By Jasmine Kelly
Unless you have been living under a rock or on a beach (it is summertime) you would know that the film, “When They See Us” by Ava DuVernay is what everyone is talking about and for good reason. The movie tells the story about The Central Park 5 (now The Exonerated 5) and how the five teenagers were wrongly convicted of assault and rape. The movie is based on the real-life accounts of Yusef Salaam, Korey Wise, Kevin Richardson, Raymond Santana Jr., and Antron McCray.
While watching the movie, Antron, Yusef and Korey Wise’s stories struck a chord with me. I paid even more attention to those young men’s stories due to the influence that their parent(s) had on them, and it made me think about black parenting and its effects on black children.
It’s no secret that Black and White parents often raise their children differently. White children are frequently allowed to “explore the world,” which is exhibited by running free in public places or expressing their displeasure with a decision a parent has made. Black children, on the other hand, are taught to accept the word of their parents above all else and are often taught to be quiet and polite when in public. (King, 2015)
Because black children are taught to maneuver accordingly in the world that their parents inhabit, it shapes the way they see the world. That same child can either feel suppressed or free because America is America. This country has a long history of conflict with the Black community, and, consequently, that child will often feel confined. “In order to combat the realities of racism, black parents historically adopted a strict authoritarian style of parenting. Parents don’t want their children to be victimized.” (Meadows-Fernandez, 2017) There is even a breakdown in how black males and black females are reared.
According to King (2015):
In the study Parenting Styles African American and White Families with Children–Findings From an Observational Study, research reveals that male children are parented more harshly than female children. While some Black parents do this in an attempt to prepare their sons for the realities of white Supremacy, this style of parenting often sends the message that aggression and violence are acceptable forms of behavior.
Antron, Yusef and Korey’s stories were most poignant to me because of their parents and the sacrifices they made; for better or for worse. From the very beginning I observed how involved (and knowledgeable) Yusef’s mother was. Yusef’s mother, Sharon Salaam, intervened in an already prolonged interrogation with Linda Fairstein. I vividly recall Sharon’s character in the film, Aunjanue Ellis, because of her quick action. Granted, all the characters in the film had different family dynamics, but Sharon stood out to me because she was unapologetic in the manner in which she parented her child. I could tell that she was a very strong influence on Yusef. Even though he became unfortunately caught up in the penal system, I could tell that he remained grounded, and I feel that was because of his mother. From the film, I remember the visits that the both would have with one another while Yusef was incarcerated, and it seemed as if he was not there when they spoke because that is how powerful her words transcended his predicament.
Antron’s parenting dynamic was prominent to me as well because it was the most unfortunate to me. Unlike the other characters, Antron had both guardians in the home. His mother and his father were both active in his life and not just present. It was very disheartening when his father succumbed to the pressure of the detectives trying to blackmail him and, in turn, made his son admit to the acts that he did not commit. Antron’s story was devastating to me because his father tried to protect him the best way that he could, and those actions alone contributed to Antron’s demise. I could tell that he was doing the best that he could; he was trying to protect his son because he understood the devastating effects of the penal system.
Korey’s story was the most difficult to watch and truthfully, I fast-forwarded most of his story because it was hard for me to watch his experiences while in prison. However, I did not fast-forward the argument that Korey’s mother had with his older sister, Marci. Of course, she was against Marci’s lifestyle and said many hurtful things, but I also learned what Korey’s mother did to provide for her family. She sold drugs. Sure, Korey’s mother was not a saint, but she was doing the best she could with what she had. It was evident that Korey’s mother was raising her family out of survival and protection.
Watching this movie was riveting to say the least and we all as viewers took different things away from the film. My takeaway was the importance and history of black parenting and how unfortunately it does not always occur out of love, but necessity first, which is survival and that does not happen without protection.
Jasmine Kelly is a contributing writer for the Pedestal Project, LLC. Jasmine is a higher education professional who believes in the powers of Black Twitter. You can follow her on Instagram @chicomydusty.