Race: A black mother’s message to her son



I remember when you were just born and how surprised I was that, indeed, there’d been a baby in me only moments before. So perfect and beautiful. Somehow you learned to turn over and roll faster than I expected, and you fell off my bed and we both cried. When you turned 1, I was amazed that somehow I’d kept you from serious harm. My confidence in my mothering skills had a lot of growing to do.

Soon you were crawling and walking and imitating all that you saw. The local grocery store was used to small children eating the merchandise while their mothers shopped. Clerks didn’t mind that the moms would just tell them at checkout what to add to her bill because her little boy had already consumed it. But I had to tell you that it wasn’t yours until it was paid for. I knew that what you learned at 2 could determine whether you went to jail at 20.

When you were 3, you saw a blond girl, probably about 13, who was mad at her family and had stormed off to sit alone. You sidled up to her, smiling, offering her your ice cream cone, and she melted. Her parents and yours all laughed. But by the time you were 13, we’d had to tell you to be careful, that even if a white girl welcomed your advances, her parents might not feel the same way.

We also had to give you specific instructions about how to behave, should you have an encounter with the police. While the great majority of our men and women in blue are ethical and professional, a few still make assumptions about what black teenage boys must be up to. Therefore, extra deference, slow movements, keeping your hands out of your pockets and in the officer’s line of sight could be the difference between a few simple questions asked and answered and a “justified” shooting that would end my baby’s life.

Your childhood friends, who also casually ate their way through the grocery store, have never had to worry about police targeting them, let alone the neighborhood watch volunteer. They don’t know what it’s like to have people cross to the other side of the street when they see you and your friends walking toward them. They haven’t seen anxiety cross the face of the white lady in the elevator when the door opens and you’re walking in. Sometimes you smile and make a comment about the weather, just to put her at ease.

Now you’re growing up into what we all call a Fine Young Man. Your gifts and talents are different, and you’re following a path that will take you to many wonderful places. But I hate the fact that part of what makes you who you are — being African American and male — also means carrying centuries of racism on your back. It is so much harder to soar when our “post-racial” society still fears you.

Please always know that I love you, like a mother. Not like a black mother but like all mothers love their babies. Some of us have to fear for ours, too.

Jolene Ivey, a Democrat, represents Prince George’s County in the Maryland House of Delegates. She is the mother of five boys.

Read more Other Views stories from the Miami Herald



    Taxi drivers are Lyft and Uber drivers, too

    Complaining about taxis is a Miami sport. Most Miamians have a story about a late or no-show taxi, or about the worn-out and dirty conditions of the cabs themselves, or about our “bad attitude.” But what are the actual conditions for us drivers?



    What Vladimir Putin and Raúl Castro want from each other

    Vladimir Putin sharply made it clear that his country does not plan to restart electronic intelligence operations at the “Lourdes” base near Havana. That was predictable. Getting in bed with the Castros again makes no sense at all.



    Amendment’s ‘caregiver’ clause sneaky approach to legalizing marijuana

    One of Florida’s foremost cancer hospitals takes the job of caregiver so seriously, it holds a Caregiver Academy for those caring for patients following stem-cell transplants. Caring for someone who is very ill is a huge responsibility that often involves addressing basic needs such as bathing, eating, continence, dressing, toileting and transferring.

Miami Herald

Join the

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category