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What Does a Black Father Say to His Son?

| March 27, 2012

A painting by Weldon Ryan, Palm Coast's 2011 Artist of the Year.

By Andrew J. Skerritt

Everyone has been talking about mothers having the talk with their sons. But I haven’t heard enough about us — fathers, black men — having that conversation with our sons.

Unlike our sisters, wives, mothers and daughters, we — black men — have been there. We know what it’s like. We’ve walked in those shoes. Time taught us tact, but we won’t live long enough to outgrow the frustration and the bitterness.

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We’ve lived through it over and over again:

The first time we were stopped for driving a nice car.

The first time the cashier asked for ID even though the white person in front of us wasn’t ask to produce one.

The first time we were unlucky enough to be in the neighborhood where a crime was committed.

Remember Susan Smith and her two dead sons? Her story was so easy to believe. Just blame a black man. When President Obama said if he had a son he’d look like Trayvon Martin, we know exactly what he’s talking about.

We’ve heard the 9-11 audio tape. We’ve also heard the lawyers, parents and pundits. While the details of what happened in Sanford on Feb. 26 are in dispute, no one can deny this fact: A black man who shoots a 17-year-old white youth armed with nothing more than a soda bottle and candy and claims self-defense does not get the benefit of the doubt.

For him, Stand Your Ground isn’t law, but quicksand. He gets dragged down to police headquarters to explain what happened in detail. If any inconsistencies creep into his story, the handcuffs come out; he stays in jail.

But to the Sanford police department, the scene was easy to explain. A young black man dressed in a hood lies on the ground dead. The Neighborhood Watch captain says he felt threatened. Of course, it makes sense.

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Before I proceed further, a word of caution. While outrage is appropriate, we can’t afford to go overboard. Too many young black men die at the hands of fellow black men: an insult; an unintended diss; an inadvertent shoulder bump; a drug deal gone wrong. Sadly, we hear too little outrage for the countless black men whose blood stains our sidewalks. We shed no tears for the guilty, the culpable.

But what happened to Trayvon is a reminder of the random death that stalks our sons, brothers, nephews, grandsons – the innocents — us.

Which is why this conversation is so hard for us. We can’t begin without getting angry all over again. We can’t finish before the long buried frustrations resurface.

We wish we could promise our sons it won’t happen anymore. We wish we could guarantee that if they dress right, talk right, walk right and look right, it will inoculate them against this kind of thing, but we can’t. We can only tell them too many factors are beyond their control. Too many stereotypes to undo. Too many George Zimmermans who will only see them.

So what does a father say?

What does he honestly say when he knows in his heart that even though his walls are decorated with academic degrees, even though he lives in a gated community, even though he has the nicest car on the block, he knows he’s only one dark night removed from the next affront, from the next time he stares down the barrel of a 9 millimeter pistol, knowing that none of his achievement or affluence will mean anything. But a father can’t tell his son that.

Andrew Skerritt is an assistant professor of journalism at Florida A&M University and the author of “Ashamed to Die: Silence, Denial and the AIDS Epidemic in the South.” Reach him by email here.

20 Responses for “What Does a Black Father Say to His Son?”

  1. Christie 2012 says:

    Remember Susan Smith and her two dead sons? Her story was so easy to believe. Just blame a black man.
    Remember the Duke Lacrosse team? Her story was easy to believe. Just blame to rich white boys, They can get away with anything.

  2. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    “Too many young black men die at the hands of fellow black men”, this statement while correct is very much understated. It’s actually the vast majority of young black men die at the hands of fellow black men. 94% of all black people murdered, are murdered by other black people. This is a fact ( (also 86% of all whites murdered, are murdered by fellow whites). Even more troubling is that the same study referenced above shows that in 2005 18-24 year old black males were many more times murdered by another black male, 101 out of every 100,000 black males in the age group was murdered by another black male, versus white males in the same age group 12 out of 100,000! Unbelievable.

