By PATRICK A. HOWELL
It’s Black History Month.
My son is 7. We watch NBA games together in our self-styled man space, the so-called ‘Heat Zone’ – recliners in the loft, championship poster, authentic nunchucks and sling shot, vanilla soda pops, a couple framed rookie cards of King James in his Cleveland Cavalier uniform, two Heat logo hats we wore on occasion of championships in 2012 and 2013. NBA-sponsored Black History Month spots feature Miami’s Chris Bosh and Ray Allen speaking effusively and movingly of the contributions of those that came before us and all that they have handed down; there are inevitable images of Martin Luther King, Bill Russell, Nelson Mandela and Muhammad Ali. I want Christian to know about this rich pan-African history and I have engineered him to have a pride in the struggle and the complexity of that background against our inevitable successes. His mother and I include YouTube sessions on Halle Selassie and Google searches of Maurice Bishop of Grenada and Dr. Eric Williams of Trinidad and Tobago. I read to him about those ancient kingdoms of Ghana, Songhai and Mali. He is, psychologically, marked for success.
Yes, race is real and this Ideology of Racism is in full effect, no less than those trickle down effects of Democracy, Capitalism, Christianity or competition in American life.
Then he says one morning, while dressing in his burgundy and blue uniform for school, “Daddy, do you know Kevin Hart?”
“Yeah, man,” I say, proud. I got him started on reruns of The Bernie Mac Show. “That is a funny little dude.” Chris laughs and yells, “He’s white! He’s white—he don’t fight!”
I don’t laugh at the comedian’s crass coming out from my son’s mouth. I do smile sheepishly, quietly.
It’s really simple. And I know Kevin Hart is just feeding into a common anti-Eminem Caucasoid stereotype, selling tickets on a movie trailer for Ride Along. What’s the harm in that counter measure? White people can’t dance? They can’t sing, they can’t run and they can’t jump? They are… corny? But this is not the point. And generally, who cares? Our counter measure slaps us in the face regularly; magnificent images of Black rappers and black athletes inundate every form of popular culture, bringing with them the kind of stereotypical bravado that scorches our image. I have to search out astronaut Mae Carol Jemison or astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse to share their exploits with my son. His repeating Hart’s stereotype is… different. This is my crowning jewel, my young king.The point of my lessons is to show him what a society can be—what he can be—when society sees beyond the color of one’s skin to the content of one’s character. And yes, that future is increasingly possible. MLK’s vision is real.
Kings are discerning and they pay attention to details. They are discriminating without judging and absolutely judgmental when occasion demands it, sans personal attachment. Despite all the non-sense in six years since Obama was elected president—”Beer-Gate,” his compassionate self-identification with Trayvon Martin and the mass media’s ridiculous Fox channel indignation, and the Tea Party’s callous crass discrimination and racialized vilification of number 44—the point is Obama is president and that was not possible from 1776 to 2007; it was in 2008 and beyond. The exhaust of big, loud industrial gears downshift out of the 20th century and are whirring inaudibly into the 21st. Millenials are another counter balance to Baby-boomers, Generation X is the vanguard. I want that new future for my son. I am a king who sires his prince.
On the way to St. John’s Elementary I point out the thick crowd of Irish, German and English American kids walking up and down the sidewalks from the church to the school. I still remember viscerally when I was a boy sitting in the back seat of my father’s sky blue Monte Carlo in the ’80s and he would get pulled over by Sacramento police before profiling was known as profiling. I remember the rush of rage that would populate my chest before I knew what rage was. I recognize now how that PTSD played itself out in pugilists engagements in corporate America, quoting Title 7 and subsequent EEOC filings. I remember reasoning that a whole generation would have to die and pass from the earth before the racism in their minds would cease to form reality. I remember thinking, determined, “next time will be different.”
When we arrive to my son’s school, I impart another lesson. “Chris,” I say, “what if your classmates thought all you could do was run fast or jump really high… and said you could never be as smart as them?”
He doesn’t think about it too much: “I wouldn’t like that.”
“Some folks might try that sweetie but you know who you are. That Kevin Hart joke might be funny… but it is also a stereotype. From time to time, you will run into people who are jealous of you or just plain dumb, who will stereotype you but be better than them. People are people and anybody is capable of anything. Always aspire to be the best Chris. Be a king.”
“Ok, daddy” he says, grabbing his backpack and giving me a hug before getting out of the car and walking into the gates of that school. There are going to be a lot more conversations before Chris is 18.
However, Next Time is Now.
Patrick A. Howell is an award-winning banker, business leader, entrepreneur and writer who lives with his wife and son in Carlsbad. A former contributing editor to the Quarterly Black Review, Howell’s book, “Yes, We Be” will be published by QBR Book Imprint this year. Check him on Facebook or Tweet him at @PatrickAnthony