Please hear me out.
Dear Parents of Most White Teenage Boys in the US,
In my personal commitment to inclusion, I must write this to you as you are part of my community. I choose to address this glaring issue with you in the hope that maybe, if each of us can move the needle just 1%, then our cumulative effort will help save my life.
Come. Reflect with me on a few stories.
Just a couple of years ago, I was enraged when I heard about, and watched, a four second video clip of the nephew of a state supreme court justice pointing what appeared to be a gun and say, “I use this to kill n***** … bap bap bap” as people off-camera can be heard laughing.
The mother of this 14-year-old white teenager worked for the same school system and responded to the incident saying, “He was not making a threat but was inexcusably trying to parody people who make such threats.” The community rallied against the student as they considered this a threat. Two warrants against him were dismissed by two different judges. He was suspended for a year. Her son also appealed his suspension, and the state Board of Education reversed the punishment, saying the district had no jurisdiction because he was not charged with a felony. The student’s mother filed the lawsuit in federal court claiming that she and her son were victims of racism as they were white.
In February 2019, a mentor of mine asked another African and I to speak after the confrontation in D.C. between the Covington Catholic High School (Kentucky) student Nicholas Sandmann and Native American activist Nathan Phillips (Photo below). Sandmann was 16 years old, and Phillips was 65 at that time. Our only task was to speak about eldership in our communities and what that meant to us as we both came from backgrounds where eldership was preserved and celebrated.
This community conversation was at a very liberal a predominantly white progressive church with a wonderful history of social justice. A video of the interaction was shown on a big screen, and we talked about it. My takeaways were:
· Some were very insistent that Nicholas was in fear of his life and wondered how we could possibly interpret the look on his face as smugness or smiling. They only saw fear.
· Many people considered his behavior as excusable as he was “only” 16 years old. They also stated that “we,” the public, expected too much of a 16-year-old. When I told them I relocated to this country at age 16 to attend college, and live on my own, I was called, wait for it…. “Exceptional!”
· The audience did not feel that “respecting your elders” was pertinent to the conversation.
Recently, in Buffalo, New York, 10 people were killed by a lone 18-year-old white male gunman in a grocery store and 3 more were injured. Out of the 13 people shot, 11 were Black. The gunman published a white supremacist document online and drove more than 200 miles to get to this grocery store. He was wearing body armor and military style clothing. The “N-word” was written on his assault rifle. He also made antisemitic statements in his racist manifesto which he published online prior to this act of domestic terrorism. The media first described this gunman as a teenager and talked about mental illness.
Story #4 – Kyle Rittenhouse…. 17 years old at the time.
Story #5 – Dylan Roof… 21 years old at the time.
And the vast majority of school shootings which are mostly done by teenage white boys.
I am sure there are others, but you get the picture.
I do not have any children, but I consider myself a member of a larger community and I have an obligation to address gaps. You may think I am not qualified to write this, but please humor me.
I believe that testosterone laden white teenage males are a threat to my life as a Black woman, as well as to the larger society. I want you to know, when you walk past me in public, that when I see teenage white boys (that I do not know), I freeze. A feeling of panic runs through me and settles at the bottom of my stomach. I scrutinize them. I fear them. I have come to know that I must be suspicious of them, especially in public spaces.
A casual observation of history tells us that young boys/men, probably around the age of 16 to 28 or so, when they do not have jobs or productivity to occupy their minds and energy, they create conflict to address their losses and to gain power. You see this in any civil war in any country. In Nigeria, this is the age group that is being left behind and they are behind a lot of unrest, including Boko Haram. This problem is generally resolved with increases in job and money-making opportunities.
In the US, it is slightly different. The belief of being “left behind” is the impetus of “The Great Replacement Theory.” Lies, lies, lies. White people are not being left behind or being wiped out. We are here with you, dear white person. Side by side, righting the wrongs of the world. * 1
Undoing white domination in the world does not mean white extermination.
We are raising most teenage white boys in a society that is subliminally and directly teaching them the lie that they are going to be extinct. I am pretty sure that anyone who is reading this letter is not doing it directly as I do not find such people in my immediate orbit. But let us examine the subliminal messages, the indirect teachings that most teenagers are swimming in and feasting on every single moment of every day.
1. They are faced with tremendous pressure to belong (to their peers) and lead the pack by protecting “whiteness.” The patriarchy teaches them that that they are natural born rightful leaders.
2. We live in a culture that created a sense of entitlement in young white males. Each considers it is his personal responsibility to protect and defend the larger culture from – take your pick – Black people, Native Americans, Immigrants… anyone they feel is not just like them.
3. Their masculinity is tied to violence, dominance, and illusions of heroism. They personally believe that they have an obligation to be the hero of whiteness and through violence and “being in charge,” they can fix things. This is their civic responsibility to whiteness.
