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Cute Little Black Boys Do Grow Up To Be Black Men, PART II — And Now, They Are Ten

Posted by | November 25, 2014 | BAMBINOS | 275 Comments

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Owen & Kyle, Fall 2014, age 10

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Today, we are dealing with the Ferguson decision. It is another sad, sad day for mamas of black boys. Deeply demoralized and shaking scared, we keep on fiercely loving them, and wait and hope for the world to see them as we do.

Today, I received a steady little flow of email from around the world, telling me how much my blog posts over the years are helping to navigate the rocky terrain of thinking through — and talking through with others — the Ferguson decision. That’s pretty humbling in the face of my own uncertainty.

Today, I picked up my beautiful boys from school (4th grade! times two!), sat with them to do their homework (long division! similes and metaphors!), made them a favorite dinner (salmon! green beans!), and tucked them into bed. Each day is such a blessing.

Today, my son Owen saw the front page of the New York Times and asked me, point blank: “Was the guy who was killed black or white?” I had to say, “Black.” If you could have seen the look on his gorgeous soft brown face, you would have felt just as sick to your stomach as I did in that moment. He knows. If you loved my boy — even a little bit — then the look in his deep dark eyes would have tortured your heart and soul just as much as it did mine. I swear it. You’d be inhuman to not feel the pain of it.

Five years ago I wrote this post:


The summer that I wrote that, Kyle and Owen were five years old. Gosh, they were cute at age five! And as toddlers?! Oh my goodness gracious land sakes alive, they were so very, very downright undeniably adorable! I could not get through an aisle of the grocery store with my two-too-cute-toddlers without at least one (but usually several) people stopping me to “ooooh!” and “aaaah!” over my sweet baby boys. Everyone (not just me) thought they were “ADORABLE!!!” The fact is, they were.

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Today, they are ten. When you read the post from 2009 you will understand the significance of ten.


Ten year old twin boys. Here we are. They are all energy all the time. They are larger than life. They are AMAZING. They are getting a handle on the world. And, just as we knew it would, sure enough, the world is getting a handle on them.

It is hard, this thing. We knew it was coming, but that doesn’t help. It is like a storm that you know is rolling in. You first just hear the forecast (and maybe wonder if it is true), then you feel it brewing in the air (and know it is to be), then you see it with your very own eyes (the sky turns grey, the clouds take over, the wind starts whipping). You can get ready, you can prepare, if you are lucky (or privileged, as the case may be) then you can even take cover (we are privileged; we work hard to provide as much shelter as every single resource available to us will allow). You can hunker down and you can do everything right. But it doesn’t stop the storm from coming. It just rolls right in. It is bigger than us. It is more powerful than us. We are just there, relatively defenseless to its forces, attempting to cope as best we can. Hoping we are still standing for it to leave us in its wake.

That’s how it feels right now, at ten.

Right now, I’m just hoping and praying and wishing and trying-to-believe that we’ll somehow be the lucky ones — the parents of black boys who are lucky enough to watch them grow up and still be standing in its wake some day. I’m scared to hope for too much, but maybe someday we’ll be talking together about the challenges of raising their children, our grandchildren.

For now, for today, we are just trying to get through this. This period of time when we watch as our precious sons grow out of being cute little black boys in the eyes of the world. They grow up to be black men. Trust me, it is hard to watch.

In some ways, like all ten-year-olds, they are still so little.

a beautiful twin boys

Except, that they are not.


In addition to being ten, Kyle and Owen are big. They are just about the same height as me, and their feet are bigger than mine. They wear size 14 clothes, and their strong, athletic muscles are rippling.

We’ve hit the turning point. I’ve watched it happen. I’ve witnessed it first-hand. Over the past several months my sweet little adorable babies went from being perceived as just that, to being perceived just as I’ve long dreaded.

It has started.

I’ve been in the store and watched from a short distance as they’ve been followed. (Yes, already.)

I’ve heard it over the intercom system: “Security Alert. Section C. Security Alert.” (Yes, already.)

