Wanna’ Know How it All Starts?

By Zerline Hughes

I’m now privy to how we are ending up incarcerated — and shot at — so easily, as a result of a very, very minor incident involving my son this week. Well, that, and a New York Times article published this week.

I don’t know if it was ageist profiling, gender profiling, or racial profiling, but my boy was thrown out of the library Wednesday. OK … let me clarify and be less dramatic: he was told to leave the children’s room at the public library.

no signThere’s been many a time where I wish a librarian would ask some children and adults to leave the quiet confines of a library. You, too, right? So was the boy horseplaying, loudtalking, or shoving books in his inside jacket pocket to take out of the library without checking out? Um, no. Those who know the boy know that’s far from his character — at least for the time being. In fact, he was just awarded the “Saint Award” at his Episcopalian school this week. When he received the award, they shared an anecdote which revealed that while on a school trip, several kids sneaked into the pool at night after having been warned they couldn’t swim without supervision. When they were caught, they said they had, in fact, stuck to the rules because my boy was there — out of the pool, watching, “supervising” the kids who had chosen to swim in the absence of an adult. He’s so by the book and quite mature.

But apparently, that maturity — amongst other things — was to his detriment at the library this week.

The story: He walked into the children’s section and soon after, the librarian told him to leave because he was too old. Hmph. No one has ever asked me to leave the children’s section while walking up and down the aisles looking for books for my kids. Apparently, the rule is that kids 12 and under are only allowed to use the children’s room. Oh, ok … but wait, the boy is, in fact,12 and under. He’s not even 12 and a half yet.

Yes, I confess, the boy looks like he’s 15 … maybe older on days where he wears his tie, fedora, size 11 dress shoes, even a baseball cap. He’s 5′ 6″ (just confirmed this week during his annual physical) … pretty tall but not the tallest in his 6th grade class of 12 and 13 year olds. So all the librarian had to do was simply ask “how old are you?” and everything would have been settled.

But there was no asking. Just assumptions and the laying down of the law. And the boy left, head hanging low, to go into the teen room of the library. At least he had a secondary place to go, though.

I know there’s always two … no, three sides to the story, but listen to his version.

It’s a library for God’s sake. He wasn’t at the video store in the XXX section trying to sneak a peek. He wasn’t trying to illegally buy cigarettes or liquor. That’s much easier to accomplish anyway, it seems.

My issue with this is 1.) why wasn’t he simply engaged in a conversation and asked about his age? 2.) why wasn’t my son comfortable enough to speak up and tell his age, prove he belonged there? 3.) why wasn’t he offered customer service; why wasn’t he asked what he was looking for, if he needed help and given the respect he was due?

This is how it all starts. This is what is happening in our streets. Instead of the general public asking questions, showing concern, people assume, grab their belongs closer to them, and call 911 to have police “follow up.” Instead of police patrolling an area, asking questions first, and genuinely monitoring a situation with investigative techniques, they’re assuming, profiling and enforcing laws that may not even apply to what they immediately deem a suspect.

Not that we should have to (it’s 2015 for Pete’s sake), we are not getting a chance to prove we have the privilege to be somewhere. It reminds me of having to show our papers proving we’re no longer slaves.

But this case was not racism. The librarian, he said, was an African-American woman. So does that change everything? She was just doing her job and not stereotyping. Or was she? According to that NYT article I mentioned, four former CVS detectives — all African American — filed a class-action lawsuit alleging that their managers required them to target and profile customers of color. Makes you think …

I wish the boy would have asserted himself at the library, showed an ID, given his birth year, something. But think about it: if the librarian were, instead, the library police (yes, that does exist among so many other police units in the District), a school police officer, or a police officer demanding that my boy didn’t belong in a certain neighborhood, or assuming he’d just stolen something, asserting himself in the same fashion would not likely go so well.

And so we had the talk. Again. What to say to people in authoritative roles. What not to say. How not to be disrespectful, and how not to give up your right to be silent. It’s all pretty confusing, and not a conversation anyone should be having with a 12 year old who just wants to go to the library to read a graphic novel.

This sucks.


6 thoughts on “Wanna’ Know How it All Starts?

  1. Oh “boy” the convoy we must have with the smart and mature ones especially. Speak up but not too loudly, be respectful but don’t let people take advantage of you. Constant monitoring takes time and patience if we are to achieve the ultimate of black male success. I love you blog, Bison.

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