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Two sons, two very different conversations

Colleen Corona
Two sons, two very different conversations
Colleen McCusker Cornona (Photo: Courtesy Colleen Corona)

I have two sons. One of them is black, and one is white. We live in Easton, a wonderful community, and we have had no major issues here. However, living in this community does not protect my black son from the world.

I have had to raise my two sons differently. There were lessons I taught my black son that I did not have to teach my white son. I spent a lot of time with my black son discussing what he needs to do when he’s out in the street; how he needs to act and dress. I have had to tell him to make sure he does not startle people, or intimidate them. I have told him to smile, to always be polite, to never talk back. I have had to teach him, with a certain urgency, exactly how he should behave if he is stopped. I should not have to do this.

As my sons grew up, I have watched as they were treated differently. I have been in a store with both my sons, and watched as one is followed and one is not. One of my sons has been stopped, and stopped, and stopped, and stopped again. One has not. One son has had his car searched on the side of the road, and has had a trooper express complete surprise, after running his license, that my son did not have a record or even a ticket. I have sat in my car outside Frothingham Park on a beautiful sunny day, waiting for my son to retrieve a baseball hat. As he jogged toward me, a woman walking out of the park in front of him turned and saw him coming up behind her, and a look of pure fear crossed her face. She sprinted toward her car and fumbled for her keys in a panic, trying to get in. At 3 p.m. On a Tuesday. In Easton. She ruined that beautiful day for me.

There have been many more incidents, some less significant and some much worse. I have learned, over the years, to be hyper-vigilant, looking for signs that things are not quite right, always on the defensive, trying to protect my child. It is not a good way to live.

Both sons live in other states now. If the phone rings late at night and it’s my black son, there is always a spark of fear that I do not have when my white son calls. It is a fear that never leaves me, a fear that I will lose him in a senseless way just because he is black. I worry about what people will say about him if something does happen, that they will try to paint him in a certain light. I talk to him constantly about being careful; obeying the law in ways I never talk about with my white son. I should not have to have these conversations, or this constant fear.

These things, they gradually make you…tired. It is one small injustice after another, and over time, it grinds you down. Eventually, even the little things, the unintended slights, make you angry.

Before anyone posts another story about how, if people just behaved correctly, nothing would happen to them — please think. Think of DJ Henry and his family, and the tragedy they have suffered. Before you tell me that you don’t see race, think. Because it isn’t true. Before you tell me that my son “isn’t really black” because he is a well-behaved young man, raised here, by me — think. When you say that (and it has been said to me often) you are, by default, defining all other black men in a certain way. He is always black, and that will not change no matter how polite he is.

Please, for a moment, put yourself in my shoes and the shoes of other parents of black sons, and try to understand. As the mother of a black son, I understand that this is not just about DJ Henry or Eric Garner or Michael Brown. It is about the cumulative weight of it, the anger that slowly builds, until a match is thrown.

Colleen Corona is the mother of two sons and a daughter. She is a selectman in the town of Easton and a former president of the Massachusetts Selectmen’s Association