Trigger warning: The content of this article engages with systematic racism and violence against Black people. Some may find it unsettling.
A teenager’s recent video explaining the “unwritten rules” his mother makes him follow as a young Black man navigating society has struck an emotional nerve online amid a rash of violent and deadly acts committed against Black people.
Cameron Welch, an 18-year-old recent high school graduate who goes by the username skoodupcam on TikTok, shared the powerful clip on May 29, addressing the realities of what it is like to be a Black man in America, following the recent killing of George Floyd in police custody, the shooting death of jogger Ahmaud Arbery, the killing of Breonna Taylor, an EMT who was shot by police as she slept, and the harassment of Christian Cooper by a white woman in Central Park.
“Don’t put your hands in your pockets. Don’t put your hoodie on. Don’t be outside with no shirt on,” Welch lists off in his now-viral video. “Don’t touch anything you’re not buying. Never leave the store without a receipt or a bag, even if it’s just a pack of gum. Never make it look like there’s an altercation between you and someone else.”
“Never leave the house without your ID,” he continues. “Don’t drive with a wifebeater on. Don’t drive with a du-rag on. Don’t go out in public in either. Don’t ride with the music too loud. Don’t stare at a Caucasian woman.”
Welch’s commentary, which has since been viewed over 9 million times, serves to highlight the often-unseen rules that many Black Americans are burdened to follow in their everyday lives — lest they risk verbal and physical retaliation, ranging from damaging to lethal — that their white counterparts have never had to consider.
TikTok users reacted strongly to the video, with some expressing heartbreak over how relatable they found it to be.
“This breaks my heart,” said one user.
“The fact our parents have to tell us this is sad,” commented another. “We have to do this just to go outside.”
“The fact that you can’t just live your life is sickening,” added a third.
“The sad reality”
Although the video is going viral now in 2020, the conversation between Welch and his mother is not new for many Black and African-American households, according to Dr. Donathan Brown, the Assistant Vice President of Rochester Institute of Technology’s Division of Diversity and Inclusion.
“Being Black in America has always consisted of adjusting and adhering to a different set of rules than most, rules that are explicitly clear and accurate in this TikTok,” Dr. Brown told In The Know. “Being Black in America means that you are not afforded the benefit of the doubt; you are presumed guilty until proven innocent beyond a shadow of a doubt; are deemed suspicious solely from wearing specific items of clothing (i.e., hoodies); are perceived as a threatening menace, among other realities.”
“The sad reality that many Black parents and families face is engaging these conversations with their children as a way to prepare them for the unjust ways of the world around them,” he added. “For all the wrong reasons, such conversations bear no difference across time, whether 1960 or 2020, it’s all the same.”
“It pains my heart”
Maria M. Barlow, a lawyer and single mother of one son, told In The Know she was actually “brought to tears” by how strongly she related to Welch’s video.
Barlow, whose Chicago-based practice specializes in family criminal law and civil litigation, said the clip “mirrored” ideals she has taught her own child for years.
“I always tell my son, if he is ever taken into custody, he does not request his mother or father, he must ask for a lawyer,” she said. “He can call me but he must never ask for me because he has no constitutional right to his mother but has a right to a lawyer. I also always tell him never to give a statement. The police are looking to make an arrest and not to conduct a trial in the station.”
“I teach my son that if his (diverse) friend group is doing something wrong, he must immediately part ways,” she added. “If something happens, (his white friends) will most likely go home and he will go to jail, or end up with a harsher sentence.”
Barlow also revealed an even more stringent set of unwritten rules she plans to share with her young son when he reaches the age where he can drive, similar to Welch’s own mother’s rules.
“He will be required to drive with a dash camera on to record any interaction inside and outside of the car,” she said. “He will also be required to keep his driver’s license and insurance card in a separate small wallet above his visor — that way, he can ensure his hands are up. If stopped, he is required to stop his car and immediately put his hands out the window. Because his license and insurance are above him in the visor, police can easily access them or he can reach and his hands remain up.”
“Never consent to search, but do not resist a search,” she continued in her extensive but necessary list. “Be very firm on any and all refusals to search. Never resist arrest. I teach my son his rights as a U.S citizen, but I also teach him what he must do in violation of those same rights because he is Black and will be seen differently.”
“It pains my heart that I have to teach him two sets of rules, but if I don’t, the rights guaranteed to him in the Constitution could get him killed in an interaction with law enforcement,” she added.
“The goal was to … come home alive”
Thinking back to her own childhood, Dr. Enchanta Jenkins, a 49-year-old OB/GYN based in San Diego, Calif., told In The Know that she recalled her mother teaching her similar “rules” nearly five decades ago.
“I followed her words and instructions religiously,” said Dr. Jenkins. “The goal was to do your best, be helpful, come home alive and call if you have any issues while away from home or while at home alone. The truth is that we as a people have developed our own system to survive and pass those survival techniques onto our children so we can see multiple generations survive in this land we call our home.”
“It may seem unfair,” she added, “but tell me, don’t you want your children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren and multiple generations to live and survive and live well?”
If you’re looking for a way to make a difference, check out our roundup of ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement.
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