What a Black parent REALLY tells her children. Thedarkroome.com's contributor Teresa Wells Jones on...the constant caution of life in Oregon.
Teresa Wells Jones
Brandon: “So you live in Portland, I hear it’s not cool for brothas outside of Portland?”
Truthfully it’s odd being black in Portland, Oregon because there just aren’t that many of us here. One need not leave the city to recognize that living in an exclusive suburb, being educated and upper middle class, with children who attend an elite Independent school while being black in Portland is an oddity! But the sad reality is that being black anywhere in America is still considered by some, odd. In fact, for young black males like Trayvon Martin being black not only means you’re odd, but it may also mean that you are seen as a suspect, a threat and menace to white society in general. I use the term “black” referring to my blackness to make a point.
Dealing with racism is just a natural part of the everyday African American experience, it’s like air, you can’t see it but you know you breathe it, and it’s all around you, all the time. By the time a black person becomes an adult, regardless of if you are, as Eugene Robinson describes in his book Disintegration, any one of the four distinct groups now living in the US; the black middle-class majority; the abandoned minority; the transcendental elite; or an emergent group of biracial blacks or a recent black immigrant from Africa, walk down any street after dark or in broad day light if you please, in the wrong neighborhood, wearing the wrong outfit, or in Trayvon Martin’s case your own neighborhood, and you are just a N*@@%# whose life has no worth and can be stolen from you in an instant, by anyone who perceives you as such!
This ever present danger, the burden of being black in America is one you get used to, used to a system where ones navigational skills must be highly developed, the ability to code switch, to know how to walk, to talk, to be, in order to survive, all this just to make the bigot feel comfortable and put them at ease with their own sickness, is second nature and rudimentary. However those of us who have made it into the educated middle class majority or the transcendental elite class, do not take for granted or ever fool ourselves into thinking that we are ever really fully in control. As an African American adult, you know for certain, survival means playing a game, a game where the stakes are high, a game where the terrain is designed for you to fail, where the very landscape is rigged and the deck is stacked against you. You know that the notion of equal access and social justice for the black man in America is really not a dream fully come to fruition, but an ongoing nightmare, it is a silent horror movie with no sub titles that seems to never end, one that we must still perform in, be peaceful in, cooperate in, exist in, and get along in, just …to survive.
By the time you are an adult, you are keenly aware that one wrong move, or one wrong turn could mean GAME OVER, no second chances, and if you are a black male in America the game is really like playing Russian roulette, the gun is always pointed at your head, it is loaded and the trigger is cocked. Brandon, you asked me tonight, “Teresa, what do you tell your kids?” Simply recite what I wrote in this piece from the top down, aloud, over and over again, this is what I tell my children, except I always end my speech with, “baby please be careful, Mommy is afraid, no I am terrified for you to walk down the street to play lacrosse!” And my son looks at me and responds, “Mama I know, why do you think I carry my lacrosse stick and wear pink colored lacrosse shorts?” It pains my heart to know, that racism will not see the lacrosse stick or the pastel colored lacrosse shorts or the private school emblem stretched in bold letters across his sports hoodie, racism will just look and say, “huh, that’s odd, what’s that black kid doing in our neighborhood?”
--Teresa Wells Jones is an actress, student, Portland resident and a thedarkroome.com contributor