The SAE Video, Tony Robinson, and Dinner With My Black Son


We went to an ophthalmology appointment today, just Aly and me.  It was long and boring, with a little dilating and a lot of waiting.  He did really well, but when we pulled the car out 2.5 hours after pulling it in, only to be greeted with bumper to bumper 5 o'clock traffic, we both started losing it.  So, I said, let's have a date, I said.  It'll be fun, I said.

What I couldn't have foreseen was that while we asked each other questions over oozing peanut butter sandwiches, the muted TV would be silently screaming at me from the corner of Which Wich.

I couldn't hear a thing, yet I could hear everything.  I could see the Sigma Alpha Epsilon video that just came out of the University of Oklahoma (a school our family has ties to), I could read the subtitles and hear that charter bus chanting them in my head.  I prayed a silent 'thank you' to my God that the television was on mute, not because I thought my 5 year old would understand but because I knew I would weep if he asked me what they were singing.

The coverage ended.  I struggled to regain composure.  Next, they said, next we would hear from the family of 19 year old Tony Robinson, the unarmed black teen who was shot and killed by police on Friday.  (I hadn't even known.  We'd been traveling, and I hadn't even known.)

I pulled mine close to kiss his coarse curls, the kind they hate so much, and he didn't ask why. And over that silent screen I could hear the thundering that black mothers have been hearing for hundreds of years.  And a few tears escaped, but he didn't see, and I can keep him safe for just a few years more.

When I was a freshman in college my roommate and best friend was black. She would often come home with me on long weekends and I'd drive through tiny Texas towns and she'd shrink low in her seat, telling me to step on it and let her know when we'd gone through.  I was 18, white, privileged, and the daughter of a civil rights activist and a fiery social worker.  I laughed her off and waved my hand at her antics, because "no one thinks like that anymore" and "this is 2001, not 1964"!

I was a damned fool, and so are you if you're still reading that script.

The only good thing, the only good, that can come from the deaths of all these unarmed teen boys and the chants of those SAE ignoramuses is that at some point we have to stop pretending that racism is dead.  These things don't happen in a vacuum.  It's insufficient to blame these incidents on a few bad seeds ruining the barrel.  Racism is still in the very fibers of our society, and white privilege is the foundation of it.

Strangers of all ethnicities mostly find my black son charming and lovable now (though much less at 5 than they did at 1), but how will you feel in ten years?  When you see him at the mall being loud with his friends, when he stands a little too close to you on the subway, when he touches things in your store?  What if he's wearing a hoodie?!?

Did you know that mothers of black sons worry about these things?  I used to not.

We're at a critical point in our nation's history.  It's time to see change, for real, not just sweep it under the rug.  It's time to examine our own hearts and habits and root out everything that needs not be there.  It's time to educate ourselves through reading that which makes us uncomfortable, having hard conversations, and admitting that the reality that we see may not be reality itself.

Below are some articles that I have found helpful.  I hope you read them, I hope you are changed by them, I hope you will help me be changed by them too.  Black friends, we need you to speak out, to tell your story, to help us understand.  Most of us want to.  White friends, we need you to humble yourselves and what you think you know.  We need you to look within and do away with every area that our culture of racism has snuck in to who you are.  We can do this together.  We don't really have a choice when children's lives depend on it.

Black Moms Tell White Moms About the Race Talk
The mothers talked about the times their sons had been stopped in their own neighborhoods because "they fit the description".  They shared the times their sons had come home full of rage and hurt for being stopped and questioned for no reason.  And they told the other mothers how often they told their sons to simply swallow the injustice of the moment.  Because they wanted them alive, above all.

White Privilege and What We're Supposed to Do About It
White privilege can look like being able to find a band aid that matches your skin tone.  White privilege can look like walking through an upscale residential neighborhood without anyone wondering what you are doing there.  White privilege can look like wearing a baseball cap and baggy pants and no one assuming you are a criminal.

What I Want You to Know About Being a Young Black Man in America
as scary as people think black males are, black males are conditioned to be ten times more afraid of everyone else.  We're conditioned to be afraid of going to certain parts of the country, afraid of people with certain political views, afraid of police officers, and sometimes afraid of other black and Latino males.

The Dream Lives
Tragically, 1 of 3 African American males born today will serve jail time if current trends hold, and in our nation's capital, 3 of 4.  In some states Black men are sentenced to jail for drug offenses at a rate of 20-50 times greater than White males.

