Election Section

Commentary: Teaching My SonOne of Life’sHardest Lessons By CAROLYN DOELLING

Tuesday January 17, 2006

Last weekend my son was confronted by a team of police in a parking lot when he was returning from watching the Chronicles of Narnia. He was held at bay on suspicion of robbing the nearby Circuit City store even though the description of the suspect was i n no way similar to his physical features except that he is an African-American.  

He was ultimately released but not without substantial emotional distress. The incident, the first of its kind for him, has officially initiated him as a black male in America. Ironically, the incident occurred just weeks after a lengthy debate that was held among the student body and faculty of his high school about whether racism is still a factor in the East Bay.  

As rewarding as it may be at times, being the parent of a 16-year-old is no easy task. There are many lessons we must teach about the finer points of getting along in the world, even when we’d rather not, especially the message I needed to deliver to him about the varying levels of freedom in America.  

Here i s my message to my 16-year-old son:  

Freedom has a different ring. 

Even though you maintain an A average in math and science at one of the most prestigious high schools in the nation, even though you are fluent in French and play on the tennis team, eve n though you are a featured musician in a local youth orchestra, in spite of all of the good you will do in life helping others, in the eyes of the police and the majority population of Americans, you are black and therefore a criminal.  

Many of your fri ends live in upscale residential areas where it is not safe for you to walk at night when you visit them because the neighbors will automatically suspect you of wrongdoing. You will be followed when you go shopping, especially if you choose to shop in ups cale department stores.  

Since you have started driving, you also need to know that you will most likely be pulled over by the police, even though you are not speeding, have current registration and insurance and have your seat belt fastened. 

It is a ge neral societal policy, my son, that black youths are questioned for crimes more frequently than any other segment of the population. These incidents create fear and distress for you, but just imagine what it must be like for other young black males target ed for this discrimination. Most do not have the resources or an advocate to fight back. 

Recent studies on health disparities of ethnic groups have proven decidedly how social stress can have a devastatingly negative effect on normal physiologic function ing. This association holds for most chronic illnesses, including hypertension, diabetes and coronary artery disease. The psycho-social stress caused by these insidious racist incidents builds up over time, affected by one incident after another. The para noia about future experiences only adds to the stress level. 

When researchers control for variables such as education level, income and other socio-economic factors, African-American males, whether Harvard- or Yale-trained professionals, or not, are stil l more likely to have a shorter life span. Living in a racist society is deadly. 

There are hard lessons for a 16-year-old to learn, and even more difficult for a parent to teach. 



Carolyn Doelling is an Oakland resident.›n