As a mother to three sons, I know how rambunctious boys can be. I know the games they play often involve battles, forts, and play fighting with sticks, straws, spoons and yes, even toy guns. To see boys whooping and tearing through backyards while re-enacting fight scenes from the latest movies is a common picture in our neighborhood. I always assumed these snapshots were universal, but over the last few months, I’ve spoken to other parents, and it turns out their reality is grossly different.
You see the moms I chatted with are raising black boys. They explained to me that they not only forbid toy guns in the house, they also ban their boys from playing with anything that remotely resembles and therefore can be mistaken for a gun. Their boys are taught to stand straight, keep their hands exposed at all times and wear T-shirts or sweaters but never hoodies. These hyper-vigilant parents drill into their black sons that they must not play in parks or on the streets by themselves, must not congregate in public spaces with other black boys, and must not draw attention to themselves if any kind of security personnel are nearby. Not. Not. Not. The list is exhaustive.
Their reasons aren’t ideological or political. They are, first and foremost, instinctual– the kind of rules that you abide by when you are in survivor mode and have been for generations. Simply put, these mothers don’t want their black boys shot for being just that— black boys. These parents can’t be accused of overreacting because when they look at their sons, they see the ghosts of Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile and the 132 other black men who have been murdered by police this year alone.
This is unacceptable. It is unacceptable that we live in a time and a place when black boys must be taught to survive rather than live. They need to keep their heads down, their gazes low and their hands visible because if they veer in the slightest from presenting themselves as anything but meek, submissive, respectful, and quiet, they might die. Such is their freedom in America.
This double standard in how law enforcement treats blacks versus non-blacks has come to a boiling point, and we, the public, can’t mumble our offerings of prayers only to quickly avert our eyes from the modern lynchings that are occurring as a matter of routine right beneath our noses. In particular, the Muslim diaspora in America cannot afford to pretend that this is not our fight, that we can escape unscathed. I can tell you plainly that this absolutely affects us and, more importantly, affects our children.
You see, while I have never felt the need to forbid my kids from playing in the park or behaving boisterously, I have guided them on how to respond when, not if, they are called terrorists. I’ve told them where they have to run to if someone attacks our mosque while we are praying. I’ve explained why their good friend almost got suspended because he finally snapped after a bully kept calling him ISIS.
These are the conversations Muslim parents and black parents are forced to have with their children in this country. We are given no choice but to prepare our grade school children for how to deal with trigger happy law enforcement and racist and Islamophobic Americans. We are forced to take away their innocence because our politics and culture has taken away our rights. We owe our kids better.
Farrah Qazi is a human rights attorney specializing in women’s issues, gender equity and global literacy. Farrah writes at “Rizzarr,” “FemiNisa,” “Ayesha Magazine,” “The Muslim Sunrise,” and other publications.