Walter Suza: Black men are sons first
Chadwick Boseman, the star character in the movie Black Panther, lost his battle with cancer on Aug. 28. Sadly, hateful messages showed up on Twitter indicating that some were glad to see the death of a “Black superhero.” How low can people go?
Boseman was a son, a hero and a wonderful human being who placed others before himself. Even though he was fighting for his life, he made visits to St. Jude’s to see children with cancer. Even though he knew his chances to defeat the terrible disease were slim, his role in Black Panther brought hope to millions across the world.
My son was sitting next to me in the movie theater to see Black Panther. Michael B. Jordan appeared as the supervillain (Erik Killmonger) consumed with anger and pain from growing up in the United States. I forced myself to stop imagining my son growing up to be like that because we live in a country where people like us are frequently judged by the color of our skin instead of the contents of our hearts. I stretched my arm and placed it across his shoulders. To me, he is my son who is Black.
The worsening of race relations in the United States makes me fear for my son’s safety. My fear stems from the fact that Black boys and men are two and a half times more likely to be shot by the police than their white counterparts. I worry that if my son was ever perceived to be acting improperly on the streets, he would not be treated as any other white kids. We saw what happened in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and across the United States.
Jacob Blake may never walk again after he was shot in the back at point-blank range seven times in front of his children while a white teenage vigilante bearing a long gun walked by the police after killing and injuring protesters. George Floyd was forced to the ground and a white police officer pressed his knee against his neck — for eight minutes and 46 seconds until he died. Ahmaud Arbery’s was shot and killed for simply jogging through a white neighborhood. The killing of Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice and Walter Scott are just a few other examples of the painful reality for Black boys and men in the United States. They will always be sons to their endeared but devastated parents.
I try to protect my son by teaching him to pay attention to his surroundings and be prepared to stay calm and collected when approached by a police officer. I know my teachings are a heavy burden to him, but I also know these lessons might save his life if my nightmares should come true. I wonder if white parents will ever see a need to have
this talk with their white sons. I also wonder why I — as a Black parent living in the United States — should have to have this conversation with my son.
A study in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America found that Black women and men, Native American women and men and Latino men face a higher likelihood of being killed by police than white women and men. Breonna Taylor was shot and killed in her apartment for no wrongdoing.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Courts have often sided with law enforcement on cases involving Black people killed by police. Unfortunately, speaking up against the killing of Black people is associated with lack of care and appreciation for white lives and men and women in law enforcement. This is not true. Black people also have the right to seek justice for their children who are killed by police or white vigilantes who believe it is their job to police Black people.
The Killmonger death scene in Black Panther shows Erik and T'Challa (Chadwick Boseman) emerging from a mountain to face a sunset. Erik realized he would die and stared at the setting Wakanda Sun and said “it’s beautiful.”
Those words pierced my heart. I imagined the many years of pain for Black Americans that was revealed by Erik Killmonger and the spiritual significance of his response from witnessing the setting sun. Erik’s response “it’s beautiful” meant to me that through pain we find grace. Through pain we find strength to forgive. Through pain we find strength to prevail. And like the setting Wakanda Sun, one day, the Black struggle shall end.
The scene also depicts T’Challa facing the dying supervillain and saying “Maybe we can still heal you.” These are also important words. We can heal each other from the harms of racism when our nation honors the truth that everyone has the right to live. We can heal each other from the harms of racism when we all abide by the Golden Rule -- Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. I hope upholding this rule will slow us down and prevent lives ending from the pull of that powerful trigger to subdue a Black body.
Walter Suza of Ames has written columns on race and social justice for the Iowa State Daily. His essays have also appeared in the Des Moines Register and MSN News. He can be contacted at email@example.com.