Save my black male children from…swine flu?

written by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Liz Dwyer, crossposted from Los Angelista’s Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness

You know that Michael Jackson is somewhere feeling really vindicated. He’s shaking his fist and saying, “Now everybody doesn’t think I’m totally nuts for wearing a surgical mask all the time!”

Not that a mask is really going to save anybody from swine flu. I’m sure hand washing makes a much bigger difference than wearing a mask.

I’ll admit, I’m still trying to figure out where this swine flu came from. I was not 100% tuned into the news until last night, so when I heard the phrase “swine flu” on the radio playing in the background, I thought, “Oh, pigs are getting sick? Good thing I’m a vegetarian!”

I figured it was a disease that you got if you live on a farm, butcher hogs or like to munch on bacon. It took a little bit for it to register that this was a disease that’s jumped from pigs to humans.

Of course, the question is, now that we’ve got it, what do we do about it? In a crap economy with horrible access to health care and insurance co-pays through the roof, are folks really going to go to the doctor if they come down with the flu? I don’t know how much the average American is going to worry about swine flu when they are getting laid off left and right, getting harassed by creditors and worrying about keeping food on the table.

Come to think of it, I’ll bet you that more black men got shot across America over the weekend then died in Mexico due to swine flu, but, uh, THAT is not a world health crisis, is it? Black men getting shot is not considered an epidemic. Nobody’s going, “OMG, we MUST do something! We have to stop this epidemic of violence against black males!”

Maybe it has something to do with folks only caring if they think it’s going to affect them. Swine flu can get you if the guy next to you at the corner sneezes on you. And, if you’re not black and born by happenstance into a low-income area with failing schools, no bookstores, no banks (just currency exchanges), limited access to fresh fruits and vegetables, stray dogs roaming all around, a lack of park space to play in and gangs who recruit you as young as 2nd grade… gosh, if that’s not your circumstance, why care about that?

Go ahead and say it: Los Angelista, you don’t live in the hood. Your kids are nerds. They do baseball and kung fu, obsess about comic books and watch the History Channel non-stop.

And that’s right, they do. They are two whip smart, confident, accomplished and handsome as I don’t know what boys. But don’t think I’m not thinking every day about how my boys are going to be in middle school one day soon, and if I’m living in America, they will be targets, whether I like it or not. I will worry every single time they walk out of the house about someone else’s child who grew up in those circumstances rolling up to my boys and asking, “Hey fool, what’s your set?”

Too much thinking for you? You want to just go back to freaking out about swine flu, don’t you?

OK, I will go back to worrying about how to protect my black male children from swine flu. I will spray their backpacks with Lysol and put a thick coating of hand sanitizer on them the minute they get home from school.

Maybe I’ll even get them a face mask so Michael Jackson doesn’t have to be the only black man in America wearing one.

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About Tami

Tami Winfrey Harris writes about race, feminism, politics and pop culture at the blog What Tami Said. Her work has also appeared online at The Guardian’s Comment is Free, Ms. Magazine blog, Newsweek,, Huffington Post and Racialicious. She is a graduate of the Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism. She is mom to two awesome stepkids and spends her spare time researching her family history and cultivating a righteous 'fro.
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