On Wondering If I Should Teach My Pre-Teen Nephew To Be Wary Of White Girls » VSB

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On Wondering If I Should Teach My Pre-Teen Nephew To Be Wary Of White Girls

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I have two new nephews. Not “new” in that they’re newborns, but new to me because they’re my nephews through marriage. One is introverted, observant, snarky, cynical, and obsessed with basketball. Basically, he’s a 14-year-old me. Naturally, upon first meeting him three years ago, we immediately clicked. The other nephew is a couple years younger, and is basically your stereotypical high energy, buoyant, and emotive pre-teen. If you were to walk past a middle school’s recess today, he’d be the kid sprinting and bouncing from fence to fence for no apparent reason, seemingly playing every game at once; simultaneously annoying and entertaining the hell out of everyone. He literally gives no fucks. But in a sweet, innocent way. There’s no pretentiousness there. No cynicism. No self-consciousness. He’s just a kid having a ball.

I’ve never been that way. I’ve always had friends, and I’ve always had fun, but I’ve always been a bit too stuck in my own head to possess that type of unbridledness. That type of freedom. And I’ve always envied people who didn’t just have to step outside themselves to be free. But permanently lived outside themselves. My nephew is one of these people. He is a free boy. A free Black boy. And I want him to stay that way.

But I worry about him. Because that lack of cynicism currently extends to race. His friends are a demographic potpourri; a transubstantiated Benetton catalog that includes several White kids. Which — let me be very clear — is not a problem. At all. I am not concerned or worried in the least about him having White friends. I have White friends. White friends are great. I am concerned that he might not be fully aware of what it means to be a Black kid with White friends. Specifically, a Black male with White female friends.

And this is where it gets tricky. Because my macro sense of racial consciousness — of what it means to be Black in America — informs much of my work, my writing, and my thinking. But on a micro, strictly personal level, I have to admit that I don’t have as much reason to be as racially cynical as my work often suggests I am. I’ve been lucky enough to not have had the type of antagonistic interactions with White people many other American Blacks have. But perhaps this experience is due to that macro racial consciousness. Maybe I’ve been able to avoid that antagonism specifically because I’ve never been as free as my nephew. And while that cynicism might have constricted me in some way, maybe it also shielded me.

But then I think about my nephew again. And how desperately I want him to continue to be a free Black boy. And how great and how rare those qualities are. But then my wife tells me she just got off the phone with her sister (my nephew’s mother). Who told her he got in trouble at his summer camp because a girl — one of his White girl friends — lied about him pushing her and breaking her cell phone. He eventually got out of trouble because, unbeknownst to her, this incident occurred in a place where there were hidden cameras. Which revealed she actually pushed and threw her phone at him. But the camp director didn’t see the tape until a day later; after my nephew had already been sent home for the day.

Which really isn’t that big of a deal. Kids (boys and girls) fight. And kids (boys and girls) lie. Especially when the lie will get them out of trouble. But what concerned — but didn’t surprise — me was how easily the girl’s word was believed. And how easily my nephew’s — a kid who has no history of fighting — wasn’t. And how upset he was about that. And I don’t know what to say to him.

Of course, I wouldn’t tell him that girls — White girls, specifically — are liars. Because that’s a lie. But telling him to be careful around his White friends — especially his White female friends — because if some type of trouble happens, they’re more likely to get the benefit of the doubt than you are, is not a lie. It’s one of the truest American truths I can teach him; a more I feel duty-bound to share.

But I hesitate. Because I don’t want him to be encumbered by racial cynicism. I want him to keep being the buoyant Black boy; bouncing through his crew of similarly energetic and kaleidoscopic kids. If, by chance, he happens to experience some race-based conflict that forces him to be more cynical, to adopt that shield, fine. But I don’t want to put it on him. I want him to take full advantage of his rare gifts, to continue to be something my personality and sense of personhood has never truly allowed me to be: Free.

But I also want him to be alive.

So I hesitate. Because I’m still unsure of what to say. Or if I should even say anything.

Because, well, maybe he can be both.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for GQ.com And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at damon@verysmartbrothas.com. Or don't. Whatever.

  • Skepticism has to be earned…it can’t really be taught, especially when you’re that young.

    • Courtney Wheeler

      Agreed..never block your blessings…but if they don’t invite you to their house after 8 months of dating..then there might be a problem…

    • Beauty In Truth

      Yes it can be. And should be. Jack and Jill…Went up the hill…

  • You can give him wisdom without hendering his childhood freedom. Just like telling someone to hope for the best, but to expect the worst in case things don’t go according to plan.

