I was lying on the couch feeling exhausted from a long day in the office, which was then followed by a hectic evening getting the boys through their nighttime routine and eventually off to bed. The living room was dark, except for the dull glow of the screensaver on the TV, which permeated from its screen. Usually, even that little bit of light would be enough keep me awake, but my tired body stubbornly refused to allow any distractions from allowing it to reach its goal. Too tired to even make the trek from the couch to the bedroom, I rolled on my back, slung my forearm over my eyes and slowly began to let myself drift away. Right before I started my REM cycle, a small, familiar voice pulled me out of my trance.
I rolled on my side and straightened my neck upwards with squinted eyes to find my 6 year old son peering back at me.
“Oh hi, kiddo.” I whispered. “What are you doing up so late?”
“I can’t sleep because there’s a monster in my room.” he said with a pout, arms crossed.
I was silent for a moment as he stood there in front of me. My wife and I have been dealing with this “monsters” phase for a little while now and quite frankly, I was feeling a bit annoyed that he woke me up once again because of it. Occasionally, I would take the “tough love” approach by insisting that he had nothing to worry about and he needed to get back into bed. But today I decided to handle it with a little more empathy. I brought him into his room, adjusted his nightlight and checked each closet, corner and space beneath the bed until he was satisfied his room was 100% monster free. I laid him back in his bed, and ensured him once again that there was no such thing as monsters. I kissed his forehead and stayed with him until he passed out.
As I tiptoed back out his room and walked down the hallway to mine, I felt a sense of guilt come over me. Even at the age of 6, I try to be honest with my son as much as possible, but I had just spent a better part of 15 minutes lying to him with a completely straight face. I assured him that monsters didn’t exist, but in reality I knew this was far from the truth. The monsters that I had in mind don’t come in the form of apparitions or creatures with glowing eyes and sharp claws. The type that I’m referring to wear badges, and are seemingly so drunk with power that they regularly take the lives of young Black men and women with reckless abandon and without repercussion.
Just ask Tamir Rice.
Or Michael Brown.
Or Freddie Gray.
Or Eric Garner.
Or Sean Bell.
Or Oscar Grant.
Or Treyvon Martin.
Or Sandra Bland.
Both of my children are biracial, and there is nothing that I would love more than to sit them down one day tell them that race doesn’t matter. The sad reality however, that is not how the world as we know it currently functions, and when they become adults, they will need to learn to navigate it with a layer of hyper-awareness that all Black males are required to possess as a default in order to ensure their safety. This awareness comes with the understanding that not all police officers are bad people, but also knowing there are enough bad ones out there for them to be on guard. But even that might not be enough.
They’re still young, so I decided to hold off on having these discussions. But one day, as we’re skipping rocks in the pond, I might use that moment to talk to him about the proper way he should conduct himself when he gets pulled over by the police. Or perhaps as were eating ice cream on a park bench, I can instruct him on how to respond if an officer wants to frisk him. One day, when we’re working in our garden, I might even explain ways that he might make himself “less suspicious” and why these skills are so important for him to know.
One day, before he finds out the hard way, I will reveal to him that monsters do exist.
These were the thoughts that swirled in my head as I lay in my bed that night, trying in vain to fall asleep.