On Being Black in America, Part 2

As a white man who is the father of two sons of color, I am at a loss on one of the most important parenting tasks for them: how to keep them safe from being killed by the police or security guards.

The need for early training in this safety issue is understood by every African-American parent in this country, but it is a different reality for white parents. African-American parents seldom talk about this awful, additional burden of parenting. It’s almost as though it a shameful task, though I don’t think the shame is theirs.

Lately, I have been trying to learn what to do, because the reality of the need is too profound for any sense of denial. The very public homicides of Eric Garner, John Crawford and Michael Brown have made it impossible to ignore the reality that simply being a black male in public is dangerous.

In my denial, I thought that being the sons of attorney Geoffrey Fieger, attending the best private schools and living in the most affluent neighborhood in Michigan would somehow insulate them. I know better now, and I am feeling the burden of talking with them about something that embarrasses me, and training them on a survival skill I never had to acquire.

This is some of what I have learned I need to tell them and train them on:

1. Never run in public settings such as a store or mall.

2. Never walk with your hands in your pockets while in public.

3. When entering an unfamiliar room in a hotel or house, always knock first and announce your presence.

4. Whenever stopped by the police, keep your hands raised (or at least easily visible), do not move quickly, do not turn your back to them unless commanded to do so.

5. Try to avoid walking in groups of three or more friends who are all black in unfamiliar areas.

6. Never, ever express your anger at the police or security guard no matter how they treat you.

7. Avoid driving through or shopping in predominately white neighborhoods, but if you have to, be focused on getting in and out. Do not “window shop” or linger. Avoid eye contact with police or security guards. Be prepared to be stopped by the police or security guards. Have your ID ready and in your front pockets (always keep your hands visible).

8. Do not resist arrest or try to defend yourself, even if innocent of any crime. Loudly announce that you are not armed, not resisting.

9. Do not approach unfamiliar white people on the street unless they approach you first.

These are a few of the lessons I am told are necessary for my sons to learn. It makes me feel ashamed and angry.

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