After the decision in Ferguson, my fear of bringing you into this world has begun to outweigh the joy and honor it would be to raise you.
As much as I love you before I even know you, there are twice as many people who will hate you already. The color of your skin will put you at a disadvantage not from the time you are born, but from the moment you are conceived.
The system of oppression you will face from your first minute on this earth takes my breath away. The fact that you will be hated, feared, marginalized, and oppressed before you can even say “daddy” brings tears to my eyes. How could something viewed as a blessing throughout the world be considered so many people’s worst fear?
As a child, you should be able to play cops and robbers in the front yard. You should be able to have a toy gun and yell “bang, bang” as you shoot at the bad guys, but you won’t. You won’t because I will be too afraid that if I turn my head for one second, that someone will mistake it for a real gun. Someone will take something so playful and put it into the framework of you being born with a propensity for violence. They will mistake your toy gun for a real one and within seconds it will be too late. So no, you can’t go outside and play.
As a teenager, you should be able to hang out with your friends at night. You should be able to ask if you can walk to the corner store to get a soda and some candy. In a decent world, I should be able to say “yeah” and not think twice about it. But if I said yes, you may not come home. You may not come home because the hoodie and basketball shorts you wear perpetuate the stigma that you are a thief, that you are dangerous, that you’re a threat. A threat so great that a person will stalk you and kill you because they fear what you “might” do if left alive. So no, you can’t go to the corner store.
As a high school graduate I will give you a little more trust. I trust that you will go out with your friends on a regular afternoon just to hang out around the city. I trust that you can obey the law, respect other people, and try to avoid conflict when it comes your way. Although I trust you, you won’t be allowed any freedoms because I don’t trust other people. Rather than looking at you as a big 18-year-old child, they will look at you as a big scary black man. A man who is threatening and prone to violence. They will antagonize you as a way to justify the belief that you are inherently dangerous and a threat to your own community. Once you respond they will use deadly force to take you out of this world. To further this stigma, they will then drag your name through the mud while creating the perception that you were a thug, when you were nothing more than my baby getting ready for his first semester in college. So no, you can’t go out in your own community because it doesn’t really belong to us.
As a young black man in America, you will hear a lot of “no.” You will be told that if you dressed better you would be treated better. When you tell them about the countless black men who were killed in suits and ties, they will look at you and say “Well that’s because of black-on-black crime.” When you question “Does white-on-white crime devalue white lives?” they will go to the next myth about what you can or can’t do as a black man to “conform to society.”
Eventually you will continue the pathology of being unable to be who you are, simply because you were born with black skin. This will create an anger inside of you and place you into your final stigma: “The Angry Black Man.”
I write this letter to you but I will probably never get to meet you. After the decision in Ferguson, my fear of bringing you into this world has begun to outweigh the joy and honor it would be to raise you. I can only hope that I am wrong, but 400 years of evidence has made this an easy indictment on my heart.
George Johnson is an advocate for social change in the realms of gender, higher education, sexual orientation, and race. He has been published in Ebony, Huff Post College, Diverse Education and TheEdAdvocate. He blogs at Iamgmjohnson.com. Follow him on twitter @iamgmjohnson.