My Black Son is a Baby, But He Won’t Always Be

May 3, 2021AK Neer

(Reposted with permission from GlobalJews.org)

Being Black in America is its own journey within the journey of just being human, and living, and discovering who you really are on a soul level. Then there’s being Black and Jewish. And then there’s being Black, Jewish, married to a white Jew, and having bi-ethnic Jewish kids. It’s another journey, not an easy one at times, and instead of getting easier as I get older, we seem to be facing more challenges. Instead of the world progressing from the times, attitudes, behaviors, and events of the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s, there’s a regression happening that puts me and my family in danger. They say that sometimes you have to take a step back to go forward. Perhaps this is that step back. A deadly step, but maybe meant to serve as a catalyst for real change and growth? I’ve always believed in divine timing and order, and I pray this is all a part of that. 

I have three children, the first two are cis-gendered females, and the third is our little boy, born only five months ago, in November 2020—Aryeh Mordechai. Race and religion are subjects we discuss fairly often as a family, as we live in the suburbs of Atlanta in an area where there aren’t many Blacks, or Jews. We’re surrounded primarily by white Christian folk, with a heavy sprinkling of Indians and Muslims. And though we’ve found our tribe in the years since relocating here, we have one Black neighbor, and no Jewish neighbors in our fairly large subdivision. And of course almost every time we turn on the news, another Black person has been shot or killed, or another swastika has been painted on a building. My children see very few people who look like them in school, have to miss school for Jewish holidays, and it’s yet another journey I have to take with them as they find their place in this world. 

The recent shooting of Daunte Wright has hit me in a somewhat different way than ALL the other senseless shootings of Black men and women—cis and trans. Not deeper, or more meaningful, but different. You see, the first news video I saw about the shooting was from his mom, and the difference in that video and the many that I’d seen before it, was that his mom was white. But her son was not.

When we had Aryeh, one of the discussions my husband and I had, and will continue to have to have, is that he’s not raising a “mixed” son, or a Jewish son, he’s raising a Black son. For though he might be bi-ethnic and Jewish, as he grows, (future gender identity aside) the world will see him as a Black man. And if the world then is the same as the world now, that puts him in a category risk all its own. 

Aryeh means lion. All of his names were given with intention and meaning. As far as the significance of lions; they are seen as a symbol of strength, power, courage, and even majesty. We had a serious health scare when he was 2 days old (turned out to be nothing, he’s perfectly healthy), but I kept saying to him, “Remember, you’re a lion.” 

With the shooting of Duante Wright, that imagery took on a different meaning. When lions are cubs, the world sees them as these cute little creatures, and you get the “ooooohs” and “awwwwws” at their cuteness and the innocence of being cubs. But when they grow into adults, not even adults, but teens, with just a sprouting of their manes; they often incite fear and panic based on assumptions of their nature. And I wonder if that is the plight of my son as he grows. Will he grow and be seen as a human, just a human, with strength, power, courage, and majesty; treated with respect and humanity; or will he be seen as a threat, and someone to fear or cause panic because he’s blessed with melanin and may likely wear a Star of David pendant on his necklace like I do? 

The answer remains to be seen, but it will remain to be the latter if society as we know it doesn’t change. These aren’t thoughts I thought I’d have in 2021, thoughts and discussions echoed by my own Black family since before I was born almost 40 years ago, and before my mother was born 70 years ago. Discussions every Black family has to have with their Black youth. 

Systemic racism is a thing. If you don’t believe it is it’s because you haven’t been on the receiving end of that racism and you’ve been raised within that system so deeply that you can’t see that there’s something wrong with it. 

Yesterday, the officer responsible for George Floyd’s death was found guilty on all three charges. The media keeps saying it’s justice. But it’s not. It’s accountability. And it’s only the first step in the journey of making this world a better place for my children; a world where my children have a chance to grow into adults. The system doesn’t need to be reformed, it was built on a foundation of racism, homophobia, transphobia, and overall xenophobia. The system needs to be dismantled and rebuilt and it needs to happen now.

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