The Black Male Code

By Jesse Washington, explained to his twelve-year old:

Always pay close attention to your surroundings, son, especially if you are in an affluent neighborhood where black folks are few. Understand that even though you are not a criminal, some people might assume you are, especially if you are wearing certain clothes.

Never argue with police, but protect your dignity and take pride in humility. When confronted by someone with a badge or a gun, do not flee, fight, or put your hands anywhere other than up.

Please don’t assume, son, that all white people view you as a threat. America is better than that. Suspicion and bitterness can imprison you. But as a black male, you must go above and beyond to show strangers what type of person you really are….

I am 6-4 and more than 200 pounds, son. You probably will be too. Depending on how we dress, act and speak, people might make negative assumptions about us. That doesn’t mean they must be racist; it means they must be human.

Let me tell you a story, son, about a time when I forgot about the Black Male Code.

One morning I left our car at the shop for repairs. I was walking home through our quiet suburban neighborhood, in a cold drizzle, wearing an all-black sweatsuit with the hood pulled over my head.

From two blocks away, I saw your mother pull out of our driveway and roll towards me. When she stopped next to me and rolled down the window, her brown face was full of laughter.

“When I saw you from up the street,” your mother told me, “I said to myself, what is that guy doing in our neighborhood?”



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  • I think it’s so sad that this type of talk even needs to be made to young black men and women—but that’s just the type of world we live in, unfortunately. But I do have to admit that the climax of your story gave me the biggest belly laugh! At times like this, the best thing we can do is try to stay positive, protect ourselves, and have a sense of humor.

  • Prodigal Daughter

    Margo, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

    In my single days up north, I dated a black man who grew up in the south (I am white). One day, a cop pulled us over while we were driving in my boyfriend’s car. He immediately rolled down the window and put both hands out so that the cop knew where his hands were. The cop politely but firmly told him to put his hands back into the car. I was dumbfounded, and when I asked him about it, he told me that was what he had been taught to do. I thought it sad and unnecessary, but then I am not a black man. Years later, I moved to the south, and gained a better understanding of his point of view.

  • Larry S

    I like in Vancouver, BC

    my good friend a black guy says there are certain cars he wouldn’t buy because he’d be stopped too often by police.

  • DRT

    I am sad to say that I am still prejudiced.

    About 15 years ago I lived in a northern city, in a suberban neighborhood and we had three kids kindergarten and less. Across the street from me lived the Pastor of a Baptist Church. And in case you don’t know what that means, he was black! 😉

    I awoke one morning Saturday morning and there were two black teens in a car in front of my house (my side of the street). After about 15 minutes of wondering, I went out and asked them if they needed some help. They said that they were there to see Pastor Freeman and so I said OK and went back inside.

    Boy did I get it from the Pastor.

    I don’t want to be prejudiced. I think we still have at least two generations for that one.

  • Luke Allison

    I am definitely wary of thuggish-looking individuals of all backgrounds. Some of that is just common sense living in the city, and some of that is the fear of being a less-than-imposing white male. My racism has petered off more (I was in the Army for 5 years so I developed a little more healthy perspective on racial differences), but it still is there hiding at times.

    In the case of Trayvon Martin, it’s a crappy situation, obviously.

    I am a little bit tired of “outrage”, however, when it seems like a wagon to jump on. This stuff happens every day multiple times a day with little to no blog coverage. This particular situation happens to be blowing up.

    Interestingly, in Florida there is another case that is being handled which hasn’t drawn nearly as much attention.

    In this case, the shooter is black, the victim is a dad who is killed in front of his little daughter, and the Castle law is being invoked. The shooter seems to have zero remorse. Pretty much the same situation. But no rallies.

    Anyway, I’m not suggesting that racism doesn’t exist. And I’m definitely not suggesting that Zimmerman doesn’t need to be held accountable. But the fact is, we really don’t know what happened completely, and until we get the full story, we shouldn’t just assume that some scumbag shot an innocent kid for no reason.

    That might be the least popular thing I’ve ever said.

  • MidtownATL

    Why isn’t anyone getting upset about the fact that we have an entire culture of children growing up as thugs? That we have celebrities, hip hop artists and the like glorifying the thug life? Zimmerman wasn’t afraid of the color of the child’s skin, it was a fear of what the thug culture represents.

