I met a charming young man on my way home on the Red Line last night. He had a bunch of those silver helium balloons – two spider man and one happy birthday, and when I asked, he happily replied that yes, today is his birthday.
He’s three. Dark curls, huge brown eyes, and beautiful latte skin. He asked my name and proudly announced he was going to church. He was a complete delight.
As I said goodbye and got off the train, my smile faded as my heart clenched. Tears began to squeeze into my eyes as I saw the realities he doesn’t know he faces.
In ten years, or even five, too many won’t see him as charming and confident and funny and beautiful.
They – we – will see him as suspicious , dangerous, scary.
Because he’s driving in the “wrong” part of town, or walking down the “wrong” street. He’ll be holding something we think is a weapon. He’ll be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He’ll be frustrated or confused or disrespectful. He’ll be doing something that somehow fits the wrong narrative as far as we are concerned.
And because of that, he’ll be bleeding in the street.
But not because of any of those things – not really. Because of the color of his skin.
No, not even that.
Because of the stories we tell ourselves and each other about the color of his skin. About where he belongs and who he is.
We’ll tell him those stories, too, and he may try to live up to them.
I wonder what stories his mother will tell him. Will they be stories shaped around who he really is – who he’s meant to be?
Or will they be stories shaped around us?
I pray that in ten or five years we are different. But I fear for him.
His life will likely be shaped around our fears. And I imagine when so many are afraid of you no matter what you don’t do, it may come to feel like the only way you can own your life would be to give them something to be afraid of.
So often we create our own nightmares, whether or not they are real.
We need to stop.
His life matters.