How important is the choice of the color of your phone? Is it a question of style and preference? Is it immaterial to you, as it is to me? Or is it relevant to personal safety and security? My 17-year-old son, Jordan, recently revealed how profoundly one’s race can impact the response to this question. The experience also revealed my ignorance and my privilege.
Jordan was proud of his new painting, done for a school assignment. He walked me through its meaning when showing it to me. A photo of the painting, a 22 x 24-inch canvas, which he named “The Hand of Grief’s Future” is shown here.
Jordan shares that a few years ago he went to T-Mobile with his dad to pick up his phone per our new phone plan. My husband asked him to pick out a phone case. When he picked a black one, his dad said “No, you can’t get black, get a bright color.” Jordan says he asked, “why not?” His dad says, “a black phone can be mistaken for a gun.” Jordan came home with a pink phone case that day, I recall. I didn’t get an explanation about it. Jordan, too, didn’t ask a lot of questions at the time, but over the past few years, as he watches the news and learns how at risk he is, as a black teenager, for being assumed to be dangerous, he sees how his father’s wisdom (represented by the likeness of his dad’s hand) may have saved him and the world from future grief. If he had gotten a black phone and pulled it out at the “wrong” moment, like in the presence of a police officer, he might very well have been shot. He imagined, as the images reflect along the top, that his death (coffin) would become one of those headlines that resulted in justice protests.
“Wow,” I thought. “I have never given the choice of the color of my phone much significance.”
I showed the picture of the painting and told my white high school girlfriend about my son’s inspiration for it. “Wow,” she said,” I would have never thought of that.” Not as in a test but with pride for my son’s work, I also showed the photo at work and explained it. My colleague, a woman who is black wasn’t surprised at all. The difference in her reaction spoke volumes. She said, nonchalantly: “That’s great that he is so conscious, gotta be.”
Yes, unfortunately, he’s gotta be.