    We’re waring about the wrong thing. This isn’t a race issue, it’s a culture issue, and we refuse to stare the thug culture in its face. (Probably because it makes too much money).

  • Zed

    I grew up in a “sunset town” where African-Americans had better not find themselves after dark. I did not even see a black person in person until I was 16 years old and on a trip to the big city.

    The first time I went back to that hometown with my Hispanic wife, she was approached in a restaurant by a woman who simply said “You aren’t from around here, are you?” and then walked away.

    Believe me when I tell you there are places in the Southern US where even President Obama would spend the night at the risk of his life.

  • Randy

    @ Zed — You mean like Bensonhurst, right? That’s in, what? South Carolina?

  • allthecommonthings


    That situation isn’t remotely “the same thing” as the Zimmerman/Martin situation, up to and including the fact that the guy who killed the other was arrested and charged.

    I don’t know where you’re hanging out but there has been SILENCE from the same people who were all over, for example, the Kony thing. I have been shocked and dismayed at the silence from people I expected to hear from about this (for the same reason they passed along the Kony video). There has been very little “outrage” (why the quotes?) from a very particular group of people.

    This kind of lazy equivocation when it comes to race (“oh black people kill white people too, Al Sharpton isn’t rallying for them”) is deeply troubling. Not to mention all these concerns about the “thugification” of kids even as of right now it’s not clear Trayvon really “looked like a thug” (what does that even MEAN?) or why that would even matter if he did . . .

  • P.

    Racism isn’t just in the South, folks. We’ve just had to confront our predjudices while other areas can pretend they have no problems.

    I too have wondered about the lack of outrage over the Kony story. Kony and the Lord’s Army are far more evil than people can imagine.

  • Luke Allison

    allthecommonthings:”This kind of lazy equivocation when it comes to race (“oh black people kill white people too, Al Sharpton isn’t rallying for them”) is deeply troubling”

    I understand where you’re coming from. It’s easier to write my opinion off as somebody who doesn’t understand the issues and who is clearly living in a bubble of some sort.

    But the fact remains, you don’t know what happened yet in that situation. Innocent until proven guilty still stands in our country. Using words like “deeply troubling” is code for “I think you’re a racist”.
    The situation I cited above is two years old. Zimmerman will most likely be arrested in the next week. All i’m saying is, an equally horrendous situation. It’s extremely sexy to “care” about public situations like Trayvon Martin’s murder (notice I used that word). So we wear black hoodies and take pictures of ourselves on facebook showing everyone how outraged we are. That’s the way my generation deals with everything. Take pictures.

    What are we going to do about it?

  • Diane


    We’ll never know the truth because one of the “witnesses”–Trayvon–is dead and can’t tell his side of the story. I am deeply grieved over this–if it were my son, I don’t honestly know how I could deal with it.

  • David Cooke

    As a father of a black male teen, I resonate with what is written in the Black Male Code. I have a different perspective as that I and my wife are white, having adopted our son when he was 2 1/2. I’ve worked in inner city ministry in Chicago but now live in a predominantly white semi-rural community. I have experienced racism, for being white and I have experienced racism toward my children (I have an adopted black daughter as well).
    The reality is, I am racist as well. I judge people by their dress, skin color and language. It is pervasive in our culture. But I know my son in particular and, to a lesser extent my daughter, will face many challenges because of prejudicial beliefs.
    I am also a pastor and my hope still remains in the Good News of Jesus Christ to set us free. The Treyvon case is a tragedy. But it grieves me that the way some people choose to push back on the media coverage of this is to try and lessen the tragedy of this situation by highlighting black on white tragedy. It is all evil and, as Christ followers, we are to stand for justice – period. No matter where, no matter who, no matter what. Some day my son’s life may depend on it – so might mine.

  • Luke Allison

    Diane: “I am deeply grieved over this–if it were my son, I don’t honestly know how I could deal with it.”

    Stating that Zimmerman deserves a fair trial like anyone else hardly lessens the grievous nature of this case. What if there really was a scuffle? What if Zimmerman genuinely thought he was defending his life? Either way, someone is dead.

    David Cooke:

    I in no way was trying to lessen the tragedy by pointing out that story. My point was obviously obscured and I shouldn’t have attempted to make it.

    And David, you can bet I would stand for justice to defend you or your son. I’m just tired already of affluent people “standing with Trayvon” as if they understand anything about the situation. To me, Zimmerman is a bit of a scapegoat. Zimmerman gets put away, and then what? Everything’s fine? The evil starts in our hearts.

