My son does say “Yes ma’am,”” but he still gets profiled. Initially, he was the cute little boy and received all of the oohs and ahhs. Now, however, he isn’t a toddler anymore. He’s a dapper little lad full of personality and roughly four feet tall. And he is BROWN. Sadly, this makes him a threat to some folks. He’s probably one of the gentlest and most humble beings you’ll ever meet. But he happens to have a little more melanin.
Unfortunately for some, none of this matters simply because he was born with a naturally browner hue than some of his peers. Recently, he was told by a peer that s/he could no longer play with him because their parents said brown boys are dangerous. Now imagine the hurt and confusion my son experienced. Imagine the rage that boiled my blood. And then the total sadness that came over me when I had to have a very hard adult conversation with my eight-year-old son about race relations in America. Imagine the look of defeat on his face when for the first time he realized that an apology wouldn’t change his melanin and in this case “yes ma’am” would not allow him to play with his friend.
So, I hear you, teach him to say “yes ma’am.” But does that truly solve the issue and are we teaching all of our sons to say “yes ma’am?” If he says “yes ma’am,” will that allow him to play with his peers without judgment from the adult around? Will that same “yes ma’am” matter as much at 18 as it does now that he’s 8?
These are questions that I lie awake asking myself every night. Every night I go to bed in hopes that I’ve taught my son the right things to say and do so that maybe just maybe that “yes ma’am” will save him from the implicit biases forced upon him by society.
And to be quite frank, my son says “yes ma’am” on his own … I happen to think a “Yes” and “No” work just fine. My thoughts on forcing “ma’ams” and “sirs” are another thought for another blog.