My Son Is A Big Black Boy, And We’re Tired Of The Stereotypes

black boy stereotype
Credit: Getty

I first noticed my son was being stereotyped when he was just a toddler. We’d be at a park or our local children’s play place and there would be a scuffle between a group of toddlers. The parents’ heads would pop up, away from conversations or cell phones, and their eyes would go straight to my son who was sometimes the only child of color in the group.

Their response was automatic. Programmed. And sadly, expected.

Just a year before, my son was a caramel-skinned newborn with warm, brown eyes and the tiniest curly afro. We were stopped constantly by strangers who would gush at how handsome he was. They’d speak to him in high-pitched voices and tickle the bottoms of his feet in the hopes he’d reward them with a gummy smile.

But something happened when my son went from being a baby to a toddler. He matured quickly and was in the upper ninetieth percentile for height and weight. He didn’t have any baby fat on his body, but was instead sheer muscle. At just two years old, he appeared to be four.

With this change in appearance came a shift in the way people treated him. If he had a tantrum, we were subject to side-eyes and whispers. If he acted his age, by plucking a much-desired toy from the hands of a peer, we could hear the irritation in the voice of the child’s parent.

I was tempted to put a shirt on my son that stated his age, but I knew that the issue wasn’t solely his size. In fact, my mommy-heart knew that my son’s melanin was the catalyst of the adults’ discomfort.

The most notable moment of racism and stereotypes was when my son was two-and-a-half. We ran into an acquaintance who commented on how much my son had grown since she had last seen him. I smiled and said, “Yes, he’s a big boy.” And without a second thought, she remarked that he was a “cute little thug.”

Six months later, my son started preschool. During parent-teacher conferences, the teacher and I were discussing my son’s needs. She leaned in and said to me, “I probably shouldn’t ask this, but was he born addicted to drugs?” I was taken aback and left completely speechless.

Later, as I mulled over the situation, I knew she didn’t ask this of every parent of every child. Of course, I brought the interaction to the attention of the principal and had my son moved to another class and to a teacher who appreciated him and guided him rather than assumed things about him based on his skin tone.

Being a big-for-his-age, black boy in 2019 America is something my son and our entire family is learning to navigate. We’re well aware of the preschool-to-prison pipeline. Our children, including our son, are not allowed to play with toy guns outside of our home. We know that black boys can be killed for such actions, such as the case of Tamir Rice. We worry about when our son is old enough to drive and date. Our number one concern is his safety.

The reality is, black boys are stereotyped as being tough, suspicious, and threatening, simply because they exist.

And because of this, we have to raise our son to be ready to go into a world that is going to question and distrust him. He is only six years old, but he already knows that when we go into a store, he cannot wear his hood up. He can’t have his hands in his pockets. And he can’t touch the store products that we are not buying. He also knows he must have a receipt and a bag for any purchases he makes with his allowance.

His rules are different than those of his white peers, because he will always be suspect. The tone of his skin, the curl of his hair, and the depth of his eyes ensure that society will treat him as if he’s guilty.

Just this month, I took two of my kids to a medical consult. My son was excited to be in a new place and meet new people, as he always is. He plopped onto the exam table and reached up to touch an overhead lamp. The doctor’s assistant narrowed her eyes and barked at him, “Are you always like this?”

Her “this” was referring to his energy.

As his mom, I believe my son’s energy, which includes his extreme enthusiasm and outgoing personality, to be a gift. But to the medical assistant, he was a menace, someone who needed to be tamed, disciplined, and put in his place. He is a black boy, after all.

When a person sees my son, they make assumptions. Media such as the news, movies, television shows, and even children’s books have conditioned people to believe that brown skin is bad. But what I wish could happen is that the very people who are fearful of a big, black boy could see my son for who he is.

He is deeply empathetic, a characteristic that is rare. Last year at school, a little girl in his class was crying, and my son sat beside her, putting his arm around her shoulders, and cried alongside her.  He didn’t even know why she was upset. It didn’t matter to him.

My son is a nurturer. When we adopted our fourth child, my son would sit criss-cross on the floor and feed her a bottle while gently stroking her hair and singing her name.

As for his older sisters, my son doesn’t care if their chosen activity is Barbies, bicycle racing, Shopkins, or superhero dress up; he’s 100% in.

I’ll never forget the Sunday morning we were exiting church, and my son stopped to introduce himself to a group of women clustered by the front door. One woman extended her hand for my son to shake, and he gently kissed the top of her hand and smiled. He’s never met a stranger, and his affection is widespread. And just this past Sunday, he was taking his sweet time getting to his classroom, because he was busy shaking hands with adults conversing in the hallway.

This is my son. Empathetic, enthusiastic, silly, smart, and handsome. And he’s not an anomaly. There are black boys like him everywhere, with incredible personalities, who deserve to enjoy an unencumbered life, free from the stereotypes that relentlessly attempt to imprison them.