I am by nature a private person and rarely share much about my inner-circle of family and friends with anyone, particularly outsiders. So you must bare with me as I attempt to relate a recent conversation that I had with my older sister Sherri; a conversation that I think reveals much about the loss of innocence for African-American children and the general naïveté that serves as the foundation of many, not all, whites, even when they live in close proximity or have regular interaction with Black folk.
My sister and I have grown much closer as we have aged, a development that was partially born of my mother going on to be with the Lord; that moment shook both of us to the core and further refined our focus regarding the best things in life, most notably family. Considering that I work in another region, our routine phone conversations are the surest, actually the only, means for me to stay connected with family business. As a grandmother of six, I am certain that you can imagine that many of our conversations surround the happenings of her “grands”. My great nieces and nephews are simultaneously a thorn in her side and the joy of her life, a reality that makes for riveting conversations. And I must tell you that each of these little people is full of personality, frolic, and curiosity; they are the next generation of Black America.
I was not particularly surprised when my sister related that she had been called to the local elementary school because of some form of misbehavior by her eldest grandson, JaShawn. If it were ever possible to meet a kid who is the polar opposite of me, JaShawn is it. This six year old is loud, energetic, engaging, has a humongous personality, and lives his young life with absolutely no regard for any consequences for his actions; of course, it is this latter quality that concerns me the most as Black males simply can not afford such a trait.
However, when my sister arrived at the school to see what incident occurred with this ‘hard headed little boy’, his teacher, a white female, related that JaShawn had beaten up another child, a white child at that, during recess. Now it is natural to think that the alluded to conflict must have had something to do with race, however, I must remind you that the two combatants were six years old; fortunately, race has not entered into their world. Despite what many want to believe, race is a social construct developed for political reasons and one that we must be socialized to deal with. Put simply, these two children, one black and one white, best friends’ or at worst play pals, were unconcerned with race. Their conflict was of another nature.
My sister related that she was attempting to be simultaneously protective of her grandchild, a posture, despite her fervent denials, that she always assumes, yet respectful of the teacher. The teacher related that the two boys had gotten into a physical altercation and by the time she reached the scene she had to pull JaShawn off of his classmate. However, she made a point to relate that JaShawn had the other boy on the ground, hitting him with a stick, kneeing him in the back, punching him in the head, and calling him the “N-word”. My sister, just looked at her grandchild with utter disappointment; however, she, like the majority of African-Americans, is not very trusting of white educators interpretation of events and asked JaShawn what occurred. He related the following in his unique language that for some reason calls for him to finish his sentences with the word “right”.
“We were playing cops and robbers in the playground, right. Well, he is white and I am Black so he was the police and I was the robber, right. Well, he couldn’t catch me because I am faster than him, right. So I became the cop and he became the robber, right. Well, I caught him, right. And I was in the process of arresting him and taking him to jail, right. And then the teacher came over there and took me from recess, saying that I was in trouble for fighting! Grandma, I wasn’t even fighting, right.”
As I listened to this story, I could feel a humongous laugh building up deep inside my soul. There was quite possibly no greater means of showing the cavernous cultural gap between the differing lives that Americans live in, worlds that are primarily determined by race, class, cultural exposure, historical knowledge, and education. The teacher had no means of comprehending what my sister related to her regarding the primary catalyst to JaShawn’s behavior. She told the teacher, “That is how he has seen the police act in our community. In his mind, that is how you arrest someone. You knock them down, beat them with something, kick and punch them, and then you take them away.” The incredulous teacher responded with a peculiar “Oh!” After a long pause, she related, “but don’t you think that he needs to learn that such behavior is unacceptable?” My sister, a bourgeoning Civil Rights leader, retorted, “I’ll tell him, if you tell the police.” The educator’s only response was, “JaShawn you can go back to class now.”
James Thomas Jones III, Ph.D., M.A., M.A., M.A.
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