Tin has become obsessed with trains and so on a whim, we took a train ride to Picayune, Mississippi. We went with his good friend, who is also obsessed with trains, and his mother. There is a train that goes from New Orleans to Picayune in the morning and then another train that returns in the late afternoon, so we went on the same weekend that Picayune hosts their fall street festival.
We arrived at 8:30 in the morning, just as the vendors were setting up their tents and getting ready for the day. The train station is smack dab in the middle of the small town of Picayune, so that we had to cross the train tracks to get to either side of the street where the tents were all set up. At one point, in typical 3.5 year old fashion, Tin threw himself down on the tracks because he didn’t want to go in the direction we were headed. I was imploring him to get up and telling him about the dangers of being on the tracks, when two six foot plus white policemen came over and leaned over Tin menacingly and told him to get up and listen to his mother or they would have to do something.
I could see Tin was scared, and I was trying to mitigate the situation – let him have some fear of the tracks and protect him from these adults who were taking a joke too far. Tin began crying and ran to my arms and I picked him up and held him very close to soothe him.
As we walked away, my friend, who is white, said it was good for kids to have a “healthy fear of the Po Po,” but all I could think of was a little black boy and two white policemen and how race changes everything. I asked myself would they have done the same to a white boy, and maybe the answer was yes, but I couldn’t help but read the whole scene as menacing and as part of a much longer conversation we would have time and time again as he grows up.
Racial stereotyping is not something a white person thinks about raising a white child, but I don’t have to be a parent of color to know that it is something my son will have to deal with throughout his lifetime. A friend was telling me the other day that she was stopped by a police car going down Carrolton Avenue, and he kept insisting that she provide her registration all the while asking her if it was her car. She had not committed a crime. She’s from Honduras and knew she was being racially profiled so she took her own sweet time in getting her documents out of the glove compartment – mainly because she was trying to compose herself and also to wrest some power from the situation. He looked over her papers very slowly, looking at her, looking in the car, and reading carefully the documents she had provided. I bought her a tee shirt that says I ONLY LOOK ILLEGAL from Cafe Press.
Humor has always helped assuage stereotyping, but when it comes to my son, an African American boy growing up in the South, I must admit, I’m not laughing.