Driving While Black: A Teenager Talks To His Father About Race, Politics

Feb 15, 2018

Fathers and sons exchange a lot by being together. Put a microphone in the hands of the son and he will have many questions. This month we offer two conversations from Dayton Youth Radio. Last week we heard from John Hahn, a teen and his father - a white family.  They spoke about race and politics and this week, Centerville High School student Dom Ramsey and his father, who are African American, travel that same landscape. 

My parents grew up in a much different time with much different experiences than what I’ve grow up in.  My father being an African American, and growing up where racism was regularly directed toward him, changed the way he thinks and feels toward other races.  The way that he feels towards them is something that I will never understand fully because I haven't had the first-hand experience of racism that he dealt with when he was my age.

“You know in 1984 I had a teammate, Denver Smith that was shot down by police,” my dad says. “He was shot five times in the back, he didn't have a gun, he wasn't a violent person. He wasn't on meth or PCP; he was gunned down.”

My parents can only tell me stories and try to teach me how to deal with prejudice people. They know that I will never have to go through the hardships he does but they also know the racist, prejudiced people are still around out there.

“John Wayne is their great hero, Ronald Regan is their great president. Donald Trump says ‘let's make America great again.’ I mean their very nostalgic about what they think was a better place, before there was the illusion of equality today, which we know there's not. There is definitely white privilege in this society,” says my dad.

Living in today's world, where we have had tragedies like what happened to John Crawford III, Jonathan Ferrell, and Michael Brown, who were all shot and killed by police while unarmed, getting pulled over or even seeing a cop on the street can be a heart-racing experience.

My dad went to Alter High School during the 70’s and was one of the first African Americans to attend this school. I remember a story that my dad told me about the time when he was a senior in high school and he was going through the recruitment process for football. One day he got a call from the University of Michigan and they asked my dad if he had been receiving the mail that they have been sending. My dad had not been receiving any mail so this raised some suspicion. He went to go talk to his head coach about the problem.  The talk ended with my father's coach pulling out a box full of college letters that my dad was supposed to receive.

What my father been through changed him, but it affects me also. It affects the way I interact with people, and the people I spend time with. A specific example of when my parents worry for me, is when I go out at night. My dad says there's a new crime, “Driving While Black.” With all the police brutality issues going on in America and me being an African American teenager, it's hard for my parents not to be worried about me when I'm out driving around the city. I understand my parents’ concern, but I feel frustrated because I can't go out with my friends.

“Since 1984, since I started paying attention, we've had hundreds of African American males shot down by the police in brutal disregard for life," my dad says.

I did this story because it made me have to address what I go through all the time. Being a black kid in a predominantly white community like Centerville, it stands out to me. It may not stand out to many of my classmates, but being that black student in the class, it stands out to me. Racism is still alive today, and it's been a thing that's been going on since the beginning of this country. It's something I have to deal with and the way that I handle it is controlled by me so I’m going to make the best out of everything.

Dom Ramsey is a student at Centerville High School. Special Thanks to Tricia Rapoch, teacher for the Communication Arts Program at Centerville High School. Learn more at the school's website:  http://www.centerville.k12.oh.us/CHS Dayton Youth Radio is supported by the Virginia W. Kettering Foundation and the Ohio Arts Council.