A Letter to My Sons on The Truth About Racism After the Death of George Floyd
I am sharing a letter that Sheila wrote to our sons in light of the tragic death of George Floyd. I originally intended to only share it on my personal Facebook page with close family and friends. After receiving a groundswell of support and positive feedback, Sheila and I decided to share it with a wider audience. If you decide to read this heartfelt letter, I ask that you read it to the very end.
Even though you’ve heard this all before, I can’t risk leaving a stone unturned. Your lives are too precious to me. I’m writing to tell you the truth about racism after the tragic, unjustifiable death of George Floyd.
I’m heartbroken not only for his family but also for you. As I watched him cry for help and saw him struggle to breathe, I couldn’t help but think that could’ve been you.
Was it injustice? No doubt. Was it because he was Black? If a white man had been arrested for trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill, he’d most likely still be alive today. So I feel compelled to remind you that skin color matters.
I fear you’ll think I’ve played a cruel joke by duping you into believing your outer layer doesn’t matter.
I fear I’ve been naive. Skin color matters, and I struggle with feeding you the narrative that it doesn’t.
I want to tell you the truth about racism after the death of George Floyd.
I’ve never pretended it doesn’t exist. I’ve felt its sting. I’ve been trailed through stores. Shop owners have asked to search my purse. Tellers have eyed me with suspicion and scrutinized me when I’ve withdrawn my own money from the bank. I know humiliation. We all have prejudices. It’s part of our humanness.
Here’s the truth
Here’s the truth: You can’t let the actions of a few color your view of the world. George Floyd’s death was unjust, tragic and unnecessary. But I don’t believe most people are racist. Make no mistake. There’s a fringe element who may want to do you harm, and you could fall victim to senseless violence.
And for that, I’m sorry. I’m sorry you’ll have to work so hard to prove your intelligence and worth–perhaps even your humanity– because of the black skin that houses your intellect and hearts. I’m sorry–in light of the atmosphere we live in today– you may feel your preparation for life as Black men has been inadequate.
We tried to equip you with tools for success, great lessons for any young man, but especially critical for you. We coached you on society’s unwritten rules for Black men. What you should and shouldn’t wear, how to treat others, how to conduct yourselves with dignity, and how to speak properly and confidently.
Remember the times you accused us of trying to “control your lives”? Our instructions, dear sons, were for a time such as this.
People will judge you based on the color of your skin. Your reaction could be the difference between life and death.
Despite what we know about our country’s history, we’ve taught you to assume the best of people. I’ve quelled my doubts and encouraged you look deeper than color. Was I wrong?
How can I continue to tell you race doesn’t matter after the death of George Floyd, which probably occurred because he was Black? How can I tell you race doesn’t matter when you’ve been repeatedly pulled over by police who are “randomly” checking vehicles in the predominately white areas we’ve lived in?
You’ve faced little discrimination in your short lives, and I’m thankful. But you’re not immune to it. So don’t be fooled into thinking you are. Some of the devastating stories we’ve seen in the media from time to time could’ve easily been about you but for the grace of God.
I fear you could become a hashtag
I fear you could become a hashtag, your name a symbol of injustice. It doesn’t matter that you’re from a two-parent home. It doesn’t matter that you’re from a middle class family, articulate, and educated because the first thing people see is the color of your skin.
Regardless of the poor behavior of a few, all white people aren’t “the enemy.” Don’t let anyone try to convince you they are. It’s not true. For the few times I’ve felt discrimination, I can tell you of hundreds of other times when white people have been loving, fair-minded and sacrificial for me.
Know history, but don’t let it cripple you. A victim mentality will poison your mind and limit you economically and emotionally.
I wish I could return you to the safety and comfort of the womb. But I can’t. This is your experience. Your story to tell. Sifting through this confusion and anger may hurt. Use my wisdom as an ointment to calm the irritation. And make no mistake about where I stand.
First, you’re responsible for yourselves, your families, and your community. Second, you’re bound by the rules of society and the law. I know you’ll respect that. I’ve raised you to be men of character and integrity.
Pray all goes well
Most police officers want to help you. Be wise and remember what we’ve taught you. If the police pull you over, respect them. They deserve it. Comply with their wishes and pray all goes well. If it doesn’t, I hope I’ve armed you with the tools to fight ignorance with grace.
Your father and I believe America is the best place in the world for you. As you transition into adulthood, you’ll have an opportunity to be beacons of hope and examples of what is best about America by treating everyone–regardless of race, social stature, or religious affiliation–with respect, compassion, and dignity
Judge others by their character not their skin color. For those who can’t see past your skin color, it’s their loss. Those who look deeper than skin color will see what I see. I couldn’t be prouder of the men you’re becoming. So allow others to see the fullness of America by being the best you can be.