My grandson is 23 years old. He’s 6-foot-2 and weighs 200 pounds. At his Los Angeles high school, he played varsity basketball and won the scholar-athlete award. He graduated last spring from NYU with a fine record. He worked at the library. His major was art history. He spent last summer as a volunteer at the Vial migrant refugee camp just off the Turkish coast. He is about to start law school.

He’s a fine young man and on his way.

But wait. He’s Black! He wears a decidedly urban hairstyle and has hip facial hair. He has a tattoo. His trousers sag. He drives a fancy SUV given by his father. Hip hop sounds from the radio. Like me, he has a quick tongue. Like me, he would push back if disrespected and would fight back if mistreated. But unlike me, he might be killed for it!

As he came into adolescence, we agonized over how to counsel him. We told him to be polite if stopped by the police. Keep your hands in plain sight. Don’t make any sudden movement. Don’t run no matter what. Keep your mouth shut. Do exactly as you are told. In other words, live on your knees. It was awkward and demeaning advice, the kind one might give about facing a dangerous wild animal.

Is there any wonder that he would be profoundly angry? That he would reject being defined by the color of his skin rather than by the height of his achievements? I don’t think so.

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We didn’t have this conversation with other grandsons. We didn’t need to. They look white.

Theron O'Connor


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