    The key is “standing” when it’s not trendy to do so. Standing as a lifestyle choice, not a fad. I work with young people, so I see the nature of this thing. Everyone wears wristbands for a little while, but pretty soon it’s back to normal. And how does anything change? We have to stop being shocked at evil and start fighting it.

  • I am looking at this from the point of view of if this were my kid. Granted, my son is one year older, shorter and skinnier, and white so it is quite possible he would not have been considered threatening. But if he were stalked by a man much larger than he is, for doing nothing more than walking down the street, I would be upset for that alone. Anyone, being followed by an imposing man is likely to take some evasive actions, speeding up, changing direction, etc. The follower may interpret that as being suspicious, when actually the stalking is the problem.

    Neighborhood watch people are supposed to observe and report only! This guy did not stop even when told by the police not to follow. He was not supposed to follow the kid, he was not supposed to talk to him and he certainly was not supposed to make physical contact with him. And that’s all before the shooting. He was your neighborhood bully, packing a gun. If he had done his job properly, keeping his distance, this need never have happened.

    One more thing, all the teenagers are wearing hoodies these days. It is simply in fashion for them. So I don’t care if the kid was white, black, brown or purple, they don’t deserve to be stalked by bouncer type guys who have no training in how to handle these situations, particularly for doing nothing more than walking down a street.

  • David Cooke

    Luke – Thanks for your response and, my comment was not primarily directed at you, but your post did trigger my thoughts about the responses I have seen. I agree with you that, by and large, the response is a fad that will be short-lived. Give it a month and no one will be talking about it. (Have you noticed the Kony movement seems to have faded already?) That is life in America – what is the latest media-driven tragedy/crisis that can get readers and attention. Pretty cynical but true.

    “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” work is so hard and requires presence, perseverance and spiritual power to accomplish. Oh, how the world we live in needs it. If not us, who though?

  • When my husband first came to Maryland for his job & I was still packing up our home to move, here, he found a short-term lease in an apartment complex about 15 miles from his job. He realized he was one of only a few white folk in the neighborhood, very quickly. 🙂 I lived there for 2 months, too, after our old home sold & while we were looking & settling on a new home. The closest experience we’d had, culturally, was in Italy – the neighbors looked out for one another, chatted & connected to one another, looked out for everyone’s kids, and as we got to know them and they, us, they began calling us “brother” & “sister”. We walked by a closed ice cream truck parked in the church parking lot one evening & noticed a man inside; we took a 2nd glance, because we’d heard the truck was a ministry outreach to neighborhood kids. The black man burst outside of the truck as soon as he noticed us, and exclaimed, “This is my truck, this is my truck!” We immediately stopped, introduced ourselves, mentioned a few neighbors by name who we thought he’d know (he did), and watched his demeanor change from anxiety and fear to utter relief and friendliness. He went out of his way to greet all of us whenever he saw us & introduce us to whomever he was with, after that. Folks we didn’t know began to greet us on the street (aside from being obviously white, we had a distinctive big dog! LOL). We were genuinely sad to leave the neighbors when it came time to move closer to his work.

    Massimo & I have both experienced places where we’ve been subjected to others’ shaming & hatred for no reason, and our hearts ached for the reality we saw and shared w/ our neighbors. We were all the more deeply blessed to participate in the joyful blossoming of love & care we shared with our neighbors. We’re all called to heal these wounds by loving others in the power of the Spirit. Whatever we sow in love, God gives amazing abundance in return.

  • Percival

    This is the heart-breaking kind of advice that parents have to offer children in a fallen world. I was more struck by how difficult it is to be a parent. God help us.

    ‘My daughter, boys will sometimes look at you as a trophy and as a sex object…’

    ‘My (overweight) son, many people will assume you are lazy and stupid …’

  • allthecommonthings

    @ Luke

    Clearly here in the anonymity of a comment thread I don’t really “know” you well enough to determine whether or not you’re “really” a racist in your heart or whatever. But regardless of the intentions of your heart, juxtaposing the Zimmerman/Martin story with a story from two years ago in which there are no discernible similarities and declare it glibly as “pretty much the same thing” indicates that at best you lack a sense of context and perspective on matters of race and violence in the US. And that disturbs me.

