I bought this house a few years ago because I wanted you to have what I did not: childhood memories of a place to call home, a backyard and the feeling of security that an apartment never could provide.
I, however, was not ready for the responsibility of homeownership. When the toilet runs and won’t stop, I have to fix it. This summer, when the spring above the garage broke, I had to call a dude and pay hella money to get it fixed. (Don’t use that word.) In fact, in my five years of owning a house, I’ve become an amateur plumber, handyman and exterminator. I guess this means we’re living the American dream. One thing I did not anticipate, however, was how important Halloween would become to me.
Here’s the thing: Your granny didn’t let me dress up for Oct. 31. The cool woman you enjoy hanging out with, the one who introduced you to eggs and candy about nine months before I planned, was a very different person when I was your age. I don’t know if it was because she was raising me on her own and was therefore concerned about your dad growing up into a thug, but she was very strict when I was the age you are now.
I was not allowed to dress up for Halloween, and I was forced to go to bootleg “fall festivals” that are a church’s way of celebrating Halloween without being honest about it all. It’s kinda like how the bag cereals at the bottom of the breakfast aisle that I once tried to trick you into believing tasted good are the bootleg versions of the name-brand cereals you like, or how you tried to convince me that John Legend was really good, but I had to inform you that he is more of a bootleg version of a good ’90s R&B singer—anyway, you get the point. It was wack.
So I was surprised how much fun Halloween was for us. You got to dress up as your favorite character; we would walk all around the neighborhood, unafraid of the many police officers out on the street; and then we would come home and watch a scary movie (well, scary for you) while giving candy to the mostly white kids who knock on the door but would never otherwise come and visit the home of a black family.
This time with you is special to me. We live in a neighborhood full of police officers—there is even that one down the street who flies the “blue lives matter” flag—so you walking the streets at night scares the hell out of me more than any scary movie. We are black, and you’re big for your age, so I’m terrified of you playing out front after dark and ending up like Emmett Till or Tamir Rice or Trayvon Martin. But one thing bugged me about this holiday: You chose to dress up like white people. (By the way, don’t say hell.)
I get it. When I was your age, I read comics, too. I first loved the X-Men because they, like me, were exoticized outcasts. But then I branched out and began to read everything I could. DC, Marvel, Top Cow … it didn’t matter. I enjoyed being lost in a world where people had powers. I imagined myself as the leaders. Cyclops, Wolverine, Gambit … I embodied them. I tried to be like them.
I now know that this was not good for me.
Imagining myself as a white person alienated me from my body, from my culture. It caused me anxiety and cognitive dissonance because, when I looked in the mirror, no matter what I did, I would never be like them. I would never be white. So when I saw you choosing Superman, Kylo Ren and Iron Man as your costumes, it concerned me. I did not want to just say no and take away your agency, but I saw that I had to be more intentional about centering blackness in your cultural consumption. I could not raise you as if you were just any kid, because you’re not just like any other kid. You’re black—and that makes you different from what our country sees as normal; therefore, I had to raise you in an abnormal way.
Like the superheroes you idolize, you are unusual, peculiar, special—at least in this country. So I introduced you to Black Panther, then to Miles Morales and then to Luke Cage. The first two you thought were cool, but Luke Cage spoke to you in a special way. I still wonder why. Maybe it’s the fact that he is super strong. Or that he is bulletproof, thereby immune to all that life may send his way.
I know you like that he wears a hoodie in the TV show. Maybe it is because you wear hoodies. Hell, I wear them. It’s part of a black man’s armor. That cultural connection resonates with you, but I know that most of all, the fact that he is black matters most. He looks like you. He comes from where you come from. You don’t have to look in the mirror and imagine that you are someone else. You see yourself when you see him.
You don’t know this yet, but your blackness is a gift. It is a special power. You can see the world through your eyes but also through the eyes of those who look at you condescendingly. It’s called double consciousness. It’ll be useful, but it comes with a price. The world will hate you. They will be suspicious of you. They might see you as older than you are and try to treat you as a threat. But that is why I’m happy you choose to idolize a black superhero. It reminds you that even in a fictional narrative, blackness can be powerful.
You don’t have to try to embody whiteness the way I did at your age. You can see yourself and still be a superhero. Maybe this is why Ta-Nehisi Coates decided to write Marvel’s Black Panther comics and agreed to tweet about the show Luke Cage. He, too, is a father and a lover of comics—he knows the power of representation.
Thank you for choosing Luke Cage to be your character this Halloween. Thank you for deciding to grow locs and embrace your blackness. Thank you for idolizing black athletes like Jackie Robinson and Ken Griffey Jr. Thank you for working so hard in school (you have no idea how brilliant and athletically talented you are; I hope you see it soon). But most important, thank you for choosing me to be your dad.
I love you. I look forward to sharing this Halloween with you.
(P.S.: Clean your room.)