In the wake of the death in Minneapolis of another unarmed Black man in police custody, which sparked international outrage, I decided to pencil down these words to you, my seven-year-old Black son.
The killing of George Floyd is just another sad reminder of the gross injustice and racial inequality that exist in America, and by extension, Canada, where we live. These are places where some lives seem to matter more than others.
Sadly, my dear son, by virtue of your skin colour, do not expect to be treated the same way as your white friends.
People can disagree with you all they want or be in denial of racism, but tell them yes, racism does exist, even here. If in doubt, ask them to try living in your skin for one day. Then, they’ll understand.
The Minneapolis incident drives home the point that racism in general, but anti-Black racism in particular, is still a part of everyday life. Racial bias, police brutality and discrimination in social places are deep and endemic in the fabric of our societies. Perhaps, that’s why non-Blacks don’t see it. It’s become normalized.
To this end, people like you, my son, will continue to live in fear despite any educational and socio-economic heights you attain. It is a sorry state of affairs.
I write with much anguish, sadness, pain and disappointment in my heart. I hope this letter helps prepare you mentally and emotionally for what lies ahead. And truth be told, I write this even though I hope I am wrong.
I’m so sorry that you have to grow up in a world where some lives matter more than the others, where a race lays claim to superiority over others and where the only offence you have committed is something you had no control over — being born Black, the son of a Black mother and father.
No matter what you do and where you go, I’m so sorry that you will most likely be judged by the colour of your skin first and not what you have to offer. Except, that is, when you are needed in the room as a token of their “diversity.”
You will have to work twice as hard to go half as far. If in doubt, ask Barack and Michelle Obama. They lived it. Despite attaining the highest offices anyone could aspire to in the U.S., president and first lady of the United States, they were subjected to derogatory, racially motivated criticisms. They will always be seen as the son and daughter of slaves, who really should never have gotten a place at the table.
I am sorry that you will always have to carry an ID when you go hanging out with friends. You will become the first suspect if anything goes wrong. When you begin driving, be prepared to get pulled over by the cops, randomly, and expect a pat-down as well. Reason? They’ll most often say you fit the description of the person who just shoplifted from a corner store.
Don’t forget to always put your hands where the police can see them.
Be prepared to be extra polite to them as well in order to ensure you get back to the warmth of your bed that night, so you don’t end up like many before you. Many young Black men were gunned down on the streets and left in the pool of their blood because the police deemed them threatening, even when they were unarmed.
I am so sorry that not everyone will see you for who you are, even those kids with whom you play at school now. With time, the system creates an inevitable separation where everyone will now have to fall “into their places” in society.
May I also hint that you have to be prepared for people spontaneously clutching their purses when you are around. They just believe that people with your skin colour are bad news.
Your grand stature alone will intimidate many. Already, you are several inches taller than many of your peers. That scares me more. There have been stories of police officers being threatened by the towering stature of young Black boys.
I’m sorry that your fashion choice — wearing a hoodie and baggy pants — will lead to you being perceived as and even called a thug, and that deciding to wear your cap facing backwards might mean you are called a gangster. Those fashion choices have cost many young and innocent Black boys, like Trayvon Martin, their lives.
My son, when you are with your white friends, be prepared to be the face of your race. Because of their privilege, they do not understand what it means to wake up every day fearing for your life.
It is heart-wrenching, but no matter where you go to school or live, you will always be seen and treated as a second-class citizen.
My son, I will strive to be there for you whenever you need me, to hold you and protect you. But soon, you will be a man and will have to take care of yourself. Hence, these warnings.
Someday, history will teach you about the fate of the Central Park Five. The lives of those young boys were forever changed by a system that was created to break them. My son, when the chips are down, the Black boy, more often than not, takes the fall for the white boy.
It cuts really deep to have to tell you all about this when you really should be enjoying a happy, carefree childhood. But it is what it is.
The events that led to the death of George Floyd are perhaps the final straw that broke my hopes that you, my Black son, might grow up in a racially just world — even though I so desperately want to be wrong.
I always think of how to make the world a better place for you and young, innocent people like you. I believe the least I can do is to make sure I’m not silent in the face of injustice and inequality.
But rest assured that the struggle continues for equality. I know it is exhausting, but we must never relent. Black lives matter.
My dear seven-year-old son, your Black life matters today, tomorrow and always. Nothing will ever change that.
Jumy Dapo-Ogunsola is a producer in Vancouver with Charles Adler Tonight on Global News Radio.