Some time ago, an old schoolmate of mine stated her son will not have to worry about being harassed by the police because he will learn how to be a well- dressed professional. I could not help being disappointed by this statement. How could anyone believe, especially with recent events concerning black males, or African Americans as a whole, that nice clothing could be their child’s saving grace? To believe that an individual’s clothing will suggest they’re a good person to the police (something decades of protests and the use of laws making discrimination a crime are still struggling to do) is no more realistic than believing racism has come to an end.
The mistreatment of African American males cannot be neatly confined to the way in which they dress. Clothes are a means to expressing individuality, and therefore cannot fully express who they are beyond their physical appearance. Regardless if our sons are in tailored suits or hooping shorts the one thing they cannot take off, nor can their clothes hide, is their race. Each day we send our sons into a world that is often unforgiving. We say “I love you” not because we solely want to express a term of endearment, but because it has practically become a necessity. We pray that our children make the right decisions and rely on strangers to use their better judgement to realize that beyond our children’s skin lays a decent human being.
For some reason, I thought a mother of an African American child, that considered herself woke, would understand that our clothes cannot act as a shield from racism. But I was wrong. I wish determining whether our children would be victims or survivors were as simple as putting something nice on them that day. But it’s not. Protecting our children from the mistreatment so many have fatally faced, and gaining respect from law enforcement, does not come in the form of a tuxedo, button-up, or khakis. Their clothing cannot protect them, nor can it elevate them above, the level of hatred or misunderstanding that unfortunately accompanies their complexion. In reality it’s not about our children’s clothing. It’s so much more complicated than that. It’s about fear. It’s about ignorance. It’s about long used practices and misguided beliefs. These are the things our sons, as well as our daughters, are up against. Because we cannot force people to think differently of our children what we can do is encourage our children, and model for them, the importance of knowing their history, knowing the law and knowing that discrimination does not simply start and end with clothing.
About the author: Latanya Muhammad is an advisor, group facilitator and freelance writer. Her writing has appeared on Her View From Home, Blunt Moms and Reality Moms. When she is not writing, she is wrangling her two children and husband. To read more of her work, or to connect, visit www.shetanagain.com and Shetanagain Writes on Facebook and Instagram.