    When will the focus and outrage shift to correct this injustice? The politically incorrect, but needed statement is that the problem is not as the title states “what does a black father say to his son” , more accurately, the problem is”Why is the black father abandoning his son”. Why are black women more likely to be impregnated, and left to raise their child by themselves than any other race or ethnic group? Why is black on black violence many times higher than any other race or ethnic group?

    Maybe, just maybe it has something to do with the fact that 100,000’s of thousands of black men will murder other black men this year, and millions of black men will impregnate and abandon millions of black women this year, and Rev Al, Rev Jesse, and Prof. Skerritt and other so-called “Black leaders” won’t say a word about it.

    • jespo says:

      And no one comments on the elephant in the room?…..shocking. Good question Taxpayer.

    • middleofmars says:

      Question is who keeps stickiing the camera in Reverends faces as if they’re the only person authorized to speak for Black people. As so many timed before, we view this inflated “abandonment” phenomenon on Black men, and never question the carrot on a string offered to Black women to impregnate themselves and collect free necessities from the gov’t for doing so. Why do we only possess unidirectional attention and and understanding about our problems. Had such a phenomenon of abandonment occured any other time during the history of mankind, we would have died out long time ago. Answer: when you have laws that seperate fathers from their children and compensate the women for doing so, without cultural belief that women aren’t capable of intentionally making those decisions, it creates an overwhelming occurance of single mothers. Creating a lack of male logic, reasoning, and practicality in an entire community. Leaving a lot of testosterone under the guidance of 74 percent estrogen. Change the requirement for women to be single in order to receive benefits, and place proper limitations for couples and you will see a change in seperation behaviors.

  3. JIM.R says:

    Remember Tawana Brawly and how Rev. Al sharpton milked that scam ?
    Racism is an ugly fact of life and it’s not confined to just white people. Watch George Lopez in concert with an almost all Hispanic audience, and his whole act is ridiculing and insulting gringos. Same goes for almost all black comedians their entire act is usually based on the same thing.
    This viewpoint doesn’t mean I forget or forgive whites for 300 years of enslaving and abusing blacks, I’m just pointing out that racism exists in all of us, and it’s nasty even if some feel justified in it because of what they have suffered.

  4. Layla says:

    A good father knows where his son is at all times, knows what he is doing, teaches him to take responsibility for his life and to love, care and respect others and you will be loved and respected in return. I know black fathers who teach that to their sons.

    This chip that people are walking around with has to go away. In this country, each man is the product of his own efforts. That’s a good thing. Work hard and you can even grow up to be President. That’s a good thing.

    This was a sad and tragic incident that is being blown waaaay out of proportion. Why? Are there racists? Yes, but MOST of us are not racist, will not tolerate it in any form.

    Lots of people don’t like me much, either, but I don’t make a national cause of it. I try and live the best life I can in spite of it, to prove them wrong.

    We need to allow the justice system to find out what happened in this case and stop deliberately trying to stir up trouble.

  5. Emile says:

    I agree with Layla. Let’s all back off and let the justice system do its job. Sad to say, the simmering racial issues in our country aren’t going to go away, even if we put Zimmerman in jail.

    But here is an issue we can all get involved in. Trayvon Martin was on suspension from his school in Miami, which is why he was in Sanford. Today’s paper has an article about black teens being punished more often and more severely by the school systems. This is something that should be addressed, so that in the future all black teens will have a better chance to succeed in school.

    • Johnny Taxpayer says:

      Or… we ALL students, regardless of race, country of origin, ethnic background, or creed to succeed in stead of singling out one class. How can we move to a “post racial” society, if we continue to segment everyone by race?

