I reached out to a friend of mine who has a 12-year-old son just like I do. She is an amazing stable mom who works from home and has been raising her son alone since he was born. She and I are very compatible but our lifestyles are completely different. We don't speak often but when we do it turns into a free-for-all loving debate about the way we view parenting.
Although I was raised in the South—meaning South Florida—she was raised in the "real" South, having been born in Louisiana. When it comes to racial tensions she is very much aware and was taught to be mindful of her race and the limitations it places on her life. She even made sure to give her son a "regular" name so that he would have a better chance at employment than if she had named him something more ethnic, like Tariq. She believes it is a battle to be black in America, and she has overcome every perceived obstacle by earning a college education and creating a lucrative career in business that people admire. She is beautiful, intelligent and she doesn't stand for nonsense, so it makes sense that she wants to raise her son with the same standards.
I, on the other hand, was raised in Miami and I never thought about myself being limited by my skin tone. This may also have something to do with the fact that Miami has a Latin influence that I dove into, and developed an appreciation for. I am a lighter brown than most blacks and I have green eyes, which was not a big deal to me, but could somehow be one reason why I was always treated as though I was special. Regardless of the cause of the special treatment, I believed I was and acted on that belief. I have always had big dreams and I have achieved most of them because I believed that I could and I should. Race was never a limitation for me.
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When she called me today we gave the usual updates about our love lives, how our natural hair is currently styled and shared opinions on the Marissa Mayer decision to end the work-from-home policy.
Then I asked the question I wanted her opinion on, "Brenda, when you consider literary options for your son, do you offer him books that focus on race issues? Is that important to you?" She paused before responding and then explained that she allows her son to read what he wants, but feels he isn't interested in learning about black history and the complexities of being a black man. For some reason, her son believes the old civil rights stories are irrelevant to his life.
Brenda lives in a predominantly white neighborhood, and her son has a racially mixed group of friends. Once she recognized that he doesn't care to discuss how his race could be used against him, she set out to correct him. She reminded him of the stop-and-frisk program in New York, the Trayvon Martin case and other incidents where blacks were being targeted for abuse and harassment.
For the life of me, I couldn't understand why Brenda was so adamant about changing her son's view of the world. In my opinion, if he has a view that he is a human first and black second then he will not make excuses for his failures or blame others for his life's misfortunes.
There will always be those who have no other means of showing their insecurity than to try to hurt another person or sabotage their success, but we have to learn to recognize it for what it is—and race really has nothing to do with it.
Raising young black men in this society is a double-edged sword. Black parents want to prepare their children for the dangers of the ignorant who use race as a weapon but while they do that, they also plant a seed of inferiority and angst into the child's mind. By pinpointing the racial tensions and waving a red flag, black parents are simply creating the unhealthy expectation that the child will experience discrimination and be held back by his skin tone. This is unnecessary because the ill-facilitated Black History Month "information" being disseminated by the education system and the media, already fuels the message that blacks are inferior. Parents don't need to reinforce it.
We will continue to create racist attitudes when we teach our children to be on the look-out for it. Sure, I have been called "nigger" by white people in my lifetime, but it did not affect me at all because I realize that that word is a last ditch effort of an unintelligent person to try to stop my shine. I teach my sons that anyone who calls them anything less than a king or treats them any less than with respect, does so because he doesn't have honor or respect for himself.
If we stop talking about racism, it won't go away, but the stigma of pain associated with it will. There will always be those who have no other means of showing their insecurity than to try to hurt another person or sabotage their success, but we have to learn to recognize it for what it is—and race really has nothing to do with it.
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You can call me a nigger five times in a row and I'll laugh because I'm still smarter than you, I'm still better educated than you are and the mere fact that you had to stoop to the elementary level of name-calling demonstrates that I have more love for myself than you do. Racism is laughable to me because no one's opinion matters more to me than my own. I teach my sons that it's not that serious. Those who believe in its power are actually holding themselves back. Those who demand respect receive it. Those with brilliant ideas and the will power to see them through break through any barriers; history proves that.
Racism is not an excuse to falter. Being aware that there are ignorant people in the world is not enough to equip our children to succeed. We have to teach them that there are no barriers. There is no one holding us back, unless we believe they can.
If you want something, you go get it. If you don't, you make an excuse. Everyone else can blame the white man, god or their parents all they want but inside his mind—in the darkest of hours as he wallows in misery—he'll know it wasn't some grand conspiracy to keep him down; it was the person in the mirror who failed him.