Order out of Chaos
Once again, I had “The Conversation” with my son. I’ve had The Conversation many times over the years, just as my father had it with me, and his father with him, and probably his father before that for generations past. This is The Conversation that all parents eventually have with their Black sons. The one that begins with “this world is not fair…” The one that reminds him that, even though he is a good student, honorable, and respectful, that many will perceive him to be a threat. It’s a delicate balance between helping him learn to live with this uncomfortable truth while not allowing it to embitter him.
But despite the many generations The Conversation has occurred, I am still optimistic that it will eventually disappear. Until that day comes, I would like to share my strategy to bring order out of our current chaos. To bring something good out of tragedy.
My Simple Strategy
I conclude The Conversation by telling my son,
“there will be no event, no news story, no tragedy, that will distract me from my purpose of developing you into a Godly young man.”
That’s it. That’s my strategy. One simple statement that I tell him after The Conversation and repeatedly throughout his childhood… and, especially, at times like this.
But this statement is not really for him. It is for me. I need to remind myself of my larger purpose. My “Why.” My reason for being a parent. Because, sometimes, my knees get weak. Sometimes I fear for him. For his future. And when fear arrives, it is evidence that I have taken my eyes off of my purpose. I have become distracted by events that are beyond my control.
Moving to Control
But there is much that I can control. I control what happens every day in my home, especially over the summer months. In my home, I can control whether my son wakes up at a reasonable time. Whether he completes his assigned tasks. Whether he turns off the screen, puts down the game, and picks up a book. Whether he continues — or even accelerates — his academic progress. Or whether he gets home on time. I can control whether he shows respect for his mother and whether he makes his bed. These are just some of the elements that are entirely under my control. By reminding my son of my purpose, I am also reminding myself of the overwhelming influence I have on my Black boy. I feel greater resolve and commitment as a result. I also feel less fear.
Clarifying my purpose reminds me that I do not have to accept society’s low standard for Black boys. And it is precisely because society expects so little of my son that I must set a new, higher bar. It is up to me to directly confront the “soft bigotry of low expectations” that is in every school, every media image, and every news report.
So, to the parents of Black boys, I would strongly advise that you take the energy and emotion from last week and redirect it into raising your standards for your son. Don’t bother trying to challenge society’s standards — this is a waste of your limited time. Instead, focus on your standards in your own home this summer.
In Search of Excellence
My standard for my Black boy is nothing less than excellence, starting with excellence in his Character. In everything he does, I am watching to see if he operates according to a standard of honesty, trustworthiness, diligence, kindness, peace, and self-control that I have set for him. All of his activities — his academics, his volunteer service, his athletic pursuits — are viewed through the lens of his Character.
But be warned. Should you choose to pursue excellence in your son’s Character, prepare yourself for an army of unexpected resistance. From coaches who are casual about Character, to teachers who reward low effort with high grades, to family and friends who encourage your son to worship celebrity over substance. This is the culture in which we now live, and few will understand why you are setting such a high bar for your son.
But, I sense a new understanding now. Judging from the dozens of calls and emails I received last week from friends — White, Black, Hispanic, and Asian — there may be a new understanding of the unique challenges of raising a Black boy. A recognition of hidden “Black Boy Tax” that parents must pay.
In the military, a soldier receives training that prepares him for combat. The expectations are high, and the training is hard. Initially, the soldier hates his drill sergeant. But, once the soldier steps foot on the battlefield, he realizes the importance of the training. Only then will the soldier see that the drill sergeant’s efforts were an act of love.
So it is with you, parents. You are preparing your Black boy for war. Not a physical battle, but a spiritual and an intellectual one. A conflict in which your child must fight “not with physical force but with soul force,” as stated by Martin Luther King. A war that simply needs many, many more Black male leaders who are fully prepared and willing to risk themselves in battle.
This summer is your next opportunity to reset your expectations for your child. I encourage you to decide now — right this minute — that during this summer, your Black boy will read more than he has ever read. That he will do more chores around the home than he has ever done. That he will do more math problems than he has ever done. Decide to lift your expectations. Why? Because external forces are reminding you of the importance of preparing him for adulthood.
I, too, have been resetting my own expectations for my son (and daughters!). Many of us have been doing this together through online discussions over the last several weeks. Strangers from as far away as England have been entering into virtual dialogue about raising kids during Coronavirus. Now, the topics will specifically include raising our boys to become leaders.
If you would like to join us, please click here to be directed to the free sign-up page. We meet on Saturday from 10-11a CST. This week’s topic is called “Leap-Frog Summer,” and we’ll discuss summer learning tools, encourage one another, and sometimes give each other a good kick in the pants to help us accelerate our child’s learning.
Distraction is described as “a thing that prevents someone from giving full attention to something else or extreme agitation of the mind or emotions.” The last few months have been trying for everyone. Last week particularly so. But right now, your child needs your full attention. Stay focused on raising your children, so they are fully prepared for their adult lives. And, if I can help, please don’t hesitate to contact me directly or join Saturday’s webinar.
Keep up the fight until The Conversation is no longer needed.