing like thugs
      “ibonics” <– spelled wrong, unless I'm out of the loop?
      Just look at the president!

      My apologies, that's MORE than a bingo.

    • Catherine

      March 24, 2012 at 1:03 pm

      You should not have joined this discussion. You are part of the problem. I am going to ask you as a fellow white person to NEVER talk to a black or brown person about racism again until you can understand why what you just said is disrespectful, hurtful, misinformed, egotistical, and wrong.

    • K Walker

      March 28, 2012 at 11:43 am

      Hello Anonymous, it’s wonderful to see you have such an insight as to how to tackle the issue of race in America after all you “adore” some black people… I have a simple question for you, can you honestly say if you had a choice right now to choose your race, you will be willing to be black in America?

    • Dee

      March 30, 2012 at 2:01 pm

      Wow and you say you’re NOT racist? You have a lot of bitterness in your heart Anonymous… You are the same as Zimmerman.

    • laura

      April 7, 2012 at 1:40 pm

      Anonymous,
      From the movie Crash: “You embarrass me. You embarass yourself.”

  24. Cerise

    March 23, 2012 at 5:38 pm

    I wept when I read this. I scream inside at my own prejudices and ignorance, and that of my fellow white Americans. How do I help, what do I do? How do we *stop this*? And in the meantime, how can we keep each other from despair? I will keep trying. I promise that I will do everything I can to fight racism, and keep finding new ways to fight. It’s more and more becoming the profoundest calling I’ve ever felt. I will never stop, and I will never stop hoping to open our eyes and hands. I promise your future son.

  25. Colleen

    March 23, 2012 at 8:56 pm

    I want to throw up and bawl after reading this. Your piece is horrible and beautiful. I think that all parents are terrified of the worst for their children constantly…thank you for sharing so authentically the pain and frustration of raising a black son. Perhaps if I do something right in raising my white son, things will be different for all of our children, regardless of skin color. Here’s praying.

  26. Thomas DeWolf

    March 23, 2012 at 10:13 pm

    As a white man in America who has never experienced what you describe here, and never will, thank you for writing so directly and profoundly about your experience. I hope that many white people will read your words, and the words of others who are speaking out so clearly, and pause, and listen – without resorting to our usual posture of deflecting and rationalizing our way out of trying to understand. I have included a link to this post in my own blog today in the hopes that more people will find you. All blessings to you, Mr. Husbands, and to your future children. They will have one helluva powerful father!

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 24, 2012 at 2:55 pm

      Thomas – thank you for your support and please continue to challenge others. What is your blog site?

      • Thomas DeWolf

        March 24, 2012 at 3:28 pm

        My blog post is here: http://inheritingthetrade.com/blog/?p=3388

        You have my word that I’ll continue to challenge others; with a focus on people who look like me (white, heterosexual, Judeo-Christian, able-bodied, middle class men). I pray that we’ll improve things for your children… and so many other children of color…

  27. SoW

    March 24, 2012 at 6:47 am

    This is why when everyone tells black people that you can ignore racism and just don’t let it bother you I call bullshit.

    Dead is dead. Racists don’t give a damn how educated, how young, how rich, how accomplished you are. All they see is a Nigger. Plain and simple.

    This is why I left the United States. I can’t live in a place where my life is under this kind of threat just because of my skin color. This bullshit is for the birds.

    The country I’m in now, an innocent black man was racially profiled and shot by a policeman. And guess what? The police officer that shot him is on trial for SECOND DEGREE MURDER at this very moment.

    George Zimmerman was not a police officer, so why the fuck is he not in prison for shooting a seventeen year old kid?

    America has no justice system. No justice period. The sooner people realize that the better off they’ll be.

    This piece articulated a so many feelings I’ve felt. I’ve been the victim of some hellish racism and I left the US because I decided I want my kids to not have to face this kind of constant threat.

  28. Lauren

    March 24, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    Ajani,

    This was probably the hardest read (while at work) that I could have ever imagined. One of the most difficult things in life is to see and read the truth and you have hit the nail on the head. I’d like to share a story:

    I am a recent graduate of Howard University, and last year 4 of my line sisters and I were sitting in my 2008 Nissan Sentra, parked with our seat belts on preparing to go to the grocerry store. Before I could even turn the car on, there was a knock at the window. After being thoroughly questioned about where I lived, what school we attended and why I was sitting in my own car we were asked to produce identification. ALL because there were robberies in the area and we looked “suspicious.” Five females…

    These fears have resonated in my heart for as long as I could remember, for my unborn son and my younger brother. The fact is, we all are Trayvon Martin

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 24, 2012 at 2:45 pm

      Lauren – your story needs to be shared. I hope you told EVERYBODY. One thing I regret is NOT immediately telling my school authorities whenever I was racially profiled. As an adult, I plan to write my congressman and senator EVERY time I am profiled. Every. Single. Time.

