By George Smith

Cleon Flanagan is an American, a husband, father, production engineer, and former law enforcement officer. He is my son-in-law and dad to Bryan, 17, Brayden, 11, and Marley, 6, three of my seven grandchildren.

He is black.

He and I talked this weekend about the racial turmoil roiling through the U.S. His heart was breaking and it was obvious he was worried about the future and what new hell his biracial children would face.

So you will know, I grew up in a segregated community and never had a real, honest conversation and exchange of views about anything with any black person until I went to college. 

Cleon is the epitome of what a husband, father, relative and human being should be. He is one of the best men I have ever met. I love him.

He wrote the piece below this week. Please read it. If you do and get through it without shedding tears…you have more self control than I do. 

By Cleon Flanagan

So let’s talk … take a seat.

1980’s—Walking home, around age 12, and two white men in a pickup truck and a confederate flag waving, pulled up behind me and then beside me and threw beer and full beer cans on and at me.  Thank God I was almost home.  

1997  — When I worked for a local police agency, we were doing a transport of some detainees and prisoners when a detainee turned to me and said (while i was in uniform) “My daddy used to own some like you. ha ha!”  I couldn’t speak up. 

Same town — I went into the store to get a drink, in uniform, and the cashier looked at me (missed the badge) and said “I can’t stand f-ing n******.”

I’d like to say these instances early in my adulthood were rare, or stopped as I aged.

But that would be a “No.” 

Jennifer Thurman Flanagan and I, throughout our marriage, have endured comments that we know wouldn’t be made (or tolerated) about white couples.

“Oh, I’ll bet her family has money.  You’re all set now.”

“She has a good job so y’all know y’all will be ok. (But I’m an engineer?)

Jen has been asked if all of our kids were by the same dad.  

They are struck by the fact that she had actually graduated college, got married, and bought a house (in that order) yearsssssss before having kids.  That we weren’t teen parents.

She’s been asked at the grocery store, when the little ones were with her, if she’ll be using her Lone Star card to pay.  

She’s looked at as trash when she shops alone with our kids, but I get stereotyped as having “married up.”

And let me tell you about our recent vacations … Galveston 2019 — Our kids were questioned for missing fishing poles from a residence AN ENTIRE BLOCK AWAY.  The police were driving around and saw our kid’s fishing (with their own poles). 

Lake O the Pines 2018 — The white man who owned the property we rented was as friendly and sweet as peach pie over the phone… until he saw Bryan, his black classmate, and me heading in with our boat.  After that, we were harassed, watched, hounded, then, after cleaning profusely, he kept our deposit and sent us a bill (we got it all back after filing a complaint with VRBO).  

Speaking of vacations — How many of you have to plan your vacation depending on the demographics of the town?  The location?  Is it a place notorious for pulling over and harassing POC (people of color)?

Have you every had to justify simply being in a public place?  

Have you every been denied a day off by your boss at Thanksgiving, just for him to tell you, “Them white folks don’t want you to eat with them.”

These are only a fraction of the stories I could tell.  Imagine all of the stories millions black men and women could tell today.  

Imagine being a black man and being ridiculed and belittled by police, by your boss, by your white neighbor. treated less than human, in front of your own children who don’t understand the systematic racism that you encounter. 

And you are helpless to fight it.  You have to “stay in your place.”  You can’t speak up. 

If you think the world still doesn’t look at us differently, let me tell you:  I have a CHI (Concealed Handgun License), and I could open carry.  If I walked into Walmart with a rifle strapped to my back, the cops would be called.  White men open carry regularly – not an eye batted.  

Have you every had to tell your black son where to put his hands when he gets pulled over and to let the officer know he are unarmed?

Some of y’all get excited about your kids going off to college, traveling the world, getting jobs ANYWHERE.  That worries the hell out of me.  I don’t get the privilege to get excited for my kids — I just get to worry. 

The only reason I’m posting this is because I need y’all to understand. I have tons of white friends. I have white family members. But I really think that some don’t understand the experiences that we go through. They make assumptions that our life is great and happy and everyone is nice to us.  I’ve heard the sideways comments from people and either they think it doesn’t bother me, or they make the comment of “But you’re not like other black guys.“ What does THAT mean??


This impacts me personally not because of my experiences that I have had or will have, but because of the experiences that my children will have. Racism is only around today because it keeps being reinforced and taught throughout the generations.  And now, it’s my kids’ turns to encounter it. And it INFURIATES ME.  

What if George Floyd was Bryan. Or our classmates, or me????

Like I was told at the police academy: Just because it happens in a big town, don’t think it can’t happen in your small piece of the world.  

Would you still sit back silent?  Would we just be a hashtag?  

Would you be complaining about protestors and rioting … or would you march for me? Would you actually act?  Would you vote differently?  Would you not make assumptions?  Would you still grasp your purse or lock your doors when we walk by?  Would we still get an interview, the job, or a promotion? 

Would you stand next to us?  

And, does it have to be someone you know for you to GET IT!?

Are you mad at the protesters?  Be mad that y’all haven’t spoken up in the names of my sons. Be mad at the systematic racism that is still plagues the every day life of POC. 

If we keep going this way, if Y’ALL DONT SPEAK UP and make SYSTEMATIC CHANGES, then it very well really might BE one of us.

Or maybe that’s it: You don’t want it to change. And THAT is the real problem.


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