He’s Cute at 4, But Will You Call Him a Criminal When He’s 14?

{I originally wrote this post in 2014. Then after the summer of 2016, I reshared it. Here we are in 2020 and very little has changed.}

Every time A.J. and I are out shopping, playing at the park, visiting an attraction around Atlanta or even going to church – someone inevitably says three words that make my blood boil:
“He’s so cute.”

I say “Thank you” and I’ve even taught him to say “Thank you” for the compliment. Then I take a breath and try to calm down.

My sweet, funny, inquisitive and playful baby boy IS cute because he’s four years old and considered harmless – for now.

But those three words immediately make my mind fast forward to 10, 12, or 14 years from now when he’s 6 feet tall, slim and trim just like his Daddy, hanging with his friends and someone –  anyone  – thinks he’s not cute anymore.

They will only see him as a criminal.

Maybe A.J. is wearing contact lenses and not the tiny, green frames he sports now.

Maybe A.J. has grown out his short Afro into locs or twists.

His Dad and I aren’t there holding his hand or pushing him around in a shopping cart.

He’s Cute at Age 4, But Will You Call Him a Criminal When He’s 14? ~ MommyTalkShow.com


Mommy Talk Show Family

It’s just A.J. versus the world that doesn’t hold the lives of young black men in any regard. And if you don’t think that last statement is true, ask Michael Brown’s mother or Trayvon Martin’s mother or Sean Bell’s mother – if young black men are treated fairly in this country or the world.  Ask them what it was like to bury the child they carried in their wombs, nursed and raised – only to be gunned down senselessly. They had sons who were once 4 years old and looked just like A.J.

In case you missed it, I participated in the #HeIsNotASuspect campaign with Essence Magazine after the not guilty verdict for George Zimmerman.

Most recently, I challenged the moms and dads who follow my Mommy Talk Show Facebook page to think about their own biases and stereotypes about young Black men:

He’s Cute at Age 4, But Will You Call Him a Criminal When He’s 14? ~ MommyTalkShow.com


It was my way of acknowledging yet another murder of an unarmed Black teenager, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. I put it into the perspective of A.J. who is just 4 and asked you some reflective question on what would you do when he’s 14.

I realize you may not be Black, like me. Heck, I may be the only Black person you feel like you know. Just don’t call me your “Black Friend, Joyce” – that’s an excuse used to justify negative comments made about most Black people because there’s at least one Black person you know and like.  It’s extremely offensive.

Me Daddy and Mommy 70's


My Family

My parents were born in the 1930’s in this country. So I’m just one generation away from Jim Crowe, segregated schools and lynchings.  Last year, A.J. and I participated in a video campaign with Wells Fargo Bank where we shared my Father’s untold story of segregated life in Charleston, SC.

My Father listened to Malcolm X speak on the streets of Harlem in the ’60s. My older siblings were often the only Black person in their class after schools were integrated.  Around 2002 or 2003, my husband  (then co-worker) was pulled over and racially profiled numerous times while driving to my home in Flowood, Mississippi. I’ve been called Nigger twice to my face. The last time A.J. was just an infant in the backseat of my car as we drive right around the corner from our home in Atlanta.

So I’m not talking about racism from a distance. I’m talking about it up close and personal from decades ago, all the way up to a few years ago.  This happened to me and the people I love.

I know I can’t tell you what to think about race & America. But as a parenting talk show host, I can challenge you to take a closer look at what you say and what you do when a young Black man walks down your street or stands outside a store in your neighborhood. Otherwise, the Black man you think is a criminal –  will someday be my cute son.

He’s Cute at Age 4, But Will You Call Him a Criminal When He’s 14? ~ MommyTalkShow.com



My blogging colleagues from a variety of backgrounds have also shared their perspectives on Ferguson, Mike Brown and Race:

Brandi Riley: Help Your Child Understand Ferguson (And Other Tragedies)

Janeane Davis: The Ferguson Shooting and My Son

Elizabeth Broadbent: On Recognizing My White Privilege as a Parent in the Face of Ferguson

Thien-Kim Lam:  Ferguson, MO Can Be Anytown, USA 

About Joyce Brewer

Creator & Host of Mommy Talk Show. Emmy award-winning TV journalist.Wife & Mommy; Mom Blogger; Social Media Coach; Long Island, New York transplant living in Atlanta, GA. Follow Joyce on Twitter @MommyTalkShow Author of Use What You Know: A Business Idea Guide for Moms featuring interviews with mompreneurs who created businesses using their skills & backgrounds.

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  1. I always love your perspective on the world Joyce. <3 It makes me furious that you have endured so much. When your son is 14 my girls will be 16 and 17 and we will be battling (<—enduring?) the teenage years together.

  2. Since I have daughters I don’t know how it would be when they’re in their teens since I really didn’t have to deal with racism until I moved to the South. My oldest daughter is darker than everyone in my household and she once experienced racism by a boy in her class telling her he hates black skin and to never touch him. Girl, I was pissed when she came home crying and I had to sit down and explain to her about racist people, I was hoping this would never happen in this day in age. We need to educate our children about things like this and have them prepared if they come across someone racist.

