Lessons from my Father: On Not Becoming a Victim in Black America

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by Kioshana Lacount

Like many people of color, I have carried with me the burden of a heavy heart over the last few weeks. My anguish, though originated elsewhere, was only compounded  with what I feel is the wrongful acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. I have been looking for answers, trying to process this in my mind, trying to make sense of this madness, but everywhere I turn I am confronted with more lunacy. I hear Black people saying that Trayvon’s death doesn’t matter because “Black men kill other Black men every day” and non-Blacks telling me that they feel the killing was justified because, at 6’2 and 158 pounds, Trayvon Martin was an intimidating enough presence that, when provoked by Zimmerman, the use of deadly force was the only viable option to contain him.

The resounding question in my mind today, though, is not whether Zimmerman was justified (because there is no amount of evidence in this world that would make me believe that shooting that child through the chest was the only choice Zimmerman had), but how can we stop things like this from happening in the future? How can we stop the killings of the Trayvon Martins and Jordan Davises? How do we stop the brutal police beatings in cases like Gabby Calhoun?

In order to wrap my mind around this situation, I turned to the one man I respect more than any other in my life – my dad. My dad is not what many people consider to be the “typical Black man”. He works (and has my entire life), he pays his bills and child support, he doesn’t drink or do drugs, and he’s never been to jail. I joke with him sometimes that his standard uniform on a typical day is a polo-style shirt (but not name brand, because he doesn’t believe in wasting money like that) in a neutral color, jeans that are actually in his size, and white tennis shoes. He cusses when he’s mad, but he never uses his hands to express anger. His level of education extends only to a high school diploma, but he’s one of the smartest men that I know – and though he’s Alabama born and bred, you’ll never hear him say the word ain’t. He’s been in my life my entire life, even though he and my mother divorced when I was 13.

I said all that to say that my dad comes from a different viewpoint on many things in life. You would think that he’s “old-school” by most of what he says, and most would be surprised to learn that he’s only 48 years old. He’s never been one to fall victim of the hype of being a thug or ghetto or hood, even though he was raised dirt poor in a tiny Alabama town in the 60’s and 70’s.

I asked him yesterday, after watching yet another interview surrounding the Martin case, whether or not it was hard to be a Black man in America. This is what he told me:

“Baby, it’s no harder being a Black man than it is to be any other kind of man in America. I’ve lived my whole life as a Black man and I’ve been just fine with it. The difference is, though, that I don’t walk around acting stupid and making myself an easy target. Neither me or any of my brothers have ever been put into those situations, because we were raised not to act that way. Young people have let these celebrities and rappers fool you into thinking that that’s what success is – but look at the people with real money – who are the people have real money in this world? People who work and are educated – people who act like they’ve got some sense.”

He acknowledged that there is unfairness in our society, but he made it a point to show that it doesn’t define him. Yes, he feels for the family of Trayvon Martin, and yes he thinks its unfair that his killer has walked free – but he doesn’t blame White America or the system for everything that has gone wrong. Instead of looking for someone or something to blame, he takes personal responsibility for himself and his actions. He chooses not to dwell on all the things that he sees wrong with the world, but rather, he focuses on what he can do to make his life better day to day. Is this a popular notion? Probably not – but it has kept him alive and out of trouble for 48 years, when many of his friends from childhood cannot say the same.

I look at my father and think of how intimidating a presence he is. He is 6’1, 200 pounds, with skin the color of coffee and a beautiful smile that he rarely ever shows. My father commands respect, and is the type of person that needn’t even speak in order to get you to listen to him. He is a natural leader and could have easily been the top man in a gang or the CEO in a boardroom – yet, he is more than happy doing his job and living his life. I think how even his nickname, “Man”, shows the reverence with which people who know him look at him. I think about how, even at 26 years old, he has the power to put the fear of God in my heart (through the telephone, I might add, as he lives several states away).

Yet he’s managed to not go down the wrong paths, and has raised his children to be successful as well. I pride myself on being a strong, intelligent woman of color, understanding that there is great pride and responsibility that comes with that. And as much as I give credit to the other strong women in my life (my mother, and my grandmother especially), I know that I would be remiss if I didn’t give him credit as well for helping to mold me into the woman that I am today. My daddy taught me a long time ago that the world doesn’t care a thing about me, and that no one is going to hold or coddle me when I get my feelings hurt. He taught me that it is up to me to be strong for myself, and to hold myself to a higher standard if I want to exceed the expectations that this society has in store for me. There have been people in my life who never thought I would amount to anything – that being a mixed race child in Alabama would doom me to a life of mediocrity at best. My mother held me and comforted me and encouraged me like only a mother can – my father told me to get up and get over it, because the world wasn’t going to stop throwing punches just because my feelings were hurt. And in the end, her love mixed with his (almost callous) determination is what makes me the person I am today – a young woman who has traveled the world, who graduated first in her class from university, and who owns her own destiny and sense of self.

Thank you, Daddy – I love you.

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