Sharing My Experience: Parenting While Black in America
The recent murder of George Floyd In Minneapolis Minnesota has sparked outrage amongst many people throughout the world. The videotape of the 8 minutes and 46 seconds of the grueling, slow demise of Mr. Floyd has put a microscope on America and the pressure cooker of social injustice that is woven into the fabric of our nation.
Protests are taking place around the world and people are asserting that enough is enough. There is, like never before, a sense of tolerance and seeking of understanding like we’ve never seen in America. People of all Races are shouting that “Black Lives Matter” and are demanding that we, once and for all, bring an end to racial disparity for black people.
Suburban soccer moms are coming to the realization that not all soccer moms are treated equally. I am a Black woman, raising my two Black daughters. I did all of the things that society told me to do. I earned an education, started a career, and created a family.
My children have very diverse friend groups. They have a lot in common with one another, one being a sense of suburban naivete that comes along with not being raised in a big, bustling city. Having spent part of my childhood raised in a major city and partly in the suburbs, I can tell you that the lack of street savviness my children and their friends exude at times, shocking; living in a more sparsely populated area, being exposed to fewer people and making more things unknown or even taboo to the young child. That is until reaching an age where they must, in small doses, experience the world on their own. Similarly, many of the soccer moms and PTA parents in Suburban towns have a similar naivete. I roll my eyes every time one of the parents of my kids’ classmates say “that they don’t see color”. It’s coming from a well-intentioned place and I do not personally fault anyone for their frame of reference that comes from a lack of experience. Let me be clear, everything is not a black-and-white issue but the world sees my children in color. Teachers set expectations for them based upon their color. The world receives them in a matter that is based upon their color. It is impossible for my family and me to blindly walk around as if color does not exist. I encourage you to not only see color but further be open to the racial disparities that come along with being a person of color, a Black person, in this country. It will open your eyes to what your fellow soccer and PTA parents are experiencing.
As they’ve grown over the years, my conversations with my daughters’ have been very different from the conversations that their friends’ mothers have had with their children. I’ve had to impress upon them that they would need to conduct themselves differently than their friends would at the mall. I made sure that they knew where I would be in case they needed to reach me, I made sure that they had more than ample cash in their pockets, and I instructed them to not touch anything they had not planned to buy and make sure that none of their friends engaged in any illegal activity, albeit intentionally or unintentionally. I made sure that they are aware that if there was a situation where the group was accused of shoplifting, they would likely face harsher judgment by authority figures.
Every single one of my black friends has had the same conversation with their children before allowing them to go to the mall without their parental supervision. It’s not because we believe that their friend group is filled with thieves or that the children of other races, who we’ve grown to know and love as our own, will knowingly put our children in a bad predicament but having been followed around stores and chased out of towns while black, you begin to learn what you should tell your children to minimize their chances of being discriminated upon. That is parenting while Black, in America.
You may be reading and wondering, “is that really necessary”?
Therein lies the issue.
It is your ignorance that is the issue. Ignorance, not in a negative way by any means. Ignorant meaning the lack of experience that you’ve had as a black parent in America.
A few years ago, my next-door neighbor and very good friend decided to move her family from a central Jersey town to the beach town of Wildwood, NJ. Before moving, we had some very candid conversations about race, as she is a White mother raising Black daughters and a White son. Both strong women and fierce protectors of our children, we spoke often to our children about the world around them. We spoke respectfully, but bluntly to one another. Our daughters stair step one year apart in age and her son is several years younger. The children would run from house to house after school, on weekends and all summer long.
The families were so close that she would call me and ask for suggestions of what she should cook for dinner and I would tell her not to worry about it because I already fed her kids dinner. My kids were even listed with her kids’ names on her summer pool pass at a neighboring town. She’d throw them all in the minivan and take them swimming for hours so that I could work outside of the home. I trusted her with my children and would allow her to take them anywhere because I knew she loved them as she loved hers. I also knew that my big-mouthed friend would stand up for my children if they were discriminated against in the racist town that she took to swim in daily. Did she know that the town had been known to be racist at the time? Of course not, she’s white and hadn’t had experiences like myself sometimes taking a longer route to not have to deal with the chance of being harassed and pulled over for no reason. There was always a small part of me that wanted to hug my children and not let them go because I know how evil people can be and I didn’t want to expose them too early to a reality they would ultimately face. You might even be asking yourself, why would she even let them go knowing they’re going to a town that is known to be racist. My answer to that is what town, what school that is not predominantly black with a predominantly black police force are you not going to find racism of some kind, be it overtly or subliminally? So, I let them go. As expected, incidents occurred but my trusted friend and fellow mom handled it. She explained how she fended off the racist at the pool with sarcasm. I am 1000% positive that her privilege allowed her to navigate that situation in a manner that would have been received differently had I been there too. She knew it and I did too. Unknowingly, we leveraged her privilege so that my children would have an experience in a pool where they would otherwise not be welcomed. That is parenting while Black, in America.