  3. I am from Georgia and grew up in an very racist family. I heard the N word used often and would get in trouble for “smart-mouthing” my mom and telling her that word was not acceptable. To this day she claims not to be racist even though she still uses that word. This is one of the reason my parents and I will never be as close as we could be. I hate when white people use the excuse that they were raised that way. It is still unacceptable, rude, and extremely hurtful. What you wrote is unfortunate and true. I can only hope that I do my job as a parent to teach my children to look beyond ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, religious affiliation, etc., and to stand up for injustices we still fight in the world.

  4. Growing up in the South I can completely understand your concerns. I was a teen in the 80’s but still saw so much racism. I think it’s our jobs to work harder every day to make sure that every child, every teen, every man is seen as equal regardless of the color of their skin.

  5. I moved from CA to VA when I was 11. I was shocked to see that racism existed, even back then. I think it’s horrible what happened in Ferguson, and everywhere else that racism still exists, it exists right next door to me at my neighbors house, that’s why I’m not friends with them. All I can do is keep going about my day treating everyone fairly and equally. I hope things get better for our childrens’ sake. Kids don’t see color, why do some adults? Racism exists with all races, unfortunately. My husband was harasses all through middle school when they moved to Louisiana because they thought he was Mexican, but he’s not. I can go on and on. This is why I’m stopping at 2 kids. I am scared for my children, just as you are. I can only have 2 pieces of my heart out walking around outside of my chest.

  6. I’ve only heard bits and pieces of what is happening right now in Ferguson. The whole situation is just sad. In Canada, we had something happen here where a police officer killed a teen last year on a bus. He was from Syria. The police officer was charged with second degree murder. Here’s info on it if you want to see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death_of_Sammy_Yatim

    Thank you for sharing your perspective.

  7. I can’t claim to know much about what is going on, I rarely listen to the news and haven’t clicked on any articles as I just don’t like hearing all the hatred in the world. I sure hope your son doesn’t experience any of that!

  8. My parents grew up in segregated South Carolina as well and they were very candid with us about racial discrimination in our country. My husband and I are candid with our children as well in our efforts to make them aware of the many inequalities.

  9. As a mom of a black young man (aged 20), he went through the “cute” phases too—then he became a teen and the world changed for him. Lucky for him, my family and I prepared him for what was to come. And now that we are living through Ferguson as a St. Louis resident, I feel the need to continue talking to him about “the rules”. You know, those rules that us moms and dads teach our Black young boys so they will come home to us. And even with those rules, something like this can happen. It’s a shame. Open season on black men—then and now. When will it change?

  10. Your fears are real and I share them. One of the things I like best about my son is that he is naturally curious. He likes to ask questions and wants detailed, exact answers. This quality may lead to him being shot by a police officer. They will not see his gorgeous curly Afro and dimply smile the way I do. When they grow frustrated with his questions and desires for details they may kill him rather than admire his curiosity and intellect. The fear is real.

  11. This is a heartbreaking and eye-opening post that is brilliantly written.

  12. As a mom of a 5 year old I share some of the same fears you do. Thank you so much for writing this post. I know it can sometimes feel risky to make a departure from the light & fun stuff but I respect that you felt the need to do so this time. Race – especially in the the US is an issue that more people need to be willing to talk about and ask themselves the hard questions. Kudos to you for posing some of those questions to your readers. Although I’m a black Canadian and I feel to some degree like race issues are less severe here (at least in Toronto), that doesn’t mean that racism & racial profiling isn’t alive and well North of the border. How as a mother do you raise a boy & prepare him for the ugliness that is out there in the world right now? What do you say to him that isn’t going to discourage him from trying to succeed in a world where there are so many odds stacked against him just because of the skin that he was born with?

  13. My first thought when I read this was no I wouldn’t hold my purse tighter or cross the road because of race but because of gender and being a momma of two boys that makes me cringe, and don’t even get me started on women’s safety in this world. But I’m glad I delved deeper into your article. I was raised in the south and I have known and are related to some very raicist people and to know this type of ignorance and hatred still exists today just hurts my heart. It’s painful to hear you have had to deal with this so recently. My blood boils for you. I hope and pray that our society evolves quickly and AJ will not have to worry about things like this.

  14. He is cute.
    That said, I have been really giving thought to how I interact with the young men who come to my library and who I come into contact with in the world. It is quick to dismiss them as trouble makers but they are someone’s child or someone’s relative and they cannot help genetics. I don’t put myself in danger to prove a point but I have been giving these young men the same respect and courtesy I would give anyone and guess what? They love it and are polite and respectful and lovely.

  15. I absolutely agree with this post. Most people will never understand how sad it is that we have to actually give our children mainly our sons lessons in how to handle being approached by the police. Its just crazy.

  16. These are such frightening thoughts. I do not have children, but I imagine that I will be frightened when my children get a little older and not just because of the normal things that teenagers and young people go through, but because of the murders and threats that young Black people encounter every day. Every day I feel like a cop could just pull me over or somebody could be mad at me and shoot me or that I could get into an altercation and that if he or she pulls out a gun…dead is all that I will be. Thank you for sharing this. I hope that the world listens.