Last night I dropped my son off at an inner city baseball practice run by our local MLB team. It is an urban academy launched to engage kids in the inner city of Houston in playing baseball and learning sports in a positive way. First class facilities, first class instruction, and first class coaches are leading some of our kids to a first class experience, and it may be the best part of their week. It was for my kid.
As I was leaving and my son was joining the other boys, one of the coaches called out his name, “Hey, Drew! We’ll get started in a minute. Start stretching.” There were 15 other high school kids there, and he called my son by name! I turned to him and said “Son, you are famous! The Astros coach knows you by name!” I was so impressed. Out of 15 kids, he called one by name: MINE!
Drew turned to me and said, “No big deal dad. I am the only white kid that comes to these practices. I kinda stand out.” I immediately knew he was right, and while he is a gifted baseball player he was noticed more for his skin tone than his skill. Up until now, he had been practicing with kids his age, but this group was bigger and better than anyone he had practiced with so far. The whole game had changed for Drew and we both could sense it.
I asked him how that made him feel. He said “Well…it is definitely different.” Of course it is. He goes to a mostly white school and church, lives in a mostly white neighborhood, and has almost all white friends despite living in one of the most diverse cities in the USA. I asked him if the coaches and players treated him differently. He said “They are all nice, and the coaches are really good. But, I don’t talk much with the other players. I just don’t know them that well.” I turned to him and said the most important thing I could ever say to my son, “Drew, there is no difference between you and those kids. White, black, brown, you are all kids playing baseball. They have dads wanting them to be successful at baseball, but more importantly at life. That is what I want for you, too. Have fun. Play ball. Work hard.”
He nodded his head and walked nervously onto the field along with 15 other big, high school kids who acted like and looked like they were almost ready for the major leagues. My little 8th grader was outsized, outnumbered, and was way out of his comfort zone with that gang he was joining for the next 2 hours of play.
I stayed to watch him play/practice. While he was nervous about the level of competition, he was not nervous about the kids he played with. He didn’t avoid shaking hands or high fiving. He didn’t run out of the way to steer clear of any contact. He didn’t ignore encouragement or correction when it came from the staff or players. He just played. And when he got in the car he said “You were right dad. Thanks for bringing me.”
I have accepted the fact that I will not be able to make, craft or buy his way into major league baseball. I can’t make him apply his knowledge academically in ways that set him up for success in college and career. I can’t make him like my music, wear clothes I like or think I am cool. I can’t force him to follow Christ, and the day will come when I won’t be able to make him go to church. I want so badly for him to succeed in every aspect of life and faith, but realize that I have limited opportunities to be the decider for him anymore. He is (almost) his own man. The best thing I can do now is help him see the world as clearly as possible so that his choices aren’t bent by cynical, careless and/or combative points of view.
Parenting a teenager is more about optometry than podiatry. We cannot make them walk the way we want them to walk, but our words, our actions, may help them see the world that we have worked so hard to see clearly. Our blurry vision of people, places and things have caused us great pain. If only we had been able to see the world more clearly at an earlier age we might have lived very different lives.
My experience with Drew was a culmination of my life’s work in race relations. I know a thing or two about cultural racism and prejudice and I wasn’t even alive during the Civil Rights movement. My view of people is 180 degrees opposite of what it was when I was my son’s age. Thanks be to God (and Jamie) who helped me see the world in a whole new way. It’s a vision of a world that sees the color of skin as an expression of God’s creative flare instead of an easy way for society to divide rights and privileges or freedom and fortune.
The one thing that every parent must know is this: you make the biggest difference in how your children handle issues of racial division. Parents, please hear me. You will be the biggest factor in how your child sees, treats and lives with people of another color. You will either make them haters or lovers. They will learn to fear and fight based on how you talk about and respond to issues and/or discussions of race. Or, they will learn to extend a hand, give full acceptance, and live in peace with all people of all colors and all languages. You will do one of those things either intentionally or unintentionally. Make it an intentional act for good. Help your child/children see a world full of peaceful possibilities instead of a world that is breaking apart from hate and cultural traditions.
Teachers, preachers, police officers, friends, even Starbucks will have an influence on how your child (and/or grandchild) develops their racial views. Use your words to be inclusive and then personally act in inviting, accepting ways when engaged with all people. Don’t make jokes that fringe on racist or classist feelings. Be the difference in your child’s life when forming their feelings about other people. Racism is an American tradition that needs to die out. Let’s start killing racism at home, and at church, and on the baseball field.