My son is five and he loves sharks.
We are currently in an ongoing, peaceful but frustrating debate about his beloved fish. Parents of toddlers know how difficult it can be to teach them important lessons when they need to change ideas they previously embraced about their beloved and wondrous favorites.
Five or more times a day, I have to remind him- “Sharks dont hunt people. Actually, some people hunt sharks and it is wrong. We should protect sharks. We protect them by leaving them alone.”
Even right now as I write (he read the title on my screen and is now hanging on my shoulder blocking my view with his head), he is whispering to me, “…sharks hunt people, right?.”
He simply cant shake the fact that the sharks he see on tv and in videos are super hungry for people.
I remember the moment(s) when I began to realize that I was a being that would be hunted like an animal. The idea of being a target, something’s prey stole my innocence. As kids, we were never told this directly. But we eventually understood what it meant to hear adults say, “ Don’t walk through Mr. Peele’s yard.” Or, “ Don’t pass over yonder by yourself.”
Slowly you begin noticing the actual hunters. Pale, blond kids training their middle fingers with a sightline to some part of you which is unclear. What are they aiming at?
Soon, you assume it’s your face. As an adolescent, they aim their glass bottles, rocks, and fists at your black eyes, nose, and lips. They hate the way we look? But it will be ok. Eventually the good elders and black media will teach us that Black is Beautiful. Thank the gods for them.
But then you learn history. Your eyes get clearer from reading. You see each white person you meet and an agent. Their skin is their weapon, never sheathed. It burdens your life even while the bearer sleeps. Whether through a thousand tiny cuts, a bludgeoning, a savage thrashing assault, a riot of bullets, or a perfectly aimed shot to the heart-
What they always wanted was our blood… our life. Now the black and white photos of drained black bodies hanging from trees match the full color memes of slumped shells of black men and women discarded on western asphalts. Together the past and present flow through the global internet- a supernatural carnage.
All I’ve ever been known to be, however, was the shark, the menace, the sharp toothed suspect.
I dont hide the images of the sharks attacking people from him. I think its natural. What’s more educational than seeing an animal protecting itself from extinction. I do hide the constant lynchings. Because he is FIVE YEARS OLD.
He still believes that he is a hero.
But everyday he is confused about whether sharks are good or evil. (he literally just asked me this seconds before I typed this final paragraph. I swear this uncanny life cannot be understood if you are not Black. the irony is stupefying.) And everyday I have to repeat to him that sharks don’t hunt humans. Humans hunt sharks. Sharks must protect themselves from humans and we have to help protect sharks.