I was talking today to a white woman I know who has a child whose father is African. I keep up on her son’s progress, partly because her doting is infectious–and partly because I worry about this kid.
I’d worry even if he weren’t black, because he’s as tall enough you look at him and assume he can drive. He’s not even a teenager. There have been periods through the years that I’ve known his mom that has been a big problem, particularly with his teachers. They know how old he is–he’s been in a grade-segregated school, so all the kids in a class are about the same age–but they still expect him to have the maturity of someone of his apparent age. Some of them have gotten very frustrated with his “misbehavior”.
That’s a problem for any kid who looks older than he is. It’s an extra problem for a black boy, who is expected to be a problem. It’s an even bigger problem here, in a northern, urban area that hasn’t seen much of its black population migrate from the working class into the middle class. (If you live in one of these areas, I suggest traveling to Raleigh, NC or Atlanta, GA to really experience the difference first-hand.)
So there have been problems, not with this kid’s development, but with the expectations he’s had to meet. His mother has had to intervene on his behalf. He’s had to learn coping skills that are beyond his age. He’s had that pressure to carry himself “just right” earlier than anyone with any empathy would want. Not that they’d want it at all.
Then along came this kid’s maternal grandfather.
I’m sitting talking to my friend today, and she mentions, “And grandpa got [her son] an Airsoft gun.”
My jaw dropped. For those of you who don’t know what an Airsoft gun is, they look like this:
Or like any other gun that you can faithfully recreate out of plastic and plop some BBs in. Airsoft guns are largely collected by adults who would like to collect real guns but can’t quite justify it to themselves. This is as close as they’re going to get. And that’s the problem.
I looked at my friend and said, “Does your dad…have any idea…how people look at black boys?”
“He does now. I explained it to him. Even [her son] said, ‘Yeah, grandpa.’”
So now this child has a cool present he can’t play with except in the most limited of situations. (His mom’s taking him and the gun to a range this weekend.) He can’t even have it accessible to him most of them time, because one error in judgment could be very easily the last. As sadly savvy as her son is, he’s still too young for decisions that are potentially fatal.
It isn’t because the present is that dangerous. Grandpa got that part right. This kid is mature enough to handle a BB gun. It’s because we’re too dangerous, something that grandpa never even thought to think about.
That, mesdames and messeiurs, is why “colorblindness” is one of the biggest white privileges there are.