I’ve stood behind them as they’ve been stopped in line, being perfectly obedient, but being questioned. (Yes, already.)

I’ve watched as they’ve been wrongly accused. As the worst has been wrongly assumed. As the fault has been wrongly blamed.

The looks. The hesitation. The ever-so-slight facial expressions. The too-quick-to-judge.

It has only just begun.

It doesn’t matter that they go to an elite private school.


It doesn’t matter that they are straight-A students.

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It doesn’t matter that they have white parents.


It doesn’t matter that they are well-travelled, worldly, well-dressed, polished, polite, poised. It doesn’t matter that their vocabulary is incredibly well-developed, that they have eaten in fine restaurants, have met famous authors, have seen world-class performances, know the names of the classic European composers and philosophers, know how to shake a hand and look someone in the eye and use their best manners when needed. It doesn’t matter that they are cloaked with class privilege and all of the advantages that go with it.

Family Pic

It doesn’t matter that they are gorgeous and charming and organically charismatic. It doesn’t matter that they are gifted and talented and have off-the-chart-IQs and that the world should be their oyster. It doesn’t matter. Still, they are followed, suspected, questioned, accused, judged, and — yes, already — feared. They are black. They are ten.

Maybe you think I’m crazy to say this. Maybe. Maybe you should try being the mother of ten-year-old black boys for a little while, and then see what you think.

You can’t write me off as an “angry black woman” because I’m not black. I am angry. And I am a woman. But I’ll tell you this: I’m white, I grew up around white people, I know white culture, I am embedded in whiteness. And what I see, feel, witness, and experience… it is real. If there is anything I know, it is that I know this is real. You can’t tell me it isn’t true because I am an insider and I know it is true.

My sons, no matter how authentically fantastic they are, are still black. They can’t get away with experimenting with how they dress, and they definitely can’t play with guns (at least not outside the walls of our home; their safe space, their oasis).

1 a black boys

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We can’t let them experiment too much, we can’t let them take many chances. We don’t have that luxury. Because they’re black. We have to tell them the truth: you’ll be judged quicker, you’ll be perceived more harshly, keep your hands out of your pockets, keep your hood down, no fast movements, never run, racism exists and it isn’t to be messed around with. We’ve got your back, but even we can only do so much. We are limited in how much we can protect you. No matter how much we try, no matter how much we love you, no matter how precious you are to us, no matter.

My sons are growing up to be black men. And they need to be prepared for what they could (almost certainly, will) encounter. We’d be gravely, woefully, unforgivingly failing them if we weren’t to prepare them for reality. At ten, they are in process. And it is heart-wrenching. Because I know the truth. I know that even though they’re black boys sporting hard-core bball jerseys, with biceps that are already popping, and locs that are getting long, they are also sweet, kitten-loving, nurturing, fragile spirits with hearts and souls of pure gold.


I know that even though they are ten-year-old black boys, they are still my babies.


But the world doesn’t see them as I do. No matter how perfectly they present themselves, no matter how spectacular they are, they will be disproportionately extremely LESS SAFE than if they were white. Kyle and Owen’s stellar reputations and hard-earned achievements and family-privilege will not necessarily get them as far as they choose or could go. Because the world might just choose for them and against them — in ways that would simply not occur if they were white. That is what it means to be entangled in structural, entrenched, historic, and systemic racism. No amount of privilege — or charm, or charisma, or pure raw talent — can protect them from the fact that they are black boys.

In this way, despite how extraordinary they are, despite their stunning life stories, despite all that they have going for them, they are no different than any other black boy.

Today is another sad, sad day for mamas of black boys. Deeply demoralized and shaking scared, we keep on fiercely loving them, and wait and hope for the world to see them as we do.



  • Mike says:

    Heather, I am simply awed by this post. What you have written is nothing less than a brutally honest, first hand account of the daily reality for young black children. This is something worthy of a national platform. It is a beautiful and heartfelt commentary on the state of race in this country. I have tried and tried to put into words myself something which can properly convey, within the context of black history, a narrative that can help people understand the reality of the situation of race, especially as it pertains to black youth. And you have absolutely hit it out of the park. I would love to share a link to this post for others to see what you have to say, and what your family has experienced. You simply have captured it better than anything I have seen anywhere else.