  6. GoodFella says:

    I think Biil Cosby said it best in his book that he wrote in 2005. To many black mothers are having babies out of wedlock so they do not have a father figure to begin with, I believe the percentage is 78. To many young black men are influenced by the rappers and comedians that come across with the message that you must be a thug to be strong. Like going to jail and being hard is a good thing, It is the culture that needs to be changed. Trayvon was suspended from school for having over 12 pieces of womens jewelry and weed in his backpack at school. Police are looking into the jewerly on belief that it was stolen. He should not have been on vacation here after being suspended. Oh, thats right. His father lived here, not close to his son in Miami trying to be a father figure for his son. If he was a father figure, Trayvon would not have a facebook page showing off his gold teeth or “gold grill” as they call it. Why doesnt the media put that picture up????? He needed better role models as do most of the young black men. You do not have to look and act like a thug to get respect, you earn it by working hard, dressing nice and doing the right thing. George may or may not be wrong in this case, only time will tell. But all of this crap with Jessie and Al will not fix anything. They need to get to the root of the issue and correct the culture!!! And please stop with the B.S. with if it was a black man shooting a white boy crap. George is hispanic, not white. And what should a black father say to his son? First he should show is son through actions what it means to be a respectful black man. Actions speak louder than words!

  7. w.ryan says:

    The “Race” paradigm has been changed so many times to accommodate some of you who fail to accept that people in power subject the powerless to a tremendous amount of mental anguish which in turn create bitterness. In other words…why can’t the victim hate and complain about how he/she is being mistreated?
    I don’t expect everyone to be sensitive enough to be compassionate about injustice but COME ON!
    Nough said!!!

  8. w.ryan says:

    Racism has victimized me many times as like with many other black men and persons of color. Despite all that I have experienced I have been touched by the many positive experiences I have had. I speak to my children and particularly to my son about what I had encountered. Though I was Law Enforcement where I’m from, when I’m stopped by the police I turn off the car and turn on my cabin lights on in the car and display my hands so that my hands are visible. I turn my music off. I am as courteous as much as I can be. I know my rights but I keep calm. If I have to reach for something in my pocket I ask and explain why I am reaching in my pockets. Same as with actions within the compartment of he vehicle. I slowly do these things. I have had guns drawn on me although I was a cop even when I wasn’t carrying. I have been treated discourteous after IDing myself by my fellow cop. I’ve been ran off the road by cops in my department. Early on in my life I’ve been threatened with a gun and baseball bats walking through white neighborhoods. Throughout my life I’ve been followed in stores by security and employees of stores. After a while you test what you suspect to substantiate this fact. Lets not forget the many other types of racism I have encountered. I explain to my son that this is life and protect yourself by sanitizing your activity during these times of victimization and trials to ensure your survival. I also make sure that he knows why you cannot generalize. Good hearts are void of skin color and always win the day. I have to ignore some of these posts because these posts are written out of ignorance.

  9. JIM.R says:

    I didn’t mean to compare the racisim directed towards blacks, to the more subtle, and mostly harmless kind directed toward whites.I was just poining out that it does exist, and it’s demeaning to everyone.
    You have described what it’s like to deal with white cops very well, but you surely know there are many out of control cops who are a danger to anyone , regardless of color.

  10. JL says:

    Johnny Taxpaper – What happened to Trayvon should never have happened. I don’t care about statistics. I don’t care if 99.9% of all blacks are killed by other blacks. It doesn’t matter. This kid was walking home from the 7-11. He had every right to be doing this. Every right to be in that neighborhood. I don’t care if you tell me all crimes are committed by a certain race. That would not make everyone of that race guilty. Just because some are guilty, does not make all guilty. I think this is a wake up call to everyone, of all races. We need to stop judging people because of how they look. Carson Daly just made a comment basically call all gays – weak. Come on! People, we need to stop judging. How about if we all tried to get along, no matter what our race, sexuality, where we come from, how we talk, what religion we practice.
    Let Trayvon be the one to lead the way. He didn’t deserve to die. Not yet. He had a life waiting for him. He deserved to live it.

  11. Johnny Taxpayer says:

    My comments were not directed at Trayvon, my comments were directed at the author of this article and other so-called black leaders who ignore the 1000’s of times black men kill other black men (96% of the time), but damn near start a riot after an incident that falls within the 4% of the time that a black man is killed by someone other than a black man.

