I want to talk about my nephews. They are between the ages of 4 and 15 and each of them is a marvel in his own right. When they smile the whole world lights up. They are smart, funny, kind, insanely energetic and talented in both music and athletics. They wow me all the time.
But I am aware of how the world sees them. Soon, they’ll unwittingly cross the threshold from cute to scary, from innocent to dark brown guilt. Last summer we took a family trip to our happy place, Hilton Head, South Carolina. On our first evening there, several adults were heading out to the grocery store to pick up provisions. My oldest nephew, who was 14 at the time, was flexing his self-expression muscles and wanted to go out in a T-shirt, shorts, a baseball cap, sunglasses and a gold chain. We all stared at him, the boy we know to be a helpful, shy honors student, and fretted about how the overwhelmingly white gaze in Hilton Head would view him. Just another thug? A cookie cutter drug dealer from some FOX News fever dream? We couldn’t risk it. Someone might call the police while he aimlessly perused the aisles or tried out the beach gear displayed in front of the store.
This vacation was not going to turn into a news story. All the adults, without even having to confer with each other, told him to take something off. He could wear the cap and the sunglasses, or the sunglasses and the chain, but all 3 items were just too much. He could not explore his identity and express himself *that much*. He couldn’t shine that brightly, because if he did, he could be killed.
Dim your shine, young Black boy, because this world is too prejudiced, too afraid to appreciate what’s inside you. Take your hoodie down, take your sunglasses off, take your puff jacket off, because all you are could get you killed.
If you’ve never had to worry about the kind of car you could pass down to your son because you are concerned about the police reaction to him in that car, you may not be able to relate to this post.
If you’ve never had to tell your son to dim his shine, you may not be able to relate to this post.
But I want you to squeeze your eyes shut, imagine your own child in that situation and try to feel that twinge in your heart as you tell your kid, your precious bundle of possibility, that his choice of clothing could get him killed. This is why Black Lives Matter. This is how a house looks as it burns.
Please consider a donation of your time, talent or treasure to an organization that is fighting racism. And smile at the next Black teen you see. They won’t expect it, but it’s a powerful sign that they are seen and they matter. My nephew is way too shy to smile back, but as a Black male teenager right now, he deserves to see adults smiling at him.