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I'm a Black Mom Who, for a Long Time, Saw Black Men as 'Bad Dudes'

I’ll never forget the response I had when the doctor told me I was having a boy.

I could feel the fear rising within me. “How can you tell and are you sure,” I asked.

That day on the doctor's table, with an ultrasound wand pushed against my abdomen, I felt the fear take over. As soon as she was finished I got dressed, rushed to my car and cried like a baby. I was terrified of having a son.

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My entire childhood I confronted “bad guys.” Even though I'm black, in my young mind black men were “bad guys.” I hate to say it out loud. I’m even ashamed of myself for saying it where the world can read it, but it’s my truth and it makes sense considering the examples I saw. My father and all of his brothers were either criminals or drug addicts. My day-to-day experiences with them consisted of physical violence, verbal battles, discussion that felt aimless and even insane. Before I was 10 years old there were countless visits to the county jail and even more phone calls from jail, where the operator would ask, "Would you like to accept a collect call from the county jail?” upon answering.

The day the doctor said I was having a son, I cried like a baby in my car. I realized that I was afraid of black men.

My neighborhood was also filled with “bad guys,” or so I thought. Home robberies were common, as was drug-related murders and crime. It was frightening and I believed “bad guys” were real and they were black.

I experienced a reality check when I grew up, left my childhood community and entered a world which was vast, complex and diverse, even among black people and men.

I can recall one of my earliest encounters with a black man who I could sense was genuinely kind but felt completely foreign to me. I had no clue how to treat him. And no one could have convinced me that he wasn’t a threat. We were friends for years before I realized I’d misjudged him and treated him unfairly. Gratefully his kindness and love for me was sincere and he forgave me and continued our friendship even though I didn’t deserve it.

The recent shooting of Terence Crutcher in Tulsa, Okla., along with the audio recording of an officer saying that Crutcher "looks like a bad dude,” is disturbing in a way that is all too familiar to me. This is a systemic perspective that black men do harm. There are those of us like myself who’ve experienced the reality of living in a community where poverty rules and challenging things happen to good people. And our media has always been a culprit in perpetuating stereotypes that prove to be very powerful in our psyches.

The day the doctor said I was having a son, I cried like a baby in my car. I realized that I was afraid of black men. I had been conditioned by my childhood experience to believe that black men were dangerous, destructive and incapable of loving and productive relationships. That day I knew I had to heal my heart and view of black men because I was carrying one in my womb. This was serious and needed immediate attention. There was no way I could parent a child I thought was inherently a bad guy because of his gender and race.

Since becoming a mom, I’ve done lots of research and deep self-analysis to undo my beliefs about black men. It’s meant searching my soul to address founded and unfounded fears. These fears have called me to look at our history as a nation, the real and lasting impact of the slave trade and centuries of forced abusive slavery. I looked at the role of race in that system and it was founded on made up science that said black people were not human and inferior to whites. These beliefs are still pervasive, even as slavery has ended and a systematic and social racism persist.

There is no way to change this but by diving into our hearts. Laws do not change hearts as I learned with myself.

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Having a black son was the catalyst for my change. If I were to love him and provide a safe space for him to explore and become a whole human being, it was urgent to shift.

Because my son's identity is beyond the racist conditioning I had held for so long. He is more than someone who will grow up to be a "bad dude."

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