When my son was younger, I occasionally took him to Capitol Park where we’d walk in the shade of stately trees and feed the squirrels. Early one morning as we were strolling along, we came upon a dead squirrel whose stiff body had been squashed and smashed into the soft earth.
Becoming agitated, he demanded to know what had happened to the poor squirrel. I told him I did not know, that the animal could have gotten too old and just tired out, that maybe he had an accident and slipped, dropped and died after the fall, that maybe the policeman on the horse in the distance had accidentally stepped on him. It was impossible to tell. He asked me what was going to happen to the squirrel, but again I had no answer. When he asked if we could take it home to bury it, I told him that people don’t bury dead squirrels.
What I did not tell him is that some people look at dead squirrels and feel sad for a moment, but then they walk away and quickly forget about what they saw and how bad they felt. He prayed for the squirrel that night before he went to bed and he never mentioned it again. I’ll probably take him to the park again soon, to talk about father and son things. I have not looked forward to it, as I have always worried the day will come when I will have to admit to him that many of the things I told him were lies.
I told him the things my father told me, though I could no longer believe them. I always stressed to him that it does not make a difference what race or color people are, that we are all the same. I told him that if he worked really hard, he could earn himself an illustrious and secure life. I told him the police put bad people in jail and serve the interests of honest citizens. I told him that America was the greatest country in the world, and like most children, he believed everything I said without doubt ing for a moment.
So how do I tell him I deceived him and why? When do I admit I lied to protect his young heart, his precious sense of morality even as it developed; his innocence and all his potential for accomplishing good? How can I tell him that when he grows up, he’ll be targeted and persecuted for the rest of his life, that no matter how well he does professionally, he will be stopped and devalued by law enforcement who will never let him forget that he is a “nigger?”