  • Yodie

    I understand your concern. Fortunately/unfortunately, our children-(and extended young family members) may not be aware of certain societal hazards they face just for being black. However, they will like/be attracted to whomever they like/are attracted to. I remember-(in my more radical days)-telling my son to never bring a white girl to my house. He innocently replied, “Can I bring her to my house, Mom?” Arm them with wisdom and information, and trust them to make good decisions. Perspective vs. rhetoric usually works well, I find.

  • cogito

    The true measure of progress is what it does to our children, not how we feel about it. Let him blossom to whatever the world makes him, be it saint or sinner.

    • cakes_and_pies

      I’m not a parent, but isn’t it irresponsible to let your child “blossom” into a sinner?
      Don’t those persons grow up to be the “God knows my heart.” crowd?

      • cogito

        Possibly, but it’s worse to raise your kid into a mold that isn’t fit for them. I think it’s most important that they are able to be who they feel.

        • cakes_and_pies

          Not at the sake of anyone else’s safety, but I getcha.

  • Nothing wrong with bumping him back in bounds every now and then. He’ll see the foolishness around him as he grows and thank you later.
    I bet Kobe wished someone had pulled him to the side….
    Im.jus.sayin.

    • Question

      I feel like Kobe is the poster child for needing the discussion. I have no basis for it, but whenever I see Kobe and Vanessa together, I feel like he’s trying to make the best of a not-so-good situation…

      • HeyBooHey

        He’s always struck me as the mascot for “cheaper to keep her” ever since that scandal

  • Julian Green

    I don’t know what to tell you.

    My mom’s strategy was to bluntly explain the dynamics of race to me as a VERY young child. I guess she thought that forewarned was forearmed or something. I don’t think it caused too much of a change in me- I still had a few White friends, after all. However, I think it did make me more guarded to people in general.

    • miss t-lee

      My parents did the same. Especially coming up during the time of Jim Crow, they didn’t mince words.
      I had friends of all races growing up, but I knew to make sure I was aware of my surroundings, especially if I was the “only”.

  • Sigma_Since 93

    This would be soo much simpler if we had a window into what the kids were being taught at home. Kids don’t know they are different until someone tells them they are.

    • Nick Peters

      you mean Oprah was wrong?

    • LMNOP

      My kid picked up on this in preschool, and we talked about racism, and actually just race in general a lot because she was noticing similarities and differences in people and how people are treated. I feel like this is pretty developmentally typical of that age, they are very into how people are like them or not like them and very, very concerned with fairness.

  • Soula Powa

    Umm, a friend of mine had a similar but waaaay more serious situation happen to him. He was unjustly accused of r*ping a white girl at a pool. Luckily, the truth was easily revealed via admission to her parents and no authorities were involved. tHe has since sworn off all white women. I understand the hesitation, but I’m leaning more towards telling your nephew than letting him figure it out.

    He may not be as “lucky.”

    • miss t-lee

      Lawdy.

    • Julie Mango TheGladiator Staff

      I’m glad the truth came out. He could’ve ended up dead like that high school kid hiding under his girlfriend’s bed!

  • veryaveragebrotha

    My father always used to say, never shield someone from the truth, unless you’re sure you can shield them from its consequences. If you can’t shield them from the consequences, it’s better to tell them the truth and help guide them through the harsh realities of it.
    Children of our generation especially of those of us that moved into ‘middle’ class neighborhoods, are growing up in a far more integrated society than we ever did, we need to guide them through that. Without guidance if events like that continue to happen (and they will), there’s a likelihood that he might not see the point not being the dishonest good that the people around make him out to be. Why tell the truth if nobody will believe you anyway – sort of thing.

  • uNk

    No lie..I was that kid

    I had the free spirit run where i could, interact with anybody regularly mentality. I got in the same type of trouble with many a white student in elementry because of it. Somehow being involved in fights i was nowhere near, saying bad words, stealing. Office visits for no real reason confused the mess out of me. Then my moms gave me the talk of being self aware of my differences compared to those around me(white folk). It didnt necessarily change how i acted more so than me knowing who to truly be myself around. It helped…big time. I say give him that talk

    • Dcetstyle

      Exactly, he doesn’t have to change but he will know who to maybe keep at arms length.

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