  • Elaine Vose says:

    Thank you for your post. And thank you, as a white woman, for saying what a black woman would not be able to say (or at least would not be heard if she did say). I think there is power in being able to speak up for someone else, because that means you have walked (as you surely have) in their shoes enough to understand their pain and fear. And whatever we can do to help people hear one another across the divide may help lessen the divide.

  • mary says:

    My children are bi-racial and I have experienced some of the same things (especially with my older, more defiant son). To quick to judge and to quick to suspend from school. I’ve had to fight several times to keep in in school for “violations” identified by the principal. I always suspect that other kids are treated differently.

    Your boys are beautiful and I hope the best for you and your family.

  • Tara says:

    The most amazing view of society I have ever read. I am a 38yr old mixed woman, and I have 2 children of my own that are now multi-racial but I will be honest the black is still there! I have always identified with being black, and many people will tell me that I am not really black. My question has remained the same since I was 8 “Do I pass for white?” the answer is I do not and this affects how people interact with you.

    I would love to believe that in a world where I exist, and have existed for 38 years, people would have gotten over stereotyping. Obviously black people and white people can love each other and be open minded, yet why do so many remain closed off. Bad people come from all races and religions. My white mother always gave me the advice, to just be the very best version of myself. You are doing that same thing with your boys, you are giving them faith in the world where they will suffer hardships and judgement because they are black.

    They will constantly be hurt by the world, but they will always have you on their side and this is what really counts. They will grow up to be fabulous black men because they will have been loved and cherished by you and your husband! Imagine how lucky their sons will be to have fathers that have been supported and raised by you!

    Amazing post, you have touched me deeply!

  • Heather says:

    Kyle and I went to see the movie Selma today. He connected it (ON HIS OWN) to Ferguson, etc. I thought it would be a nice follow up to this post to link to Kyle’s thoughts on Selma here —

  • Ivan says:

    This reminds me of the classics psychology experiment by Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) where people tend to live up to the standards that are expected of them.

  • Janet Gudino says:

    Let’s face it – most people see an angry white boy and laugh or snicker, but seeing an angry black boy is very threatening and scary. To say this isn’t true means you don’t have a black son.

  • Shelli says:

    I’m glad you were able to put these feelings into words. I sure hope the world will change someday soon. Your boys are adorable! I worry about my sweet little boy and how he will be treated as he grows up.

  • Mary says:

    Thanks for sharing. I’m getting an education as a white mom of three mixed kids.

  • Amy says:

    My grandson is a 3-year-old boy whose mother is white (my daughter) and whose father was black. I see him as the most adorable little child I have ever seen, who has a sense of humor a mile long, who is loving and giving and intelligent…and very tall for his age. I fear for him. He will be basketball star-tall, and a target for every bit of hate out there. Thank you for your articles. You make me realize I need to be super vigilant and an activist for my sweet, sweet boy.

  • Barry Marton says:

    I married a terrific, talented and educated black woman. She too has been followed in stores and estate sales even though she is almost always the best dressed person there and is very proper and conservative in her actions. She is told by many that she looks like Michelle Obama (I think I’m the only person who doesn’t think so).

    Once we were pulled over by the police. The officer came up to the car and said that we weren’t violating any laws but he was checking for terrorists. Let’s add to the picture that my wife has a masters degree in piano and works as a piano teacher. Her car has professionally made and installed decals of piano keys, her studio’s name, and her phone number. This is the kind of vehicle all terrorists drive. I honestly think the officer was surprised to see a white man also in the car when he came up. You can call it caution but there is no way a white terrorist would have been pulled over in that scenario.

    Even the President of the United States is treated with a disproportionate level of distrust because he is black. You and many replying here are the hope of a future where racism is dead. We won’t see it in our lifetime but we still can make a difference.

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