    I’m glad that you are so confident in the legal system. I’m a white male in my thirties. I too am confident that the legal system will serve my interests. History is on my side in this. I’m glad you are concerned that we insist that someone is innocent until proven guilty. But there are plenty of people looking out for Zimmerman’s interests and no matter what happens he gets to tell his story. And more significantly there is also a very real history of legal systems and cops not doing their job which is a far greater danger than false activism.

    And sometimes agitation and public scrutiny forces those in the system to do the right thing when they otherwise wouldn’t. To breezily assert that justice will work itself out (“Zimmerman will be arrested in the next week”) is weird given that there hadn’t been any indication that charges were even being considered until there’d been agitation and cries for further inquiry. The man in your story above was arrested within 48hours. Martin was shot a month ago.

    Now, I will concede the pictures in hoodies on FB or wherever may not have had any effect, but we should not be so dismissive of the work of the Martin family lawyer and the gatherings in Sanford and NY that have kept the focus on the situation. Regardless, I’m not as confident in Zimmerman’s arrest as you apparently are.

  • JD

    Black culture invites a lot of the stereo-type, then they write stuff like this as though it is white America’s prejudice against them. Is non-black to blame for some of this, sure but I’ve seen my share of black America deeply prejudiced and they allow is to continue and feed it weekly. I taught elementary school and saw racism constantly of blacks against whites, but we can’t say that publicly.

  • Dan Reeve

    There was a middle age man in a suit with an American Flag on his lapel sitting on the bench outside of my urban and progressive church one Sunday. He must have certainly been a Republican and, likely even one of them “Tea Party” kind of people so I approached him firmly and asked him what he was doing there. He stood up and with a menacing smile reached his hand out to me so I jumped back and repeated my question.

    He looked startled and began to walk towards the church doors so I followed him quoting from “The Audacity of Hope” and some Scott McKnight theology. He looked perplexed (a cleaver rouge) and reached into his pocket (later saying he was getting out his NEW King James Bible) so I had an alert usher wrestle him to the ground and throw him out.

    Warning, never wear a suit and American flag in your lapel in my community, you might be mistaken for a conservative “thug”..

  • Scott Gay

    There was a DVD produced by National Geographic about 2005 called “The Journey of Man” that was about using DNA to trace the history of man’s journey on Earth. It wasn’t well received because of implications about our code tracing back to an “Adam and “Eve”(despite people like RJS, the science community cannot handle even a hint of a Bible story). At any rate, it really should be seen by all of us, because it stands in the face of our modern ideas of race. I’ll say that race ideas are even promoted by influential anthropologists as multiregionalism and they are wrong. It is only recently that our genes can tell us the truth about our racial differences.
    My point is, we have to start somewhere to educate the truth. Many a panther, supremicist, AK boy would be shocked by the truth. Not that the truth would change many of their hate, but the majority must confront it, and a video, even if a little dated, is stronger at this time, then the written word.
    It has only been 2000 generations since “Adam”( “Eve” wasn’t there then), we all have genes back to Africa, and eugenisists and purists don’t know the truth of the journey of man.

  • RJS

    Scott Gay,

    I could link to a multitude of scientific articles in the primary literature dealing with mitochondrial “Eve” and y-chromosomal “Adam”. This is not hidden. This is also not the biblical Adam and Eve because they were not a unique couple – rather two individuals widely separated in time.

    I have mentioned and dealt with this in a number of posts over the years. The place it came up most concisely was in the series I did on David Livingstone’s book “Adam’s Ancestors”. The point you make about the implications are very significant.

  • Luke Allison


    It would be silly of me to try and keep defending something I shouldn’t have done in the first place, so I’ll concede that posting that article wasn’t a good idea.

    I’m very aware that racism in the police department is prevalent, and that injustice is the foundation of our legal system. I also know plenty of police officers who aren’t racist, and who love justice.

    Zimmerman seems to me like the kind of person who spends a large amount of time building up fear by reading blogs and crime stories. He may be the most hated man in America right now, but I highly doubt he’s a cold-blooded racist killer. One of the things that attracts me to the progressive side of Christianity is the conviction that all people are valuable and worth considering as “human”.
    When it comes to matters of race, I’ve found that it is very unpopular to take anything but a shrill condemning stance. And yet, why does it exist? What can be done about it?