  29. Langston L

    March 24, 2012 at 8:10 pm

    This page touched me deeply. As a 15-year-old black male in apredominantly caucasian area, I know it is inevetible that at some point I will be racially profiled. No, I already have been- assumed to be a sports star who listens to rap and is a troublemaker when I am an academic young man who listens to music outside the usual stereotype and stay as far away from trouble as possible. I was brought to this article by my father, And it is a sad thing when my father must teach me how to be safe when confronted, because that only reinforces what is a fact that at some point, I WILL be racially profiled by someone. A well-written piece, and it touched me very deeply.

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 25, 2012 at 8:06 am

      Langston – Thank you for your touching words. I am very curious to know what your father said when he brought the article to your attention. How did he bring it up? What was the context?

      These are the conversations that I would like us to continue as a community, as a country.

  30. Marcus

    March 24, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    This is both a powerful and well written piece. As a young black male myself, this resonates ever so powerfully to me. I currently attend Villanova University, a predominately Caucasian school, and have in numerous occasions been subject of peoples ignorance. On my first day here alone I couldn’t possibly count how many people assumed I was here as part of the basketball team. In one instance during orientation week I was walking with another black friend of mine who happened to go to my highschool. We were appalled by the number of people we heard whisper to their friends “these kids must be on the basketball team” or “i think those are our new basketball recruits”. Lets be real, i was 5’7 and 120 pounds…me on a big east basketball team? yeah right. The comment that bothered me the most was from one of the kids in my orientation group. He assumed i was on scholarship for basketball and when i told him otherwise he had the nerve to ask “then how can you possibly afford to go here? its not cheap”. In that instance i wanted to rip the kid a new one. Why couldn’t i be like any other student that is on academic scholarship, takes out a loan, or in the instance of most kids here have mom and dad pay for it out of pocket? But no, im a black kid at a wealthy and prestigious school so I must be here cause i can dribble a basketball. These instances are from my first day here alone, I could go on and share a plethora of other situations, but whats the point? Until people overcome their own ignorance and foolishness nothings going to change.

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 25, 2012 at 8:08 am

      Marcus – Thank you for sharing. You are not alone; your story reminds me almost verbatim of my time as the only Black student in a white, private high school in Savannah, GA. No one believes you’re not athlete and everyone is skeptical of your academic prowess.

      I encourage you to share your stories with others, not out of anger, but out of solidarity. It is important for others to recognize that this subtle yet pervasive type of discrimination DOES continue to exist.

  31. Elizabeth

    March 25, 2012 at 3:06 pm

    I am a white female, and although I have not had the terrible experience of being persecuted in my own country, I absolutely know that what you are saying is true and not overstated. I am also guilty myself of prejudice and of not speaking up when I should. For me, as a white person, it’s difficult to know when and how to acknowledge racism, especially when I am speaking to a black person. I don’t want to bring it up out of nowhere–I want to treat any person with whom I am speaking like a person first, and I don’t want my anxiety to get in the way. I have had several experiences in which black people with whom I was speaking brought it up themselves, and these experiences reinforced for me that what is a “delicate issue” for many white people is an inescapable reality for many black people. And it’s doubly bad because this reality is denied over and over again–that would make anyone feel crazy. I’m sorry for the danger that children are in, and I’m sorry for all the assumptions that hurt their souls.

  32. White dude

    March 26, 2012 at 11:19 pm

    As a young white male graduating college this year in NW DC I surprisingly do not run into the problems mentioned in this article all that often… but again, that’s most likely because I go to college in NW DC and not some other part of the city.

    Either way, while I understand that their are and will always be racists, for one reason or another I cannot believe that my generation will treat African American males the same way our fore-fathers have. Of course, as a first generation child of parents that got off the boat in the early 1980s, my background may preclude me from seeing the more obvious out there.

    But having grown-up in a suburban community that was 96% white, even within the white community I say evidence of racism – against those who were poorer, those who were sons or daughters of recent immigrants.. and those who were perceived to be minorities. Now, I can say since then that the vast majority of those who made life difficult for others have improved since graduating high school, I can tell you I sometimes am confused for a Hispanic and get ethnically profiled… despite being white.

