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"I knew a day would come when the world would stop viewing him as 'cute' and see him as a threat," former PEOPLE editor Ericka Souter wrote

By Joelle Goldstein
June 05, 2020 09:20 PM
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Ericka Souter
Ericka Souter and her son Lex
| Credit: McKay Williamson

A mother of two is opening up about the heartbreaking reality of raising black sons in America after her then-9-year-old experienced racism firsthand during a summer camp field trip in New York City.

Ericka Souter explained in an essay for Good Morning America that she was forced to talk with her son Lex about the "bias and brutality black boys and men face every day" following a racist incident outside of a Broadway theater in midtown Manhattan.

"He learned early on that bad things could happen to him just because of the color of his skin," wrote Souter, a journalist and author who formerly worked at PEOPLE. "While the kids waited in line, a man walked up to my 52-pound son, pushed his head and called him the N-word."

Though Lex was "startled," Souter said he didn't fully understand the impact of the situation, which prompted her to have "the talk" with him — a discussion that she said she didn't necessarily want to have, but knew was necessary to keep her son safe.

"I knew a day would come when the world would stop viewing him as 'cute' and see him as a threat," she wrote. "I must admit, it's an odd thing to tell a child that the police won't always mean safety and protection for him."

Ericka Souter and family
Ericka Souter and her son Lex
| Credit: Ericka Souter

Souter said she was jealous of every parent who didn't "have to consider doing this" or feel a sense of fear "when their child walked out the door in a hoodie."

"I didn't have that luxury," she continued. "Ignorance was no longer bliss. There are things Lex needed to know."

Some of those topics she discussed with Lex included recognizing that he may be followed by security when he enters a store, being less "mischievous" than his white friends to prevent himself from potentially getting shot, and understanding that if he has to interact with police officers, to keep his hands out of his pockets and refrain from making sudden movements.

Ericka Souter
Ericka Souter and Lex
| Credit: McKay Williamson

Souter also told Lex that others may perceive him as "more aggressive" as he gets older simply due to his skin color.

"It's a tremendous burden for a tiny human to carry. To know his blackness is what people fear," she wrote. "The truth is, he can be playing in a park, like Tamir Rice, out for a jog, like Ahmaud Arbery or sleeping in his bed like Breonna Taylor and fall prey to a society entrenched with racism."

"I dread the day he takes the subway alone, knowing I will anxiously watch the clock until he walks through the door," Souter admitted.

Ericka Souter and family
Ericka Souter and her family
| Credit: Ericka Souter

Those fears became even more of a reality for the mom of two when she said she watched the video of George Floyd die after being detained by four Minneapolis police officers — all of whom have since been charged.

After learning that another unarmed black man had been killed by the police, Souter recalled how Lex told her, "'There is nothing we can do. Things probably won't change in my lifetime. In a lot of places, people are openly racist and it's like their right to be racist is protected.'"

But Souter refused to accept that, and urged her readers to educate themselves and their children, have conversations, and help change "this toxic culture."

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"Talk to your child about race and racism. A lot of people think teaching their kids not to see color is the solution. It's not," she wrote. "Teach them about differences and to acknowledge and celebrate them. I don't believe it's ever too early to have these discussions."

"If all of our children learned the poisonous effects of racism early on, it could sow the seeds for change," Souter continued. "The point is to teach all our children to care. In this world, it's not enough to know what is right. We have to do what is right."

"Black parents certainly can't do it alone," she added. "We need allies more than ever."

To help combat systemic racism, consider learning from or donating to these organizations:

• Campaign Zero (joincampaignzero.org) which works to end police brutality in America through research-proven strategies.

ColorofChange.org works to make the government more responsive to racial disparities.

• National Cares Mentoring Movement (caresmentoring.org) provides social and academic support to help black youth succeed in college and beyond.