Black people are familiar with the oft-repeated “twice as good” maxim—you have to be better than your white counterparts to get any recognition for your efforts. It’s a lesson that’s been drilled into most of us at an early age, and the same could be said for the reverse: it takes less for Black folks to get in trouble than other races. (It bears out in studies that find Black children are more likely to be suspended at school than white children and that cops view Black children to be older than they actually are.)
Oprah Winfrey Network vice president Endyia Kinney-Sterns tells a story about how she and her husband imparted that valuable lesson to Judah, her oldest son.
Judah was 5 [and] there was this little boy who was always getting him in trouble at school. They were always talking, always playing. [Before this, Judah] never got in trouble at school.
This particular time my husband was talking to the teacher and the teacher made a comment, like, “Yeah, I don’t know what’s going on with Judah, he’s just being a little out of control.” Of course “out of control” to a Black mom and dad is a little different.
So we talked to Judah in front of the teacher and he had to ask for forgiveness in front of the teacher. My husband was like, “Listen, this is a warning. I’m extending grace to you, but if it happens again, you’re going to be on punishment.” And then it happened the next day!
…You can make one wrong move and everything will be taken away from you.
My son came home and everything was gone in his room. When I tell you everything, I mean everything. My husband said, “I would’ve taken the bed if I didn’t know I had to put it back together again.” When Judah got to his room, he was in shock. “Someone stole my things. What happened? What happened?”
And my husband said, “I’m trying to teach you that in the blink of an eye, you can make one wrong move and everything will be taken away from you. You got a week to prove to me that you can do what you’re supposed to do at school, and you’ll be able to get your stuff back.”
We live in a predominantly white neighborhood, and he told his friends, “My dad took all my stuff.” The parents overheard and asked what happened. He said “I robbed Judah because I’m raising a black man. While your son may get one, two, three chances, mine only gets one. And this is beginning to teach him that you may let that little boy at school get you in trouble, but that little boy may get five chances [and] you may only get one.”
That stuck with him. He’s 8 and he gets it. He knows what we mean when we say, “Do you wanna get robbed?” You get one chance: make sure who you’re hanging around is worth it. Are they pulling you down, or are you pulling them up? Someone’s always influencing [someone]: Are you the influencer or are you being influenced? Those are the things you have to think about when you’re raising black men.
mater mea x Endyia Kinney-Sterns, vice president at Oprah Winfrey Network, mother of two
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