    However since you brought it up, I do find it absolutely hypocritical that these so-called black leaders want Zimmerman lynched before having all the facts as to what actually happened, the very thing I thought they fought against? It may turn out that Zimmerman is every bit as guilty as they presume he is, and if so he deserves the maximum punishment possible. But then again the facts may just show a different story. Which is why we need to allow this to be handled in our justice system, not by this mob mentality which apparently wants to shoot first and ask questions later, ironically enough, the same thing they accuse Zimmerman of doing.

  12. GoodFella says:

    Why hasnt the leader of the Black Panther party who put the 10,000 dollar bounty on Zimmermans head been arrested. It is a felony to do this, it is the same as ordering a hit on someone. Thats it, we need to start a march!

  13. SingleMotherWith4Kids says:

    I really don’t know where to begin… I don’t know which IS more upsetting: The situation with the Trayvon Martin case; This article (if you want to call it that); or the comments posted!

    I WAS A SINGLE MOTHER WITH 4 KIDS… I had 4 kids born out of wedlock… Before I was married for 10 years, separated for 4 out of the 10 before being divorced.

    Let me say this… I have 3 “Trayvon’s” and 1 girl… My sons in particular, had excellent role models that weren’t their real fathers, because I made damn sure of it… My boys could not be more different, even though they were brought up in the same house.
    I had “the racism,and racial profile talk” with each of them, their great-grandfather had the talk with them; their older cousins had the talk with them…
    But yet 1 of them could have been a Trayvon, in the worse type of way, My middle son stayed in a huge amount of trouble from age 9-15, he was the hardest child to deal with, but we didn’t give up, It wasn’t until my grandfather (his great grandfather) passed away, did he really start to turn his act around, but the problem with that was he had been (BAD) for so long, he became a target, he became the scape goat for any and everything.
    HOWEVER I continued to stand behind him, and keep him up lifted, simply because I knew his potential, and it finally started to pay off… Now he will be graduating with a 3.0 gpa, having come up from a 1.0..

    I said all that to say this… Any one of my sons could have been a Trayvon, my middle son has come close quite a few times, he has been racially profiled several times, just because he **was in the wrong place**, because he**has no business being there**… I have heard it all…
    I have been awakened at 3am, because someone said my son *FIT THE PROFILE* !

    So I say to everyone: Until it happens to YOU, or YOUR CHILD…. There is no room for judgement, and your OPINION means: ZERO, NOTHING ! ! !

  14. Go2GuyFL says:

    For the first time, I agree with Geraldo:

    a) If you read the interview with Trayvon Martin’s girlfriend DeeDee, she stated he pulled up the hoodie AFTER he felt he was being followed.
    b) George Zimmerman was no longer following Trayvon, he went to a corner to read the street signs.

    I am convinced had Martin calmly introduced himself as visitng his relative to the resident Zimmerman, he’d still be alive today. RESPECT … that’s what a father says.

  15. "My Daily Rant" says:

    I as a white man am sick and tired of listening to blacks cry raceism.The martin killing was a bad thing and YOUR president got involved comparing martin as his son.Meanwhile 2 black kids from the same area as martin jumped a white old man beat him with a hammer to which he went into a coma, to rob him.Did obama call his family no.The 90 year old man and his 85 year old wife sitting in their own home a black broke in beat the man until he though he was dead,then raped the poor 85 year old woman, yes rape then killed her. He served in WWII,any call from obama,no.Two white girls in texas taken by 5 black males raped,beaten,gas poured down their throts and set on fire,still waiting on that call from obama.The thing is all these were done in the martin time frame.Oh and all the crime commiting maggots could have been obamas sons.If you have doubts about my story just punch in black on white crime on a search engine.
    Well I have to go polish my .357 be ready incase the martin verdict isnt the one the blacks want.Ill be sitting on my porch sipping lemonaide waiting for the riot,Hope I have enough ammo. Good Day to All

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