I stood in the doorway of my custom renovated Buckhead bathroom. After carefully tying what’s fondly referred to in the black community as a “do-rag” or “wave cap” around my 6 year old son’s head, he looked in the mirror, perplexed, and then exclaimed, “I look like a criminal.”
A criminal. C-R-I-M-I-N-A-L.
I’ll spare the gross details of my reaction because it’s one of those parenting moments that I’m not proud of (and later apologized to him for — we’ll get to that) but let’s just say that I was a combination of infuriated, devastated, hurt, irate and just… exhausted. Utterly exhausted.
Perhaps it was the timing of it all — shortly after 5pm on a Friday after a LONG week of working. Maybe it was the fact that just the day before, I had proudly took the role of leading and moderating a very uncomfortable discussion (in topic, not tone) amongst my peers at one of the top and most well-known companies in the world about “Racial Injustices” and biases; it was following the countless instances in which people in the black and brown communities have been murdered, disenfranchised, etc. I took it as an opportunity to, for the first time, speak on a public platform about my own experiences and beliefs in an effort to help others that want to make a difference in said injustices. Or it could’ve been the fact that just two days ago, I sat on a call with a customer that referred to me as “aggressive” because I had simply been doing my job by ensuring that I touched as many areas of the business as I could to let my customer know that my team and I are there to support. I was left wondering if he would’ve said the same thing if I had been a man of a different hue similar to his. I don’t know. Maybe it was after learning over a week ago that the murder of 8 year old Secoriea Turner wasn’t just another sad tragedy in the Atlanta news but even sadder, a family member. It could be that I lost my great-grandmother, our family matriarch, to neglect from a nursing home a couple of weeks ago.
Maybe it was all of those things. Maybe it was none of them.
In the famous words of 1980’s hip-hop artist Kurtis Blow, my friends, “well, these are the breaks”.
We are in the middle of a global pandemic. Two, arguably. No one knows what’s going on. The Atlanta Mayor is being sued by the Georgia Governor over the mandate of masks to prevent the spread of Covid-19. The President was adamant about not wearing a mask but then I caught a glimpse of him on CNN wearing one. So to wear or not to wear? Are the children going back to school or aren’t they? The death toll is on the rise, still. Cabin-fever is a new way of life. You’d still better think twice about touching your face. My dad got exposed to Covid-19 at work on Monday because his co-worker, who knew that he’d been exposed, chose to come to work anyway. So now we’re still waiting to see what my dad’s test results are. Some still say it’s a hoax. I’m still talking about Covid-19 here but while we’re at it, yes, some still think that racism is a hoax too. (coming back to that in a moment, bare with my random stream of consciousness here). Still. Still. Still. Still. Still. Let’s see, what else? Oh yeah, and I STILL can’t order a good short rib from Davio’s at Lenox to make any of this better because they, like most restaurants, are barely surviving this pandemic.
“Clap your hands, everybody.” (Everybody clap your hands —I know it doesn’t say that in the song but in my mind, it always should have.)
My son looked in the mirror and said he looked like a criminal. He wanted to wear the “do-rag” because it’s known to create waves in the hair. He’s 6 so he doesn’t understand exactly what a criminal is and somewhere in my initial response to him, I clumsily stated something like “You don’t look like a criminal because a criminal doesn’t have a look!” Ironically and contrarily, my son does look like an innocent victim, already programmed to see himself as something negative. Foolish me. To expect that a 6 year old should just KNOW that when there are many (too many) adults that don’t. So how could he know? It’s the image that he sees on TV. It’s the image that he sees on Roblox (which I PROMPTLY deleted from his iPad). It’s the image that he sees in movies. A young black man. Which is exactly why we’re still in the middle of that non-Covid pandemic. I don’t have the energy to write the novel required to articulate my feelings about that but just know, for any of you out there reading this, the stereotypes and inaccurate depiction of what inferiority and criminalization LOOKS like is STILL the biggest issue we have in all of society.
And if we don’t do something to change that and get it right, many of us are going straight to the pits of hell. Or even worse, into an endless loop of the final “I Am Legend” scene before Will Smith blew everybody in that lab up. And we’re all going to blow up. And die.
After storming out of the house to take a drive and cool off (thanks Aunt Cheryl for bringing me back down to earth), I collected myself and came back home. I called my sweet baby boy to sit down and talk. I started off by apologizing for the misdirected anger from his naive comment. I explained to him that he does not look like a criminal. I explained that criminals don’t have a “look”. And that wearing an article of clothing, whether it be a “do-rag”, hoodie, or whatever it is, should not be the blanketed association for a criminal. Nor should being a black male. I pulled up the “Top 10 Most Wanted” list on the FBI website and showed him those criminals (part because I’m an extremist, part because kids are often times visual learners), and I asked him if any of those criminals looked like him. He said “No, they don’t look like me. They don’t look like criminals.” And I responded, “Exactly. Because criminals don’t have a look.” (And if you’re wondering, not one of the top 10 most wanted criminals is a black man — shocker.) We hugged and I apologized again. He went back to playing and I came here to write. I’m sure we’ll have to visit the conversation again someday but for today, he at least knows that no matter what he’s wearing or what he looks like, he does not look like a criminal. You only look like a criminal if you are a bad person and have committed a crime.
I’m still tired. Even weary from trying to write this piece in a digestable format for my audience and faithful readers (I appreciate you all). Still trying to keep the spirit of optimism alive so that I can practice what I preach and be introspective rather than looking out of the window and waiting for this moment to pass. Some days are easier than others. Hopefully tomorrow will be better than today. Along with all the days to follow.
For those of you that are wondering, yes, I’m ok. As someone close to me always says, they’re my feelings in the moment and they too, will pass.
“Break it up, break it up, break it up! Break down!”