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A cost to teaching black youth ‘humility’

Members of the New York City Council wore "hoodie" sweatshirts on the steps of City Hall last month.

Mike Segar/Reuters

Members of the New York City Council wore "hoodie" sweatshirts on the steps of City Hall last month.

I READ Yvonne Abraham’s column “Fatal differences’’ (Metro, March 29) with the recognition that comes from raising a black son. I’m the white mother of an adopted son and now the grandmother of his three children. Our children - we also have two birth daughters - were raised in Brookline, and had safer experiences than many, but we taught our son the “humility’’ routine that Abraham describes early and reinforced it often. He was stopped more than once, driving our car, and when he left the town where he was known, he went with a lengthy set of instructions for what to do when something went wrong.

He and I have often talked about the cost of this “humility.’’ From a word that implies much that is virtuous also comes a word that implies much pain: humiliated. What young boy doesn’t want to be free to be sassy, particularly when it is just? What young black man doesn’t wonder whether, at the age of, say, Henry Louis Gates Jr., he will still encounter unwarranted humiliation? What well-behaved young black man taught these rules doesn’t give up some of his essential manhood, swallow toxic anger, and learn repression when he should be learning joy?

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There is an upside: My son is remarkably sensitive to other people’s feelings and has learned to read humans with astuteness. Practicing humility has increased his patience and empathy. But not without cost. It is a cost I had hoped my grandsons wouldn’t have to pay, but they do.

Tama Zorn


Sad comment on message we send to parents of black kids

YVONNE ABRAHAM’S column “Fatal differences’’ (Metro, March 29) brought tears to my eyes, not so much because of its connection with the murder of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Florida, but because it was a sad commentary on our society and the message it conveys to the parents of black youth in America.

Martin’s death is not really a surprise to me. What is a surprise is the systematic way in which African-American parents believe that they must instruct their children to act toward law-enforcement officials so that they can survive.

What happened in Florida makes a mockery of the oft-touted beliefs of many thousands of evangelicals and other so-called Christians in the South. Yet parents with young children are well aware that racism is not restricted to the South, and, as Abraham illustrates, they believe that they must train their children accordingly so that they do not have to bury them at an early age.

One would think that the election of a black president would have gone far to alleviate some of the underlying racism reflected by the incident in Florida, but apparently that is not the case. One wonders whether it will ever be the case.

Helen Cox


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