So I’m driving down the street with
my 4-year-old nephew. He, knocking back a juice
box, me, a Snapple, today y’all we are doing manly shit. I love
watching the way his mind works. He asks a million questions.
Uncle, why is the sky blue? Uncle, how do cars go?
Uncle, why don’t dogs talk? Uncle, uncle, uncle, he asks,
uncle, uncle, uncle, he asks uncle uncle uncle
as if his voice box is a warped record. I try my best
to answer every question, I do. I say it’s because the way
the sun lights up the outer space. It’s because engines
make the wheels go. It’s because their minds aren’t
quite like ours. I say Yes. No. No. Yes. No. Yes. No. I don’t know.
Who knows? Maybe. We laugh. He smiles at me, looks out the window,
spots a cop car, drops his seat and says,
“Oh man, Uncle, 5-0, we gotta hide.” I’ll be honest. I’m not happy
with the way we raise our Black boys. Don’t like the fact that
he learned to hide from the cops well before
he knew how to read. Angrier that his survival
depends more on his ability to deal
with the “authorities” than it does his own literacy.
“Get up,” I yell at him. “In this car, in this family,
we are not afraid of the law.”
I wonder if he can hear the uncertainty in my voice.
Is today the day he learns that uncle is willing to lie to him,
that I am more human than hero?
We both know the truth is far more complex than
do not hide. We both know too many Black boys who disappeared.
Names lost. Know too many Trayvon Martins
Oscar Grants and Abner Louimas, know too many
Sean Bells, and Amadou Diallos Know too well that we are
the hard-boiled sons of Emmett Till. Still, we both know
it’s not about whether or not the shooter is racist,
it’s about how poor Black boys are treated as problems
well before we are treated as people. Black boys in this country
cannot afford to play cops and robbers
if we’re always considered the latter, don’t have the luxury
of playing war when we’re already in one.
Where I’m from, seeing cop cars drive
down the street feels a lot like low-flying planes in New York
City. Where I’m from, routine traffic stops are more like mine
fields, any wrong move could very well mean your life.
And how do I look my nephew in his apple face and tell him to be strong when we both know
black boys are murdered every day, simply for standing up for themselves? I take him
by the hand, I say be strong. I say be smart. Be kind, and polite.
Know your laws. Be aware of how quickly your hands move
to pocket for wallet or ID, be more aware of how quickly
the officer’s hand moves to holster, for gun. Be Black. Be a boy and have fun,
because this world will force you to become a man far more quickly than you’ll ever have the need to. He lets go of my hand. “But Uncle,” he asks, “Uncle,
what happens if the cop is really mean?” And, it scares me to
know that he, like so many Black boys,
is getting ready for a war I can’t prepare him for.