Raising a Male of Color Today

Raising a Male of Color Today
by Mary Evans, Senior Case Manager

People often say, “raising a child starts in the home”. Even though this concept is still widely uttered throughout America, then why do the same great principles and values that African American males are taught in their home, fail them outside the home? As a single, college educated African-American female, I raised my son up in the Church. I attended every parent-teacher’s meeting for 12 years of his life. I introduced him to the public library. I taught him wrong from right. I was not a substance abuser or an absent parent. We ate as a family each night when I did not have to work. I also held down 3 jobs to support my son. He grew up in an educated, working family. However, I never felt a need to worry until my son received his driver’s license. This is when the rules changed. My son went from being just an ordinary American male to a black or African
American male, who had to be taught the rules of the road as a black or African American male versus his White counterparts. It is unfair, it is unjust and it is maddening. But it is reality.

How could I ask him to understand something I did not understand myself? If you are an African American parent or parent(s) or person of color raising a light, brown, or black skinned male, what was your life experience? How many of you stayed up at night till your son came home? How many of you taught your son the 10 to 2 rule if he is pulled over by the police? How many of you worried when your son drove home from college out of state or vice versa? What about when your son relocated to a Southern state from a big city state like New York: Did you worry that the New York license plate would target him as suspect for drug dealing?

As an intensive case manager (at that time) and social work professional advocating for the rights of others, I work with white, light, brown and black skinned males between the ages of 6-21. As an intensive case manager, I provided advocacy services and linking population of clients served to resources in and out of the community. These services are based upon a client’s treatment plan goals. Nonetheless, there was one incident I do remember that took place in a local restaurant occupied by majority white patrons. This incident challenged my advocacy skills because it involved prejudice against two male youths of color, who happened to be clients of MHA. The two youths and I had just ended a socialization/recreational activity, which happened to be part of their treatment plan goal. Since they were hungry, I decided to finish the afternoon by treating them to a meal at a local restaurant before taking them home. When the youth finished their meal, it was time to pay the bill utilizing agency flex funds. The service was poor, so I decided not to leave a tip and complain privately to the owner. Before I could launch a complaint, a group of white women told the restaurant owner they saw the youths take money (tips) from the table we occupied. After being questioned by the owner; humiliated by the restaurant owner; and stared at by the group of white accusers, the two youths overheard the accusations and began denying it. They even went as far as proving their innocence by pulling their shirt and short pockets inside out. This was an embarrassing moment for the youths, and I was livid at seeing the youths reaction. When the restaurant owner learned I did not leave a tip at the table, he became apologetic, but it was too late. The damage was done as one of the youth said to me, “Mary, we did not steal any money: why did they blamed us?” I was plagued by so many emotions after hearing these words. I wanted to lash out, but was it the right thing to do in my professional role?

From a professional perspective, I have encountered many similar situations–different names, but same players. It’s disheartening but even more challenging to maintain a cool, calm composure while in the presence of youths, who are watching your every reaction. Various trainings and workshops have given me the tools to turn these unfortunate, distasteful experiences into fortunate teachable moments. The fortunate part about situations like these is that here at The Mental Health Association of Rockland (MHA) exists a Cultural Competency Committee, of which I was a member. The purpose of this committee is to ensure that ALL populations regardless of color, gender, disability, and culture are treated with dignity and respect. The Cultural Competency Committee is one of the most profound structural changing agents at The Mental Health Association. It is the “watchdog” for injustices experienced by our consumers and/or client population. The trainings provide skills that align with my value system then and now. As a huge advocate for children and adolescents, I am a firm believer that if injustices (racism, sexism, classism) faced by our youths of color continue to go unchecked and swept under the rug, it will continue to have a profound effect on children and adolescents and lead to more movements currently taking place in America today—“Hands Up Don’t Shoot” and “I Can’t Breathe”!!!

As your son’s role model, I want to leave you with these thoughts to ponder… what has or is your experience raising a male of color? If you are an adult male of color, how do you handle incidents of racial profiling in the presence of your son? In light of today’s headlines focusing on police brutality toward males of color, what advice do you give your 12 – 18 year old son who just received his driver’s license? Do you find that males of color, who are diagnosed with a serious emotional disorder get treated fairly in the justice system? What are you teaching your male(s) of color?
Mary Evans is the Senior Case Manager for the Children’s Case Management Program.
She can be reached at 845-267-2172, x272.
For additional information on our programs, please contact the Client & Family Advocate at 845-267-2172, x296.