March 17th, 2011
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MP910221033I retired from playing video games with my boys.

The frustration involved outweighed the fun I was supposed to be having.  There were two large reasons why I hung up my controller.  The first reason was that I was no longer able to beat them.  The pain I feel in the middle of my chest to the left of my sternum as I admit that makes me flinch.   I need a moment…..Okay I’m good.

This pain is a light caress compared to the pain I felt when they would beat me and then fill the air with trash talk.  That pain felt like they were ripping my flesh from my bones and submersing me in an alcohol bath.  My ability to remain calm and fatherly failed miserably as soon as the flesh ripping trash talk began.


The second reason was the lying by omission.  This again peaked my frustration.  Somewhere in the middle of a red-hot battle as my character sped across the screen some unknown object or monster-sized character would come out of nowhere and turn me to dust.  When I would ask what that was my sons would then reveal a key rule in the game that would have been most beneficial BEFORE we started the game.  They claimed they forgot about this crucial rule and nonchalantly continued to beat me to a bleeding pulp.  There’s that chest pain again.

They knew the rules better than they knew how to breathe.  They just choose to leave out this critical information given me no earthly chance at beating them.  The sinister joy that covered their face when they conquered their father was also very disturbing.

When I was about  eight years old, a group of friends and I went to the corner store, Brickley’s to get some candy.  I was the only child of color in the group and I was excited because it was my first visit to the store.  I was given a quarter and told by my Mom to hold my older brother’s hand as we crossed the busy street.  When we entered the store I went right to the candy and quickly picked a bag of Gold Rush gum.  It was an even exchange,  my quarter for the bag of gum.  I reached in my pocket and pulled out my only quarter and gave it to the old German woman who ran the store.  I put the candy in my pocket and stood to the side of the counter waiting for my friends to make their selections.

A few moments later, the German woman began pointing at me and yelling.  Her German accent was thick and my panic from being yelled at made it impossible for me to understand what she was saying.  She then pointed at my pocket and held out her hand.  Then she pointed to the palm of her hand.  I was still confused and shocked and scared.  I knew something was wrong, but I wasn’t sure what.  One of my older friends picked up on what she was trying to  say.  She wanted me to pay for the candy in my pocket

My problem was I already did.

It was plain to me I did because the quarter I was given was no longer in my pocket.  I tried to explain to the excited store-owner that I had already given her my one and only quarter.  She demanded I pay her for the gum and in her broken English I clearly heard her say,  “You steal!”

To be accused of stealing was humiliating.  I hadn’t known this group of friends too long.  We just recently moved in to the neighborhood and they didn’t know me too well.  The look on their faces told me they weren’t sure if I was a thief or not.  I stood motionless, not knowing what to do.  I didn’t know how to resolve the situation.  Thankfully, a white gentleman who was in the store saw what was happening.    He bent down and asked me,  “Did you pay for that son?”  I nodded my head because speech would have caused the tears, that were damned up behind my eyes, to flow.  He reached into his pocket, pulled out a quarter, and put it on the counter.

My friends concluded their transactions and we all returned home and never spoke about the incident in Brickley’s again.   I never went back to Brickley’s.

Looking back on that incident, I am convinced I was targeted because I was black.  This old German woman believed the stereotype that all blacks were thieves and she made sure I stayed out of her store.  Instead of putting the blame on this bitter German woman, I shouldered the blame.  I thought there was something I should have done to prevent this incident from happening.  I felt like I embarrassed my friends also.  That day I lost some height.  Leaving the store I walked smaller than when I went in.

No one shared with me the rule that I may be treated differently because my skin is darker than most.  I was mid-way through the game and realized the rules that I play by are different.  Knowing the rules of the game takes the burden off of me.  If I understand that some people may treat me differently because of the tone of my skin before they get to know me, then I can see they are the smaller person NOT me.

“But we have never experienced racism in our town/city/village so telling our child about racism only adds to the problem of racism.”

My answer is the same when I am talking to my kids about video games.  Tell me everything that might happen.  Explain to me the possibilities that exist.  Give me full disclosure as to the rules by which I am playing and then let me play.  If I don’t know all the rules when I am playing the game and I lose, I walk away from the game thinking it is me who is bad not the game or the rules.

“At what age do I explain the rules and how do I explain the rules?”

I don’t know.

Each parent knows their own child and what they can understand and what they can’t.

I can only share how I introduced the rules to my son.  When my youngest was about seven or eight, the story about the Harvard professor who was arrested on his own front porch was all over the news.  We were watching TV together and it was the perfect opportunity to explain the rules.  Then I could point out what the police could have done better, and what the professor could have done better.  Now if my son ever gets in that situation, he knows the rules and how to play the game to win and the rules have nothing to do with him personally.

Since they can’t retire from the world like I can from video games I have to explain all the rules so they can compete.  It is my job to try and prevent the most flesh ripping pain I can.

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One Response to “The Rules”

  1. Margie C says:

    Thank you Kevin! This is a great post because the rules ARE different if you have dark skin. Your story reminds me so clearly of when I was a kid and I worked in my grandfather’s grocery store. Anytime an African American customer entered the store, my Grandpa, a first generation immigrant from Eastern Europe, would caution me to “Watch ‘em!”
    These messages seeped into my twelve-year-old brain, I have no doubt. It takes time to change people’s attitudes–and I hope we as a society are changing for the better, and I think transracial adoption is one of the ways that we are evolving.

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