DETROIT – It’s difficult watching what’s happened to Black men in our country.
Many young Black men are taught by their parents how some people in the world might view them and the things they should do in hopes of staying safe. We sat down with three Black fathers about how and when they have this difficult conversation with their sons.
Three Black fathers open up. Chris Brooks, a father of six and a local pastor, Lucas Hagerty, a master scheduler with Hallite Seals Americas and father of three and Herb Harris Junior, a local musician and father of two. They all spoke candidly about the challenges or differences raising black or biracial young men in today’s climate compared to their white counterparts.
Question: What are some things that you have found in your life as a Black man that you’ve either been taught by your parents or have learned that you have to do differently in the way that you approach different scenarios?
“I think for me it’s just realizing the assumption of guilt is often there,” said Chris Brooks. “That the profile I fit just by my ethnicity, by way of my skin color often causes an assumption of guilt so you have to go the extra mile of politeness, the extra mile to try to come across as docile as possible as not to awaken any sense of aggressiveness or fears or being combative.”
"Immediately when you asked that, I thought about the many times I've gone into stores and casually I want to put my hands in my pockets but I'm terrified to really even entertain that thought," said Herb Harris Junior.
“Don’t bring attention to yourself,” said Lucas Hagerty.
“Because if you bring attention to yourself then that’s a reason to pull you over, then you get the harassment that you possibly could have avoided, possibly by not having the music loud,” said Hagerty.
"Unfortunately there's a sense that the more casual we dress the more explaining that we have to do that we're not criminals. We haven't done anything to break the law," said Brooks.
Is that fair?
“No, not at all,” said Harris. “It is what it is.”
"The world isn't fair," said Brooks.
Have you been called the N-word?
When your child comes to you for the first time telling you ‘Dad someone just called me the N-word,’ what do you tell them?
“That’s not who you are,” said Brooks. “What someone else says about you does not define you.”
What do you tell them about how they’re going to be viewed by the world and how they’re supposed to behave?
"I first teach him to have an open mind. Go at life as if there's not racism but in the back of his mind he has to know it is because he can be profiled just like me," said Hagerty.
“You have to tell them not only about being polite but making sure they go the extra mile with communication behind every action,” said Brooks. “Before you act on anything, reaching for the wallet, the glove compartment, make sure you are telling the officer exactly what you’re doing, getting permission to do it and don’t act until they give you that verbal permission.”
“Understand that you must treat people with respect and sometimes bad things will happen,” said Harris. “People making choices that negatively affect you but maintain your sense of who you are.”
“We have a no sagging rule in our family,” said Brooks.
The conversations about race started when their sons began asking questions or as certain incidents, like George Floyd, have made headlines. And as they pass along these so-called survival skills, these fathers have hope that one day things will change for the better.
“Yeah I have tremendous hope,” said Brooks. “First off my relationship with Christ. That gives me hope in my faith. But I also have hope because of the history of this country. Whenever we have had conversations like this; hard tough conversations about the brokenness of our structures and our systems we’ve improved those systems.”