Saturday, November 15, 2014

A 'Cosby' dad's rules for his kids couldn't shield them from racism

This Cosby-eqsue Ivy League black father did everything -- and more -- that conservative Republicans said he should do to raise his privileged black kids... and yet white racism still got to them.

Reading his "rules" for his kids was a real shock to me. Black readers won't be surprised, but I think most white readers would share wonderment at just how far blacks must go not to trigger our prejudices:

My wife and I used our knowledge of white upper-class life to envelop our sons and daughter in a social armor that we felt would repel discriminatory attacks. We outfitted them in uniforms that we hoped would help them escape profiling in stores and public areas: pastel-colored, non-hooded sweatshirts; cleanly pressed, belted, non-baggy khaki pants; tightly-laced white tennis sneakers; Top-Sider shoes; conservative blazers; rep ties; closely cropped hair; and no sunglasses. Never any sunglasses.

[...] [W]e came up with even more rules for our three children:

1. Never run while in the view of a police officer or security person unless it is apparent that you are jogging for exercise, because a cynical observer might think you are fleeing a crime or about to assault someone.

2. Carry a small tape recorder in the car, and when you are the driver or passenger (even in the back seat) and the vehicle has been stopped by the police, keep your hands high where they can be seen, and maintain a friendly and non-questioning demeanor.

3. Always zip your backpack firmly closed or leave it in the car or with the cashier so that you will not be suspected of shoplifting.

4. Never leave a shop without a receipt, no matter how small the purchase, so that you can’t be accused unfairly of theft.

5. If going separate ways after a get-together with friends and you are using taxis, ask your white friend to hail your cab first, so that you will not be left stranded without transportation.

6. When unsure about the proper attire for a play date or party, err on the side of being more formal in your clothing selection.

7. Do not go for pleasure walks in any residential neighborhood after sundown, and never carry any dark-colored or metallic object that could be mistaken as a weapon, even a non-illuminated flashlight.

8. If you must wear a T-shirt to an outdoor play event or on a public street, it should have the name of a respected and recognizable school emblazoned on its front.

9. When entering a small store of any type, immediately make friendly eye contact with the shopkeeper or cashier, smile, and say “good morning” or “good afternoon.”

These are just a few of the humbling rules that my wife and I have enforced to keep our children safer while living integrated lives. 

So as it turns out, to avoid white judgment and racism, well-heeled black kids must learn not only not "act black," not only to "act white," but also to act better than white.

(UPDATE: 12.06.2014): Not to disparage Mr. Graham, I meant "Cosby" dad in the sense of the 1980s TV show with the well-adjusted black upper-middle class family interacting easily with whites. I wrote this just before all the recent accusations about rape came out about Bill Cosby. I meant no disrespect to Mr. Graham or his family, in fact the opposite. So I'm keeping the original title of this post because I think it still conveys succinctly the essence of my (well actually, his) argument.

By Lawrence Otis Graham
November 6, 2014 | Washington Post

No comments: