“I know I’m just a Black, gay guy without a college degree.”
My friends told me I yelled those words while under a swirl of police lights. It was 2002, and police officers had surrounded me in Washington, DC. I had blacked out again, from drinking.
Those same words landed me in my boss’s office in 2011. During a work assignment, I got drunk and sent those words around in an email.
After the work incident, I found a therapist. Those words also opened my first therapy session.
Those words just kept following me. And, where did I get those words? I got them from my dad.
My dad, who’s now dead, was a talking man. I don’t mean talking was his profession, he just had a lot to say.
During one conversation, he looked at me and said,
“Son, you’re Black, you’re gay, and you don’t have a college degree… that’s 3 strikes against you in white America.”
Oh, shit. His words stood while I sat at the table with him. I couldn’t stand his words and they stopped time for me.
My dad pronounced me dead at my three-way intersection.
You better believe, I protested. I reminded my dad how I was different. I told him not to worry about me.
And, I did everything I could to flatten his words. I even got a cushy job with the federal government.
But now, even though it’s hard to admit, I must say my dad was correct.
I do have 3 strikes against me in white America.
Strike #1, You’re Black
Strike #2, You’re Gay
As a gay man, I am more likely to abuse substances. I am more likely to consider suicide than my other friends. There are business owners who believe they can refuse me services. And, while I walk, random people on the street whisper “fag.”
Strike #3, You Don’t Have a College Degree
In some circles, if you don’t have a college degree it’s like you do have a social STD. Trust me, I know. And, a roadblock of educational requirements blocks basic jobs too. So, the forecast for my income, job opportunities, and lifespan are lower. All because I didn’t get a simple sheet of paper?
Now, my dad didn’t want me to be a fact sheet or be under a sheet. He looked at me with a little pain and anxiety. He had a responsibility, and a bit of guilt for the Black child he brought into the world. And that world was white, dark, and vicious.
My dad had “bright” skin, as they say, but he couldn’t see, or share, any bright sides.
Maybe that’s how parenting eyes look? Must they only look at the bad sides and the downsides?
As for me, I see a thin line between forewarning your child and foretelling. That narrow line is dotted by faith, belief, hope, and optimism.
A lot of people talk about “the talk” Black parents have with their children.
The talk is about white kids, the n-word, the police, and more. The talks are necessary, but they aren’t immune to inaccuracies. The recurring talks may need a refresh.
Now, my dad, he wasn’t plugged into the latest polls and studies. He only had 2 out of the 3 strikes. He didn’t know how my double minority status of Black and gay worked in my economic favor.
He had no idea double minority statuses can lower the negative perceptions and effects of each.
My dad didn’t know how white women in the nonprofit sector would be charmed and disarmed by me.
He didn’t know how my limp wrist, lazy lisp, swishy hips, and high pitch, would lead to perfect performance reviews and promotions.
If I only cared about my financial welfare, those racist facts might be upsides.
So, my dad was off about how exactly my strikes would add up and mix.
And now, I question what’s being shared with children about society during these talks.
Do we only fill children with fear? Is there any way to add some hope and optimism? And how about some solutions too?
My dad did have solutions for my strikes. He sent me like a spy to a white school to “get a good education.” He wanted me to “be able to look white people in the eyes.”
From there, I was sent to college for the piece of paper that would make my life golden.
So, education is no equalizer. People stand ready to move the goalposts with their shovels in hand.
And for my sexual orientation, he’d prefer I marry a woman I loved. But, I tried being ex-gay a few times, and I struck out at that too.
In his mind, I could change 2 of my 3 strikes by getting a degree and marrying a woman.
My dad would say, one burden of Blackness is not to add more burdens to Blackness. There’s already weight on an inaccurate scale, so I understand the odds.
But, by my calculations, my dad was correct, but partially wrong. There’s a difference between being correct and being right. Being “right” has to do with ethics and morality. And, my dad was partially wrong.
Black parents have a duty to warn and report, yes. It would be morally wrong to leave a Black child uninformed about the sick and crazy ways of the world.
But, it’s also morally wrong to leave a child to find hope on their own.
Shouldn’t Black kids get some hope too?
I know it’s a balancing act with busted scales and endless unevenness.
And, can anyone share what they don’t have? Not really. You must first have something, to share something.
So yes, the world owes Black people and Black parents something. It’s something they can share — hope.