My son learned a valuable lesson in his early teens that millions of adults have yet to learn.
Don’t ever attempt to play tourist guide on a journey that you know little to nothing about.
My son was your standard mischievous, fun loving, adorable, brilliant young gifted and black child. One lesson that he had to learn was not to be rough with girls. I understood his issue.
He comes from a family of women who are part feminine girly girls and part what we used to call, “tomboy”. He didn’t think it was fair to girls for him to treat them differently just because they were girls. He was raised to treat women fairly and equally. But even adults get the inner workings of that lesson confused.
So, I understood the origin of the issue. Nevertheless, I also knew that unless he changed his mind and actions he was going to land himself in some deep trouble.
A Lesson before Crying
There came a time in school where my son found himself in an ongoing conflict with a girl I will call Maxine. I got called to the school a few times over this conflict between my son and Maxine. Maxine was a somber, beautiful, tall and athletic teen. As soon as I met her I could tell that she was a girl experiencing a lot of problems that she had no business experiencing ever in life.
At home that evening I advised my son to ease up.
“Ease way up!”
“Ease up and leave her alone.” He asserted that she was the one intentionally giving him grief, every single day. I didn’t doubt all of that.
Still, I tried to explain that sometimes you can be a party of a conflict and yet the conflict really has nothing to do with you. He wasn’t trying to hear it. Maxine was mean. Maxine was tall. And Maxine was tough. She could take everything that she was giving.
As his mother, I said what I said. “Stop it!”
But really, when you aren’t in school with them a lot of things are breaking news to you. I knew that too.
So, nothing changed between them for weeks.
But, about a month later my son comes home from school. He wasn’t his usual animated self though. He explained to me that he and Maxine had yet another battle of words. Once again, they both got sent to the principal’s office. But this time was different.
When it was Maxine’s turn to tell her side, Maxine started off loud tough and strong as usual. However, she finished the story in a sea of heavy sobs. Even more, Maxine started off revealing my son’s transgressions but somewhere along the line she started talking about the fact that no one loved her, her mother didn’t love her, her mother’s husband was mean to her and everyone that knew her hated her.
My son was confused and hurt. Had he caused all of this?
No. But, he didn’t help either. He also didn’t understand some really complex issues going on with Maxine. He was a young male having a great childhood. He just didn’t understand that he was making her journey more difficult because of some of his assumptions.
Ah-ha. Now he was ready to learn the lesson that I tried to teach him a month ago.
You never know what or how something hurts someone else. You never know just how much your words and actions inflict harm on someone else. While I was at it, it was a great time to teach him to avoid telling any and all girls/women what bothers them as girls/women. Thus, the beginning of intermediate lessons on the impact of sexism and misogynoir.
Now that he is an adult, I am so proud of the way that he takes the time to thoughtfully discuss AND listen during conversations on social issues. Yes, especially with women.
So, when I think of recent conversations between black women and corporate hair companies. Or more recently, Bill Maher and nearly everyone, I think that there are millions who may want to review this lesson.
When it comes to Bill Maher, there are too many seemingly well-meaning white people saying that despite what the majority of black people have opined; it was racist of Bill Maher to use the n* word. Others are deciding to wade in further and declare that, “Bill Maher isn’t racist.”
Anyone who has been through any sort of professional conflict mediation for any reason can tell you that one of the first things that you learn is to speak for yourself. Black people and other people of color travel a unique journey in life that. That journey includes navigating the relentless obstacles of racism.
If this isn’t the journey that you are on in life, then you are NOT qualified to speak to that experience with any sort of final authority.
Sure, you may be able to speak specifically to what you have read, heard, or been taught. But unless you face the systemic racism in America that still manages to astound countries and organizations throughout the globe; you are no more qualified than my young son was.
Luckily for him, he realized pretty quickly that he was not qualified to speak with expertise on a young black adolescent girl’s emotions.
And no, he never will be.
Change the World
Avoid attempting to speak with authority, leadership, and expertise on a life experience you know nothing about.
By now I have learned that there are three effective ways to change the world. Change the world by action.
Change the world by listening.
And change the world by knowing when to keep silent.