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white hoodie on a black background
As other parents try to explain to their Black children why a white man who shot a Black teen is allowed to go free, I have not. Not because I assume my son is not competent to understand, but because he doesn't need to be told something is terribly wrong. He senses it. He felt the deflating of the spirit in our living room at the moment of the verdict; he saw the grim resignation on our faces. He knows something in the world has changed in a bad way. He doesn't need an explanation. He is a self-taught body language expert. He feels the change because acts of racism cannot be hidden. They cannot be explained away. They cannot be simplified. They cannot be parsed and presented in a more digestible form. Living the life of a person who is the object of hate because of visible difference is something my son and I know all too well. We cannot pass for anything or anyone else. So as his parents we must stand firm and by our body language and nonverbal cues, let our son see us visually insist upon the acceptance and respect of others. If we do not, we will die accepting that those in society who are the alchemists of hate have won their war to make systemic bigotry and ableism the established norm. My son's life literally depends on our family transmitting the right understanding to him.
My son knows that his neurology and our physical appearance engender negativity in many outside our own family. He knows when his mother, sister, and father are subjected to intolerance and hate. No one needs to tell him the world is cruelly unfair. He sees it each day we go about our daily lives. The Trayvon Martin murder trial verdict is not a teachable moment. It is a public declaration of decades of institutionalized racism the existence of which, once seen, cannot be unseen.
So it is not my purpose as a parent to point out something my son already knows. It is my job to teach him how to continue each day with his head up despite the efforts of others to try and transmute fear of difference into hatred of melanin and neurological difference. Each time we encounter this hate, my son needs to instinctively know to recognize it. He needs the tools to overcome its impact. We must accomplish this without verbal speech.
I will not say to him or anyone reading this that hate can be overcome and defeated with love alone. What I can say is that we who are the intersected parents of minority neurodivergent children must first teach our children to love and respect themselves. Self acceptance becomes self advocacy. We cannot teach self acceptance viscerally to our nonspeaking loved ones if we claim to hate a part of what they are. We must first excise that ableism from ourselves so that our behavior reflects acceptance. We must send cues through action and body language, that we accept our children into our hearts as they are. We have to show them that those who hate, and those who fuel hatred to oppress, will not overcome if we know ourselves and fully commit to embracing who we are. Our nonspeaking tweens, teens, and young adults will do what we do, not what we say.
I have pledged to teach my son, in the performance artistry of each day's interactions, what I was taught by mentors and those who truly loved and accepted me for who I am. I convey to him that we love him as he is, therefore he must love and accept himself as he is, even if others do not. I show him with my actions that different is not less. We are celebrating the rest of this month showing our neurodivergent son that the universe of who he is internally is an infinite system no hatred can diminish. I try by example to show him that we are created as we are because the universe loves infinite variety. This is the way we are working through watching white men continue to go free for killing Black teens, and autistic males of color dying in catastrophic encounters.
Now I pray that my son will be prepared for life as a young man. But I will not hide him away hoping he'll be safe because those who would harm us continue to get away with murder. We will stand against the hatred together now, hoping he learns that the means by which he can capably stand alone against bigotry and survive is to know he is not less than any man, and better than most.
In memory of Travyon Martin, Paul Childs III, Ronald Madison, Steven Eugene Washington, Stephon Watts, Jawara Henry, Corey Foster and all those who joined them too soon.
Dedicated to my son Mustafa, in love and hope.