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As The Mom Of Black Children, Dads With Guns Terrify Me

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“The violence we teach our sons in teaching them to ‘Be Men’ is the same that keeps us up at night worrying about our daughters.”

I read this quote earlier today for the first time. I don’t know who wrote it, but it’s as powerful as it is accurate.

We’ve all seen the pictures of “concerned” fathers as their daughters go on dates – or to prom, or bring over boyfriends for the first time. They’re often standing on the porch with their chests poked out proudly with a rifle in their hand. We’re all used to the image, and some folks even see it as an act of protective love or maybe a lighthearted joke.

But all I see is a normalization of violence and toxic masculinity in action. I’m a “woke” Black mom with a son and daughter; I can’t afford to accept that image in any context.

Part of the reason I find that image more frustrating than funny is because I have a son. It’s not really possible to stop an expression of disgust from showing up on my face at the thought of someone stepping to my son with a gun. That mental image alone is enough to put me in “fighting mode.” And when I pair that image with the stories I heard growing up of little Black boys being threatened and abused, I’m enraged.

One specific example comes to mind: Emmett Till.

Till was only 14 years old when he was brutally abducted and then murdered. His crime was being accused of whistling at Carolyn Bryant, a white woman who was a cashier at a grocery store. Bryant was an adult and Till was just a child. But as history has shown, nothing is more valuable than the virtue of a white woman. I call out white women specifically because, throughout history, Black women like me have been treated like community property.

Through the years, fathers of color have done what they can to emulate the protection white dads have provided for their children. Still, women of color, especially Black women, haven’t had the same value or protection. Even if it’s given at home, it’s not given through the legal system.

It’s hard not to think about the lack of protection that Black girls and women face within (and from) the criminal justice system without fearing for my daughter. The knowledge of that history and the vulnerability of my daughter gives me an additional lens through which to perceive “well-meaning” dads with guns.

We’re all used to the image and some folks even see it as an act of protective love or maybe a lighthearted joke. But all I see is a normalization of violence and toxic masculinity in action.

These men have learned that violence will help them achieve everything they want in life. And they will raise sons to do the same. What’s to stop them from passing this message down in a way that impacts my daughter directly?

Men who seek to control their daughters as property often do the same to their wives. That sense of ownership of others as one’s property stems directly from the patriarchal messages that deemed women under-qualified and unable to make our own decisions.

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As we know, these experiences are multiplied for Black women. They’re taught that they are owned by their fathers, their partners, and the world. As long as they aren’t owned by themselves.

It took decades for the public to acknowledge that Emmett Till was innocent — not that it can change the past. We can’t go back in time and undo the hurt that violence did to him, his family, nor the Black community at large. But each time I hear his story, I think about the ways that toxic masculinity and the belief that we need to protect women will always leave people out. Add racism to that cocktail, and there’s much for a Black mother to fear.

Parents need to be confident that we’ve done what we can to raise children who are able to think critically and choose quality partners. If my children need help problem solving, I’m here. But it’s not my job to make those choices for them.

I don’t need my daughter to be protected by a weapon; I need her to be treated with respect, have equal opportunity for success regardless of partnership status, and acknowledge as a person of value. I don’t need my son to internalize messages of violence; I need him to have the chance to have relationships without fear that he will be misperceived and murdered.

Violence breeds trauma, and no partner is worth the long-term consequences of having a gun pulled on my son.

All of the Facebook posts that glamorize fathers for their shotgun shenanigans aren’t cute; they’re part of the problem. They show us some of the worst parts of our society and remind us that male dominance leads to bad things.

I don’t need my son to internalize messages of violence; I need him to have the chance to have relationships without fear that he will be misperceived and murdered.

Women should be able to feel safe regardless of their proximity to men. And young boys shouldn’t grow up fearful that their first date involves a physical assault.

I worry about all of this.

But I know for sure my daughter – and son — could better benefit from more equality, less violence, and a reduction in discrimination than any “protection” a gun could ever provide.

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