4. They are not taught collaboration as a way of life. They are “lone wolves,” or at best, the leader of their teenage pack. They are not mentally ill. The persona of violent extremism is deeply curated in them through gun ownership and thinking of the military and war as honorable aspirations, and a general lack of understanding of history.
5. They are taught they are special and better than other human beings because of they were birthed into American white skin.
How has all of this happened? What are the ways parents have contributed to this?
From childhood, you point out how exclusive they are: “We are not like ‘those’ people.” “We work hard for our money.” This creates a sense of superiority.
You convey to them that there is a scarcity of everything and teach them how to hoard – money, guns, jobs, etc. This creates unnecessary fear.
You tell them that they are entitled to the “little bit” that is available because they are white. This teaches entitlement.
You give them everything they want and often treat them as an adult – vacations, guns, money, cars, etc. This teaches them to take up as much space in the world as they want to without regard for others.
You encourage them to access those resources you claimed were scarce, only through competition. This teaches domination.
You leave them to be the individuals that they want to be, and you do not challenge their values, relationships, and ideologies. This is benign neglect.
You coddle them and tell them and others that they are “nice,” “sweet,” and “innocent” when they do something wrong, giving no consequences for bad behavior. This absolves them of responsibility. *
You do not know your child. You do not know how to read your child. You leave the child isolated. You call what appears to be a smile, fear. You call your white child using the “N” word, parody. The Buffalo shooter said of his parents, “My parents know little about me.” This creates in them an attitude that “they have to do it on their own.”
You teach them how to work the system and exploit it. To protect your child, you use your knowledge of the fact that the legal system was created to protect and privilege white people. You teach them that there are no repercussions from the larger society. They come to understand that they are not accountable to anyone, and they can get away with anything.
You teach them to make friends with only people who look like them and behave like them as you also only have friends that look like you and behave like you. This teaches them that living in a bubble is safe and that safety is threatened by diversity. It teaches them that violence is the natural response to diversity.
Of course, not all teenage white boys.
Of course, not your neighbor’s son.
Of course, not your son.
But whose son?
These boys are all our sons. They belong to us. They are part of our community and our society. We created them to be who they are when we support messages of white superiority and patriarchy. When we do not challenge them, we create monsters. When we do not talk about race at the dinner table, we give them a “get out of jail free” card. When we do not discuss the Buffalo shooter with them, we tell them “That is not a big deal.” We do not create a sense of genuine dignity in our kids when their identities are based on the falsehood of superiority, entitlement, and dominance.
You son deserves to be who God/Universe/Energy/Whatever/Whomever designed him to be – A free-thinking, collaborative being who loves himself, loves others, sees wonderful opportunities everywhere that sustains his community, feels safe in his skin and body, and can manage conflict and hard emotions with grace and compassion. He does not find himself in domination and power. He does not find his identity in entitlement and lack of responsibility and consequence, but as part of our community, loved and cherished and celebrated as part of a whole – just like everyone else. He does not find his power in the “N” word and in guns. But he finds it in service to others that look like him and don’t look like him.
We invite our teenage white boys to mayhem when we think of the kids in any of the above scenarios being a Black male teenager and know that the outcomes would not have been the same. When we do not speak up at our schools that our white kids are being treated differently than our Black kids in the same school, our teenage white kids learn that they are free to create mayhem.
When we think, “Not my (white) kid,” we uphold mayhem.
When we dismiss these things because you feel too frail to talk about it and say, “It’s just awful. I don’t know what to say,” and then you change the conversation, you are promoting shooting behavior. Parents, you must take responsibility for your role in your children’s actions and realize that your kid, that sweet, lovely teenage boy who is sitting in his room playing X-box, could be the next Dylan Roof, Kyle Rittenhouse, Buffalo shooter, Nicholas Sandmann, or the kid with the video using the “N” word while holding a gun.
Let that sink in. Amid your busy schedule of work, home, shuffling kids to activities, etc., if you have a teenage white son in your home, he could be a serious threat to me and every Black person, Indigenous American or Immigrant.
I want to live in a world where the sight of a teenage white boy does not automatically mean “threat” to me. A world where I can trust that he is raised with regard for my humanity. A world where I can trust that when something significant happens in the news, I know that most white parents are having discussions with their kids about it.
I look forward to encountering mentally and emotionally stable wonderful teenage white boys as the norm in our society and not the exception. Come on, we can do this. You can do this.
This is what loving our teenage white sons looks like and, yes, your son is at risk. Please have that conversation. Today.
Any questions or responses would be greatly appreciated. Let’s get this conversation going.
*I actually believe that the worst possible criminal on death row deserves a mama who believes in them and still thinks of them as “innocent” and “sweet” and “did not mean any harm.” There is something hopeful about that type of energy from a mama to her child. But my hope is that it can be done with accountability before it becomes too late.