I wish my son didn’t wear saggy pants. I wish he wore his hat straight on his head. I wish he didn’t wear a gold chain. I wish he walked with a timid step, not a confident swagger.
I don’t wish these things for me. I wish them for you.
I was well prepared for the teenage years. My parents struggled to appreciate how the next generation wants to set itself apart, and how dressing differently plays a large role in this separation. I took scissors to brand new, “perfectly good,” as they would say, sweatshirts. They didn’t understand the impact of “Flashdance” on the young women of the ’80s. I wasn’t going to be that parent.
Flat rim, fifties caps with stickers still on, and saggy pants are today’s ripped sweatshirts. They don’t bother me.
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I wish my son didn’t dress this way because of how it makes you feel about him.
He is a handsome, smart, hardworking and kind soul. When someone cuts me off on 15-501 he says, “Maybe they are going to the hospital.” When I told him about a friend’s sons struggle in middle school, he was adamant that he have an opportunity to speak with the sixth grader. He said he wanted to help him. He has a part-time job where they love him. He always has something nice to say.
You don’t know all the things that make him my precious son. You see a black teenage boy wearing saggy pants with his hat cocked to the side.
We insist he doesn’t get tattoos and earrings. My white friends may feel I think less of their parenting skills because they may allow tattoos and earrings.
We don’t allow them because as you make your quick judgment of my son, I want you to notice he doesn’t have piercings or tattoos. Silly as it may sound, it is my bargain with death. Maybe he won’t get arrested. Maybe he won’t get shot. Maybe he won’t be falsely accused if his skin and earlobes are clear. Maybe you can see the saggy pants and hat as a teenage phase and you won’t call the police if he stops and asks you for directions.
It’s a silly little math equation I do. Saggy pants, crooked hat, earrings and tattoos, equals a greater chance at injury or jail time.
He began driving on his own in March. He hasn’t been pulled over yet, but he stays pretty close to home. Once, he ventured to Mebane to help paint a business. The manager of the business was showing him how he remotely controls the operations with his iPad. Three police cars pulled up and wanted to talk to my son. An iPad was stolen by a black male earlier. He was black and near an iPad. It must have been him right?
I am sure if a white woman stole an iPad, the police would hit every Starbucks and question each of the women sipping lattes as they surf the web. I can’t imagine they would be offended given the description of the culprit.
He will be leaving for college next fall. I have another son who is white graduating the following year. When I drop my white son off at college I will hug him, tell him how much I love him, wish him luck, tell him to stay out of trouble, travel in pairs, and call if he needs help.
When my black son leaves for school I will do all of the above, and give him these instructions:
“Remember, you may appear intimidating to some people. Smiling at them will help put them at ease. If your pants sag and your hat is crooked on your head, people will judge you harshly. They want a simple world where bad people dress a certain way and they don’t have to consider each person as an individual. If the police pull you over, turn the car off, take your hat and sunglasses off, and put your hands on the door. Say “yes sir” and “no sir.” If he acts inappropriately, don’t say anything. Stay quiet and do what he says. Do not do anything to him. If he hits you, do not hit back. When you get to the police station you will call us and we will take it from there. We will take care of it.”
I will say all of this, and then I will do what I always do, pray hard.
Mary Carey lives in Chapel Hill with her husband, two sons and two dogs. You can reach her at email@example.com