RECENTLY, as I orbited a local park, keeping an eye on my toddler son as he played, I came between a young white father and his child. Making a split-second decision, the man darted in front of me and screened his son — as casually as possible. I’m well-versed in the many ways my presence alters public space, but there’s a special sting to the small, subconscious acts of racism that pervade even the most innocent of spaces.
As a father, I watch in awe as my son becomes more perceptive each day and absorbs more of the world into his nimble young mind. I experience a mixture of rage and despair when I think about the racially charged images swirling through the media, waiting to confront him.
The recent news barrage of wife-beaters and child abusers reminds me that we’re surrounded by an ever-expanding media system energized by a bloodlust for more scary black men to lead with at 6 o’clock. The audience’s insatiable appetite for this perpetrator parade and subsequent outrage may have begun to wane in recent days, but soon enough, another violent gladiator will strike another woman he claims to love, and another armed police officer will cut down another young black boy.
Last month, at the 10th-year launch of Beacon Academy, where I work, the school unveiled a book celebrating the success of its alumni, mainly students of color from low-income backgrounds. The cover features a simple image of a smiling, resolute black teen from Roxbury who had gone on to attend an elite local independent school, all the way defying stereotypes.
Here was the exact image so sorely lacking from the public’s imagination: a positive, authentic young man of color — a necessary counter-narrative for a society that only knows how to tell one story about these kids. We have a responsibility to discuss race in ways that are so much more nuanced and balanced. I want something better for my son: a world in which he will not have to bear the heavy burden of navigating racist assumptions in nearly every arena of his life, from the workplace to the playground.
The writer is associate head of school at Beacon Academy.