Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Unexpected Emotions at the School Holiday Concert

Our fourth-grader played in his first holiday band concert at school tonight. When I tell you that I felt certain emotions at an elementary school band concert, you might think that I mean nostalgia or joy.  You might also ask if boredom is an emotion; the concert was a mercifully-brief 83 minutes.

Unfortunately, I felt grief and preemptive worry for Charlie's black male classmates.  The concert kicked off with the school's locally-famous drumming group playing together.  Each player drumming his or her beat contributes to an impressively complex and polished cadence.  These kids know what they're doing; they drum every morning at morning assembly.  Front and center, a group of fourth and fifth grade boys anchored the drumming group.  All but one of them were African American.  Their faces looked beautiful.  They exuded such competence and confidence, especially the one leader who took cues from the music teacher and artist-in-residence and communicated changes to the rest of the drummers.  They laughed and smiled and focused and exhibited showmanship.  They looked innocent and sweet.

While I watched, them, though, I worried for them.  I know they come from all different backgrounds and that some of them will be better positioned to succeed in life than my sons.  I also know, however, that more than likely, the road to accomplishment in life for any one of them will be much harder than it is for my two little white boys.  They will have to overcome prejudice and assumptions.  They'll be less likely to get second chances and even first chances at certain things.  The likelihood that any one of them might end up in jail is way higher than the likelihood that one of my sons will.

I try to take solace in the fact that they attend an integrated school (about 2/3 African American, most of 1/3 White and a sprinkling of Asians and Latinos) with a dynamic African American principal with a Ph.D.  I try to take solace in the fact that being young and male and black in this country in 2011 should afford more safety and opportunity in life than being young and male and black 60 years ago.  My solace falters, though, through everything I know about where things still stand in our society.  I pray that the potential I saw in Charlie's classmates tonight can overcome the many barriers they will confront.


Lauren Jackson said...

Wonderful! I loved hearing this snippet of your concert, Charlie.

Anne H. said...

Interesting thoughts Jeff, with which I agree. I recently read a short piece in the NY Times written by a young black man. It was about the several times he's been stopped for no reason by the police, hassled, then let go without apology when the cops couldn't find anything illegal going on. He wrote about how all of his male friends have been similarly harassed, and how frightening and upsetting it is. He said they never know if this is the stop that will turn ugly, when one of them will be shot by a cop who claims he was running away or going for a nonexistant gun. It was shocking. Black males, especially young ones, live in a different world, one that none of us would care to inhabit.