You are kind. You are smart. You are important.
It’s funny to me how a few unintentionally hilarious lines from a movie called The Help, which you will probably never see, actually seem important to say to you today. And every day for the rest of your lives.
They’ve always been true words, but now they matter. They're important. Like your lives, because America constantly shows that what many of us know of you as individuals doesn’t translate to what will be thought of you as a group.
You are black boys and girls. Those words contain 400 years of struggle and perseverance and, ultimately, a pride in knowing that though others may try to stifle your light, you’ve come too far to ever allow anybody to do that to you. I won’t let it happen. Your mothers won’t let it happen. Your family and community won't let it happen. And if somebody ever tells you he or she loves you, he or she won’t let it happen, either. People who tell you they love you but don’t help you become greater than you were the day they met you aren’t supposed to be in your life.
There’s a war going on outside. You are not safe from it. You, your bodies, spirits and souls, are the targets. The news and “America” will attempt to tell you that what we see with our eyes isn’t so. That what we see and feel are two completely different things. I have to tell you to be careful at all times and to always try to think two steps ahead to make sure that you don’t end up being a hashtag.
Unfortunately, too many black people have become famous only in their senseless deaths, their names symbolizing the constant and ongoing struggle we have in this country with the marginalization of our culture due simply to the color of our skin. We are black people, and proudly so. We work. We play. We have families and people we love and care about. We hope to go about our lives as every person in every community does: peacefully, getting from day to day hopefully a little bit better than we were the day before. Life is an uphill battle filled with tremendous highs and equally tremendous lows. The one truism is that all deserve an unimpeded chance to fulfill their destiny and reach those valleys and peaks on their own.
Unfortunately, again, there are forces out there that will tell you that your existence is criminal. They may not say it with their mouths, but their actions don’t even covertly imply it anymore. A police officer will more than likely look at you as a threat first in any encounter, which means that you will be viewed as a weapon and one that’s more important to destroy than defuse.
They don’t see the black gold of the sun. They don’t see you as the future doctors, lawyers, writers and creatives who will change the world by your existence. They only see the danger they perceive via the circumstances they’ve created. America has treated its citizens of color like animals and then doesn’t understand why the animals go native in the face of injustice.
The American criminal-justice system is fraudulent when it comes to your lives. It is important to note this from an early age. Neither of you will be children who view jail as an inevitability; we’ve come too far for that. But you will know that it is a possibility and, in more cases than should be, falsely. I don’t expect you to end up in jail, but I’m also sad to say that if you did, I wouldn’t be surprised. That’s how down I am on a system that is intended to provide benefit of the doubt, but where the only people who seem to benefit from that are people who don’t look anything like us.
The police are murdering us and then using convoluted rules to determine that these murders are justified and reasonable considering the circumstances. I’ve never hated a word more than I do “justified” when it comes to the criminal-justice system. And what is reasonable? In my time, I’ve seen too many completely unreasonable videos of police officers exacting justice by their lonesome and arguing that they made the only choice they could; they were justified.
The justice system focuses on “justified” but not on “necessary.” The police justify their uses of force because they’re afraid of who you are and who you might become. The problem with that is, the very people sworn to protect and serve are only viewing you as a potential future threat, not as the people who could save their lives one day when a call goes badly.
I’m black and tired. And frustrated and angry. I’m angry that I’m concerned about your lives at such a young age, and even more angry that I have to pray and hope that I don’t end up as some hashtag through some unfortunate incident, leaving behind fatherless children forced to struggle through a life that America claims our community lacks.
I don’t have enough faith in this country to believe that racism will ever go away. It’s too difficult a cross to bear, and too many communities, both social and institutional, pretend that it doesn’t exist for us to ever get to the utopia the majority community swears exists.
And because I don’t think racism will ever go away, what I know about you, and what your family and everybody you meet know about you, beautiful black children, will mean nothing to the community placed in charge of ensuring our safety. You are an enemy to the police even if you happen to know a police officer personally. When it’s the perception of his life or your life, yours is disposable. While you may see lulls in activity that suggest as much, you will find reminders because the advent of video phones has shown America what we’ve been complaining about all along.
But even though America will see, it will not believe. The country built on our backs doesn’t care about you and, at times, goes out of its way to prove this point. The election of President Barack Obama made several well-meaning white people feel better about their racism. But it’s never going away. And you need to know this. Trust your family and nobody else.
You are black. You are not an enemy. You are not a weapon. You are not a criminal.
You are kind. You are smart. You are important.
You will live.
My life depends on it.
—Your Daddy, Father and Angry Black Man
Panama Jackson is the co-founder and senior editor of VerySmartBrothas.com. He lives in Washington, D.C., and believes the children are our future.