    For me, though, having come from an immigrant family and always been seen as a bit of an outcast back home for not being Irish, German, English, or Italian, I can understand what others mean

    • Dee

      March 30, 2012 at 1:56 pm

      Your quote “Either way, while I understand that their are and will always be racists, for one reason or another I cannot believe that my generation will treat African American males the same way our fore-fathers have.” — Zimmerman is only in his 20s. Reality check – he IS OF YOUR GENERATION.

  33. Confused Teenager

    March 27, 2012 at 5:37 am

    As I read this, I started crying. Over the past few days, I’ve been pouring through countless pages of articles on Trayvon and comments from ordinary Americans on news websites such as huffpost and the like. While some comments gave me hope in humanity and others that I understood and saw the logic behind, there were also others filled with explicit and implicit racist stereotypes that left me feeling ashamed and disgusted the more I read.

    Then this night, I just read news that some fans of a popular book that I read and enjoyed which was just this weekend released in theaters, “Hunger Games”, were disheartened and crushed that the cute innocent character that died in the book was black in the movie even though the book explicitly described her as having dark skin. They just couldn’t picture her with that skin color. Others on twitter felt that the movie was thereby ruined, that they wouldn’t go watch it, and that they felt a little bit less sad over her death. While I look at the sweet innocent adorable face of the actress who played Rue, I can not comprehend how others can see a monster.

    As a black girl in my sophomore year at University, I have often filled my thoughts with my having children in which I can love, raise and teach life lessons. I’ve since figured out that my fulfillment as a person lies in this task and that to me it is one of the most wonderful achievements anyone can do in this world. However reading this article, my dreams seem to be crushed.

    As a child growing up in a northeast school in a very diverse neighborhood, I can say that I was ignorant of race compared to my counterparts raised somewhere else. Yes, there were some instances in school that sent it to the forefront of my attention, but those were rare. As I entered boarding school for highschool in another state that did not have the diverse atmosphere of my neighborhood, I began to understand alot more about the world I lived in. Nevertheless, I was optimistic on most aspects of life and believed that anything can be overcome. Then the same experience happened as I entered college in yet another state, but it seems that the optimism that I previously had had diminished in my coming here. Noticing the division, racial/racist/collectivist attitudes between groups shatters me, and now, unlike my younger self, I’m beginning to see that as the norm, and that is scary.

    As I said before, my life’s fulfillment revolves on me finding someone to love and then bringing some children into the world. I want a big family filled with love, hope, dreams, tears, laughter, inspiration, and unity in the country in which I loved as a child, that I loved with a sense of caution as a highschooler, and that I still unwisely and foolishly love now despite knowing the deeply rooted, not always so evident, problems it has towards groups of people like me and others. But now, after reading this article, and the recent accumulation of so many different yet internally the same events, it seems that my tough skin of solidarity and strength against the racist/stereotypical and negative forces intending to tear me down seems to be weakening. I don’t want to bring a child into this world/America and have it witness or experience all these injustices due to a characteristic they cannot change nor should want to change. I don’t want him/her to be a victim of inexplicable violence, rage, hatred, especially if it’s subconscious and expressed in moments where people rely on instincts and the implicit bias embedded within them. I want the value of the life of my black Rue to be just as equal to the value of life of someone’s white, Asian, or Hispanic Rue. I want the benefit of the doubt to be given to my Trayvon and I want him to be able to come home to me untouched without others rashly conjuring in their minds that he is inherently a danger to society and acting accordingly. I care too much for my unborn child, that care being most likely escalated by my sensitive and caring nature, that I won’t be able to live with myself if something happens to my black children, not by any fault of my own or theirs, but still made possible through my decision to bear children. Is it sad that I don’t know if the decision to not bear children because of this makes me selfish or, in fact, selfless?

  34. EB

    March 28, 2012 at 10:54 am

    I am speechless! The article is eloquently written. As a single mother of a 16yo male living in Chicago my fear for him grows daily. I’ve worked a midnight shift since he’s been on earth to attempt to be there for him and protect him, but the sad reality is I can’t protect forever. My heart aches as I pray for his and other children’s safety. I am a 911 operator and I hear the hate, prejudice, stereotypes in the voices who call nightly and yes even the ones who call reporting a suspicious person who will say the person is suspicious because he’s black and doesn’t belong in their neighborhood. Yea they actually say it. So sad that these attitudes still exist.

    • Ajani Husbands

      April 1, 2012 at 3:59 pm

      EB – YOU should write a book. I don’t think I’ve ever heard these stories coming from the perspective of a 911 operator. I’m sure you’ve heard ALL kinds of complaints. I’ve also heard stories of customers being indignant when they are (or believe they are) talking to a Black person on the other end of the phone.