I believe that these candid conversations allowed us to grow as mothers, respectively. I had no idea what the adoption process was and the reaction of strangers to a White woman raising Black children. Before speaking with her in-depth, my frame of reference was limited to what I had seen in movies. I was disgusted and floored by her experiences and my ignorance. It changed the way I viewed the experience of a white woman mothering black children in America.
Likewise, I opened her eyes to the experience that her black daughters would likely face in America, regardless of who was raising them. The year they moved to the beach town, they invited us to come down for a weekend visit. While we were excited to go visit the neighbors that we missed so much, we were cautious. What I never told my friend, and she will not know until she reads this, is that we had to search the racial breakdown in her town before going so that we knew what to expect. If the speed limit was 35, we drove 25. When we got to her house, she questioned whether or not we got lost since we were late. I politely smiled as a response instead of reminding her what it means to be driving while black. It had been about six or seven months since they moved and a lot had happened in that time. It’s unfortunate to say, but there had been many police killings at that time. So many, that I can’t remember exactly which killing it was but I do remember that she had asked me if I would mind talking to her daughters about the experiences as young black women in case they were uncomfortable speaking to her about what they were feeling. As their neighbor and bonus mom, when they were in my care, I would oftentimes have age-appropriate, race-related conversations with them on the fly. I was able to unknowingly provide them with a nonverbal sense of comfort, sometimes just a common sigh of pain while watching the latest killing of an unarmed Black person on the nightly news. When I spoke to one of her daughters, she was feeling the same pain that black people collectively feel every time they see someone look like them killed unjustly. I briefed my neighbor on some of what her daughter had expressed and given my thoughts to how she might be able to address the issues.
She was excited to take us to the beach that was in walking distance from her new home. As the two of us walked with five kids in tow and more beach gear than we would ever need, I was cautiously aware of my surroundings. While walking, we encountered a topless Jeep Wrangler parked on the street. On the rear seat laid the exact car seat my friend had been looking for her young son. She excitedly walked over to the Jeep Wrangler and pointed, “look, that’s it!” I instinctively backed up and said, “oh that’s nice.” Having known me as well as she did, she saw the look in my face and felt the shift of my energy, prompting her to ask what was wrong. I explained to her that this was a prime example of how white privilege worked. She’s so innocently and excitedly wanted to show me the car seat. There’s nothing wrong with that. I would have loved to feel comfortable going over there with her to share in her excitement before hustling the children to the beach. But, I froze. There was no way in hell that I was going to go close to a car that I did not own, in a town with a population of 75% White and less than 8% people that look like me. Period.
That is parenting while Black, in America.
While we sat on the beach, laughing and reminiscing, I nervously watched my children the entire time making sure that they didn’t accidentally run into a potentially racist beach patron, while frolicking on the beach with their friends. A time and place where one should be relaxed, my guard was up. What if someone called one of the girls a slur because they stepped on an adult’s foot while running on the beach? Would I be able to be the same mother bear my friend was when she told off the lady at the pool or would I be the angry Black woman who might get detained in front of her children at the beach for trying to protect them? If that happened, how traumatizing would that be for my children? Can you imagine what that kind of stress feels like? It’s paralyzing. Do you recall when the country started closing, state-by-state to address the coronavirus pandemic? Do you call the sense of helplessness when the numbers kept rising and the only thing you could do to protect your family was to stay home? Well, Black parents don’t have the option of keeping their kids home forever. Until now, there’s not been a unified call for attention to the disparities among us.
Some of us, including me, are more scared of the pandemic of racism than we are the Coronavirus pandemic. There’s hope for developing a vaccine for the novel coronavirus. The racial pandemic that plagued this country for the past 400 years with no prevention or cure on deck is not novel but just as deadly. That is, parenting while Black, in America.
Check back for the upcoming posts in this series, as we address how to speak with your children regarding racism and the importance of diversity…