Witnessing Whiteness: The Need to Talk About Race and How to Do It    (*book)

*amazon affiliate link


  1. Shannon, your post was powerful. The picture of Aly at the end, took my breath. For I don't want him to suffer injustice in our world, not your son, not Kay and Randall's grandson. He is just a boy! I have other friends with children of different colored skin, And they too have to be afraid for the future of their sons.
    I pledge to your family and to their families to not remain silent! To speak out, to be informed, to read the essays and books you recommended, to look inside myself and see if "white privilege" lives within me, and if so......eradicate this sin of seeing and believing the lies of this world, that somehow I, could be better than they. "God forgive us all, for seeing the world with our eyes instead of seeing and loving this world with your eyes."

  2. I'm moved by your response, Lea Ann. Thankful to be making a commitment together :)

  3. Randall O'BrienMarch 10, 2015 at 9:26 AM

    This is an apple
    This is a tree
    I listen to Shannon
    And hear me.

    U go, gurl!
    Justice gurl
    Jesus gurl
    U go, gurl!

    Shannon's dad

  4. Erica Giavasis JarrettMarch 10, 2015 at 1:28 PM

    I am so far removed from racial issues, I live in a small town now, almost all white and don't own a TV. I am guilty of feeling like things are better than they are. Thanks for keeping my eyes open.

  5. Randall O'BrienMarch 10, 2015 at 2:02 PM

    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  6. it's funny, I had the same thought!

  7. It's easy to do as a Caucasian person, especially in a small town. Makes it that much harder to be mindful of the true state of things!

  8. Randall O'BrienMarch 10, 2015 at 7:07 PM

    In the Plantation South, those dark days of slavery and despair, Blacks "served" to provide profit and status for Whites. For their fine service they were provided housing and food. Cotton was King. Blacks were disposable utils to bring the wealth of king Cotton to the Big House.
    Today, universities may well be the plantations of yesteryear, where Blacks "serve" to provide profit and status for White institutions. Football is King; Basketball is prince. Are Blacks disposable utils whose primary function is to bring the wealth of King Sport championships to the Big House?
    So what if slaves of yesteryear suffered to make White life privileged in the Big House and society? So what if Blacks suffer abysmal graduation rates (lower than 25%)? Don't we provide housing and food? Isn't all fair?

  9. Wow, lower than 25%? I didn't realize, and I had certainly never thought about it in that light. What would be the course of action for change within the university?

  10. Randall O'BrienMarch 10, 2015 at 9:26 PM

    For starters, the education of student-athletes should be as important---or more important---than the school's athletic success. But tell that to the external university family. Still, putting in place a system to make their graduation a priority is imperative. NCAA penalties and rewards must be put in place and executed. Even so, loopholes will be found, e.g., sham majors, academic advisors doing the actual coursework, etc. Such is already widespread. Money rules.
    Next, major universities make millions off this relatively free labor. Revenue sharing with the student-athletes is just. The NCAA is moving toward greater fairness there in the big time programs, football at least.
    Academic success programs in elementary, and secondary schools would help prepare kids for college. Takes $$ though.
    Coaches can make a huge difference. HUGE!!!!! We give what is expected of us.

  11. Thanks for sharing! Re: your closing comment- I think Carson Newman hit the coaching jackpot, don't you? :)

  12. Randall O'BrienMarch 11, 2015 at 10:02 AM

    Yes, across the board we have great coaches who care about our student-athletes. Then there's the First Lady, in a league of her own 😍.

  13. Edna Shurden LangleyMarch 14, 2015 at 9:30 AM

    Thank you, Shannon. Your words are powerful and inspirational. That darn rug...we need to throw that sucker out the back door and expose and deal with our nation's true feelings. I saw a quote the other day, I now am forgetting the author and the exact wording, which said something like the following: Obama will never truly be recognized for all his successes. Once he has solved most of our problems and provided Affordable Health Care for most, he still will be black." So true and so sad. Thanks, again.

  14. It's pretty hard for any of our presidents to receive credit for any good that they have done, isn't it? I am proud that we have twice elected a black president, but indeed we still have so far to go!


Someday, the light will shine like a sun through my skin & they will say, 'what have you done with your life?' & though there are many moments I think I'll remember, in the end, I will be proud to say, I was one of us.

(Brian Andreas, Storypeople)