The world—the days—was predictable until mid-March. I was certain of what my semester and summer would look like. I would finish my classes in May and head out to Washington, D.C., in June for my summer fellowship. Unfortunately, COVID-19 struck. My college, Delta State University, closed campus, put my classes online, and the rest of the world took a hiatus. Scrolling through Facebook became part of my daily routine. Between the occasional memes and updates of coronavirus cases, a friend request popped up in my notifications. The profile name was “Stackz Quincy.”
I thought, “Who is this nigga?!” Scanning the page, I discovered it was my little cousin, Quincy. His page was clogged with TikTok videos and N.B.A. Youngboy. I noticed an Adam’s apple, creeping out like Pinocchio’s nose, in all of his photos. I calculated Quincy’s age in my head and figured up he was 15. Little dude was becoming a man, and I was missing it all. What kind of man lingered in my mind. I’d help babysit and nurture Quincy since his birth, but I’d had little input since he moved away three years ago. He was not my son, but the mother in me regretted not knowing the stranger on my screen. How had he been shaped? One thing was certain: I had not been there for that shaping.
Hurriedly, I reached out to say hello and catch up on Messenger asking him questions about school and what he wanted to do. He replied, “Nuh”… “Ion know” and “I ain’t thought ‘bout it”.
By the end of our conservation, we agreed to link up on Zoom to do some lessons while he was out of school. That whole week I contemplated what to share with him, thought through how I could make it appeal to him, worried if I would give him the wrong understanding. I didn’t know what to teach Quincy, let alone how. I pushed those thoughts aside for the time being and tried to focus on my coursework for my Race, Crime, & the Law class. My professor, Dr. Steward, was covering policing and its history with minority groups in the U.S. I finished reading our assigned pages and learned the first cops were slave patrols1. It dawned on me that maybe I should teach Quincy about race, but I brushed the thought off and reasoned I should leave that up to his mom. I crawled into bed that night, still clueless about what to teach him.
Around 2 a.m. the next morning, I woke up from a nightmare. Dr. Steward was giving a Zoom lecture about police brutality and racial bias. She showed a recording of a police officer beating a boy. The boy kept crying out, “I ain’t do nuh!” But. the officer continued to hit him. He beat the kid until he was unconscious.
Dr. Steward paused the video and asked, “Now why didn’t you tell Quincy about his body?” She clicked back to her PowerPoint slides, and Quincy’s smile dazzled across the screen alongside Trayvon Martin’s. The boy of my dream said “Nuh,” just like Quincy; the boy of my dream wore a white muscle shirt, like Quincy; the boy of my dream was young, skinny, and Black just like Quincy. I couldn’t go back to sleep after that. I stayed up staring at the photos on my roommate’s wall, wondering what the dream meant, thinking God was giving me a premonition, a warning about Quincy’s future. I prayed so hard it was just a mixture of my earlier worry, assigned readings, and the Coke I had before bed.
When the sun came, I’d made up my mind to teach Quincy everything I’d learned about race.
I paused, looked at him through the screen and saw his face filled with confusion. I hoped Quincy wouldn’t see my lesson as boring or unnecessary. I hoped he’ d see the connections between race and the present. I needed him to understand his Blackness had been an incentive for murder from 1619 with the first shipment of slaves to the U.S. and extended to 2020 with the killing of Ahmaud Arbery. I needed to make him understand the Black body had always been under attack, and he needed to be aware of that. I wanted Quincy to learn how to defend himself and be prepared to do so. I tried to press all of the knowledge, all of the fear, and all of the uncertainty in my mind onto Quincy. I realized that Quincy needed me to slow down and explain more. He needed me to be a better teacher, to be patient with him. He needed me to focus on him. Not on the panic inside of myself.
At the end of our first lesson, Quincy told me, “I learned that all the Black people came from Africa.” We scheduled our next section, and I told him I would send him a book to read. He growled, “Aight.” and logged off the call.
I regrouped and reevaluated what I should teach Quincy and why. Dr. Steward’s question from my nightmare popped into my head. Why didn’t you teach Quincy about his body? The truth was I didn’t know how to do it without forcing information onto him. I didn’t want to be responsible if Quincy took the information I gave him and generalized that all of society sees the Black adolescent male as threatening2, and take that and believe it should be a part of his person because the rest of the world already thinks that about him. I feared what I would say would fill Quincy with preconceived notions and stereotypes. I feared it would fill him with fear instead of making him aware.
I couldn’t teach him that lesson, so I decided to do the best I could to guide him toward it. I recalled my own awakening to Blackness and realized it had been through Black literature I learned about Black identity, Black suffering, and Black pride. I scanned the novels on my bookshelf and pulled out every one that had given me a deeper understanding. I scanned the pages and reread the portions I highlighted. I went through Ta-Nehisi Coates’s “Between The World & Me,” Yaa Gyasi’s “Homegoing,” Reynolds’s “All-American Boys,” and Kiese Laymon’s “Heavy.” All of them hit different marks, and the feeling of awakening rushed back with a renewed intensity.
Awakening to Black was a stage of grief for me. I couldn’t vocalize exactly what I had lost; nonetheless, I’d denied, angered and lost hope after reading the books. They broke the colorblind world I knew and the pseudo safety that came with it. I felt lost and found at the same time.
Finally, I flipped through the pages of “Heavy.” I scanned my highlighted sections in the closing chapter and read, “Black children are all worthy of the most abundant, patient, responsible kind of love and liberation this world has ever created.” I knew it would be the book I sent Quincy. In that moment, I understood that I couldn’t rush Qunicy to his awakening. I accepted I couldn’t give it to him. I accepted my guidance couldn’t guarantee his safety. I accepted he would become what he is meant to become and know what he is meant to know in his own time.
References: 1 Gibbidon, S.L., and Greene, H.T. (2019). Race and crime (5th ed). Los Angeles: SAGE.
2 Buckley, T. R. (2017). Black Adolescent Males: Intersections Among Their Gender Role Identity and Racial Identity and Associations With Self-Concept (Global and School). Child Development, 89(4). doi: 10.1111/cdev.12950