      Again, I would LOVE to hear your stories.

  35. Mjh

    March 29, 2012 at 8:09 pm

    I am a white female serving your country for your freedom to say these things against my country. No I do not disagree with you that racial profiling still exists and yes it is a tragedy a child is killed as Treyvon was. Good sir I hope and pray that you find peace… Live and let live.

    • Ajani Husbands

      March 30, 2012 at 2:14 pm

      Mjh – I’m not sure I understand your comment. Perhaps you can elaborate?

  36. laura

    April 7, 2012 at 1:49 pm

    Listening and sharing your message, Ajani. Never give up, please, and never stop writing.

    • Ajani Husbands

      April 8, 2012 at 8:32 pm

      Laura – Thank you for the encouragement. I will certainly keep writing.

  37. STONEWALL

    April 8, 2012 at 10:33 am

    My dear brother of A PHI A. It is with great respect that I leave you this comment. My line brothers (SPR 05 NU Delta Chicago St U) were talking for two hours about “IF” among other things and the social injustices in which we as Black men face in this country. Two of the four of us are Vets and are deeply proud to be Americans but we cry out for help to a system in which we’ve protected that fails to protect us. Your words have been burned into my memory as have the legacy of our Jewels. I pray that you continue to write and bring to light the issues in which we face. All though race is a factor, we are at battle with a force that crosses the color lines and attack those who assist us.

    • Ajani Husbands

      April 8, 2012 at 8:34 pm

      Brother Stonewall – Thank you for the fraternal comments. FYI, IF is perhaps my favorite poem, for many reasons. I will continue to write, and I hope that you will continue these discussions among others. Only through dialogue can we progress as a society.

  38. Leilah

    April 8, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    If you are not a man, what is a man? As long as Black men are not men, no one is. If those who the system serves accept that system, which, by your definition, excludes the manhood of some, then no one can be a man. If the definition of a “man” (or woman) includes the ability to live in an unjust world without plans to change it, I do not want a man, and I am not a woman.

    If, instead, men and women define our hearts for ourselves and make an agreement with each other never to rest until respect is no longer a concept but an element of life, then I will be a woman. And you are a man, and so, too, will your son be someday.

    Bless you.

  39. Rita

    August 20, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    As a member of a mixed-race family (my biological brother and I are white, and I have a mixed-race sister and two black brothers who were adopted when we were so young it made no difference) I’ve had the unique opportunity to experience that this article is absolutely true. The assertion that some people want to make that the discrimination is based on socio-economic circumstances rather than color is a lie. My youngest brother was once questioned by police for walking up his own front steps. His first girlfriend’s parents didn’t want her to date him because of the color of his skin. He grew up in the same household as I did, we had the same experiences as children (this is not strictly true, he was much more involved and concerned as a child than I was). How does the color of his skin affect the person he is? I’ve had to experience other people assuming I am also afraid of black people, and I think….it’s almost worse, because at least people won’t say these terrible things to my siblings, won’t expect them to sympathize. Nobody would ever dare tell them that they were driving through a bad neighborhood because “there was a group of black people back there.” The intolerance in this country is disgusting.

  40. Mack Lyons (@DDSSBlog)

    July 14, 2013 at 3:40 am

    This is moving, especially in light of the Zimmerman verdict. It’s shameful we can’t even raise our children in this country without fearing their lives being snuffed out solely on racially motivated malice.

  41. Ci'Anna

    July 15, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    Powerful blog.
    We cant hope to get justice in a system that we didnt help build. Divide we shall fall if only we were really united in the united states.

  42. Osie

    July 15, 2013 at 3:39 pm

    Brother, you are a great writer.

    Unfortunately, this well crafted letter is a poem of defeat. You do a masterful job of explaining that no defensive action, spoken word, or costume change can guarantee protection for a Black man in the crosshairs of a determined killer. You detail the harsh reality of racial profiling using a dark satirical style that is very powerful. But, you omitted the critical moment where you stop teaching how to die and tell your hypothetical Black son how to live.

    No matter how bleak parts our our shared history and recent events in Florida are, fathers can not afford to invest in hopelessness. Our kids are too valuable to forsake to a preordained martyrdom.

    Hopefully, when you are Blessed to become a father, your strength will be renewed and your survival instincts reignite. When it is your turn-lift your head and raise warriors, not victims.

    Respectfully,

    Black Dad in America