    I’ve noticed in the last 24 hours that the police have tried to point out that Trayvon Martin was suspended for weed possession or something like that. This would indicate to me that an attempt to justify the murder has begun, as in the eyes of the average law-abiding citizen, drugs of any kind are signs of criminal behavior.

    So I was wrong on both counts.

  • allthecommonthings

    @ Luke

    Thank you, that’s gracious of you and (I’ll be honest) not quite what I was expecting. I really shouldn’t be surprised. I’ve lurked for some time, commenting only VERY infrequently and it’s clear that Scot, you, and the rest of the Jesus Creeders have cultivated an uncommonly gracious community here.

    I should also say that I agree (and have thought from early on) that the “hate crime” element of this was going to be difficult to prove as the standard is very high (as it should be). And as more info has come out–you’re right–the likelihood that Zimmerman is “a racist” or acted out of purely racialist motives is lower and lower. Though the “profiling” element of it is still likely and bad, more so in light of the fact that he was an armed (however lawfully) civilian who shouldn’t have put himself and Martin in whatever situation he ended up in. And of course, he is still a human being, in the image of God who can certainly be forgiven and threats on his life and the like are thoroughly inappropriate.

    As I said, the response (and/or lack thereof) after the fact is what has been most troubling up to and including the attempts you mentioned to paint Martin as somehow “deserving” this based on information outside the specific events on the 26th.

    And really, beyond the specifics of the Martin case, of our exchange here,and not in any way with reference to you, the conversation I’d much rather be having with my fellow Christians is about what/who we’re willing to sacrifice in a violent world and why.

    I understand (as a husband and a father) the willingness to accept the tragic death of someone else’s son, daughter, brother, father, mother if overall my interests are served. I understand the desire to have a gun in my home or on my person and risk the inadvertent sacrifice of an innocent person in an accidental shooting rather than have to concede that I or those I love might be hurt in a violent world. As a husband and father and broken person I understand this.

    But I cannot understand it as a Christian. On the micro-social level, it seems too many of us (though we’d never say it) can accept the tragedy of Martin’s death, forcing him and his parents to pay the price to fallen fear rather than abandoning our right to self-protection so no innocent person is hurt/dies at our hands. On a broader level, we are willing to accept the forced sacrifice of thousands of innocent people overseas to protect our national security. It’s ok that we force THEM to pay and say “well, it’s just the way it is, Romans 13 and all that, all in all it’s better than not.”

    We can’t even seem to begin to consider the possibility that it is more Christ-like to bear the death of OUR selves, OUR friends and families in hopeful witness to the resurrection. We spend our time defending our right to defend ourselves and “those we love” when we should be cultivating unique and creative responses to violence, ones that reflect Christ. God knows I need a community to help me do this, but my community is silent. I thought I would be having that conversation more as I’ve drifted towards “progressive” Christianity. But it hasn’t happened yet.

  • CGC

    Hi everyone,
    All of us get biased or manipulated by the media whether we want to or not at times. When I first heard this story, I was outraged like everyone else. Obviously a clear-cut case of racial motivated murder. Then more information comes out, things get much more murkier and even though nobody likes that somebody ended up dead, the situation is at least more complex than one first thought. I will say I admire Luke’s wait and see and innocent to proven guilty approach. I also admire allthecommonthings non-violent approach. If Luke is more a progressive, I am more a conservative. But I suspect we might both agree on why should civilians be running around town anyway carrying guns?

    While conservative pundits are now saying Zimmerman was justified because he was possibly attacked by Trayvon Martin (if one takes everythnig Zimmerman says as true to what happened), I still want to scream at him, “Let the police handle it, are you nuts!”

  • C

    @MidtownATL #6 Agreed.

  • Dennis

    Attempts at universalizing this tragidy may appear to be done under the pretence of solidarity, but in reality it is done with the intent to undermine (and/or dismiss) the reality of racial divisions within America. This story of a black father sharing the ‘code’ with his young black son is real. Very real. Lamenting that it is this way does not make it any less real. Bringing various examples of black on white crime, or white on white crime, or black on black, or whatever, does not take away the reality either.
    Evangelicals, being imfamously uncritical to begin with, must at these times recognize the heart behind the language. Racial inequality must be acknowledged before it ever be addressed. And it most certainly cannot be addressed by being dismissed.
    @DRT thank you for your honest comments. I would suggest that these are the types of things that bring positive engagement with the issue at hand.