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


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