Op-Ed

Don’t let my son become a target of hate

A participant at an April 15 protest at a Philadelphia Starbucks after a manager called police on two black men waiting for a friend to join them. Starbucks later apologized, had diversity training for employees across country.
A participant at an April 15 protest at a Philadelphia Starbucks after a manager called police on two black men waiting for a friend to join them. Starbucks later apologized, had diversity training for employees across country. Getty Images

My son is living his American dream.

He is 18 and we just dropped him off at college. Just after graduating from high school he got a summer job working at a chicken joint, making just above minimum wage. Not a living wage, but enough to upgrade his phone.

He worked the closing shift, and that first night when he walked home from work, I got a clinched feeling in my stomach because there is something happening in America: a shifting of the ground underneath our collective feet, an undercurrent of aggression.

“Rising racial fear and resentment is slowly creating a new 21st century version of Jim Crow,” read a headline on a July Rolling Stone article. It discussed the trend of the police being called on black people for doing regular things like mowing grass, barbequing in a park or taking a nap in their dorm.

I was never one to believe the hype that we live in post-racial America. There are too many daily reminders that being black in America still has its perils. Either of my sons could have been Trayvon Martin or Tamir Rice or Jordan Davis. And if you don’t know those names, that might be to the peril of males in my family.

I have to remember that I have not fallen into the "Twilight Zone" and gone back to the time when my mother was young and had to sit in the balcony to see a movie, attend the colored school and wouldn’t be served at the local diner.

That was not even 70 years ago. But my mom’s experiences once seemed far in the past.

Today, the struggle I have is trying to reconcile the ideals and promises of America with the reality of life in America every day.

It is not just that watching viral videos of deaths of black brothers and sisters on social media causes the pit in my stomach. It is that sense that regular, routine things are now perceived as being threatening.

You cannot take a short cut through a yard on your way home from work; you cannot sit in a coffee shop waiting for a friend; you cannot be in your own garage playing music loud.

It seems like the country is at a tipping point where history will define us by how we choose to respond.

I am reminded of the many times I have heard about mass killings in the last few decades. I always wondered how neighbors could rise up against neighbors and rape, maim and murder.

In a 2012 Psychology Today article, “Why bad guys think they’re good guys,” philosopher Hannah Arendt said, “The most horrifying things about the Nazis was not that they were so deviant but that they were terrifyingly normal.”

How did regular people stand by and do nothing? How did they justify and explain away the injustice they saw with their own eyes?

Each night I sit numb as images flow across my TV screen or my social media feed, and I wonder: How did we get here? But I already know the answer. I imagine that if I could have conversations with my fellow Americans, I would hear: I am a good person. I am protecting my family.

That silence is deafening.

It is a hard thing for people to see evil in themselves. But people make choices every day that have real consequences for themselves and for others. When we see injustice and choose not to speak up, we normalize prejudice and cruelty.

I am happy for my son as he starts this new journey. Lexington is a good place to raise a family, but we still had "the talk" with him about the perils of being a black man in America.

At the end of the day, my American dream was just having my baby come home safe at the end of his shift, to have his life valued as much as the next person’s, to be able to cut through a yard without suspicion.

History does not have to repeat itself. Please, good people, speak up.

Reach Tina Bryson, a Lexington writer, at tbryson@twc.com.

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