It’s the start of football season and, despite having no interest in the actual game, I’m fully tuned into the latest drama and ensuing politics. You’ve heard of Ray Rice, right? The former Baltimore Raven that had a promising career before the video of him beating his now-wife unconsciousness in an Atlantic City casino earlier this year was leaked on TMZ.
Oh yes, that Ray Rice… just another man beating his woman. They’re all violent, right? Wrong.
I’ve become increasingly sensitive to the effects society’s expectations have on the identity of my growing, little black man. Here are a few parenting values my husband and I focus on when raising our boy to love and respect women – and himself.
1. Self worth is everything: In our home, we don’t tear down our son. His positive behaviors are rewarded and negative ones are redirected. We teach empathy and compassion – and other parenting values our family finds important – by example. In our home, being a black boy is celebrated and honored. The foundation of self worth set by loving parents is paramount for black sons who otherwise encounter negative examples.
2. We stand for values: Before we had kids, my husband and I sat down and defined our family values. With a family mission to support them, we teach our children right and wrong according to us. This includes the belief that men do not hit women. As a general rule, violence is never an answer for either gender. We talk about and live our family mission constantly, helping our kids to identify when friends (or people in the media) act in ways opposite of those values.
3. Love your women: Apart from loving me, it makes me proud to watch my son interact with his sister. He listens to her, learns from her. He stays close to her at the playground, keeping a watchful eye, and while he’s two years younger, I encourage this behavior. Our family values dictate a strong sibling relationship – they’re legacy is what will carry on after us – and teaching them to protect, respect and connect with each other is just another way they learn how to navigate intimate relationships with the opposite gender.
4. Pick your friends (and idols) carefully: Bad people are everywhere and come in all colors. But as a multiracial mom, the fear I have for my black son growing in America is impossible to ignore. As our son grows, he will learn to pick values over friends. And while people make mistakes and often deserve forgiveness, we want him to know that standing by the values we’ve taught him will lead him in the right direction. Sometimes friends (or professional athletes), make horrible decisions that warrant no support because they oppose the values in which we stand for.
5. You are not a stereotype: Despite statistics that show women across races are equally vulnerable to domestic violence by an intimate man in their lives, black men are the poster children for this horrific behavior. African American males make up one third of violent abusers, yet due to the projection of “super predators,” our society adheres inherent violent behavior upon them. Black and multi-racial children cannot carry the entire responsibility of changing this perception.
As parents, teachers and a society at large, the responsibility to change these perceptions belongs to us. For the protection of our cultural fabric, our daughters and the self esteem of boys, the stereotypes that bind our sons should be challenged by us all.
Domestic violence is reprehensible. As a public figure, Ray Rice should be ashamed of the message he’s sent to young boys. However, parenting in “post-racial America” means teaching our sons to combat societal expectations while maintaining their self worth is paramount if we want them to know how to love and respect women – and themselves.