I said to Lizzie, “We could get your hair braided. Then we wouldn’t have to re-do it every morning.” And, then I referenced a little girl in her class so she’d know what I meant by braided.
“No! I don’t want my hair like hers.”
This didn’t please me since I really love the idea of not fixing her hair every morning. But, she was pretty definitive in her opinion and if I know anything about Lizzie, I know that there is no changing her mind once she’s made it up.
The fact is, she doesn’t identify with the black culture and that’s partly our fault. It’s not for any malicious or thoughtless reason, though. It’s just that we are white and we are, inadvertently raising her white. We’ve tried to make her (and her brothers) aware of their culture. We’ve read books, talked about black history, enlisted the help of black friends, and sought out tv shows that featured more faces of color.
But, still, because our area is not very diverse, Lizzie goes to a school full of white girls with long, flowing hair and she comes home and asks me to leave her hair down instead of twisting it like I tend to do. Thankfully, she usually settles for puffs. And, if I do leave it down, it looks adorable…for awhile. But, soon, it gets tangled and just plain messy-looking; and then I get well-meaning comments from random black women in Taco Bell, like “You know that you should moisturize it daily, right?” (True story)
Because of where we live and who we are, Lizzie’s been nice and dry under the umbrella of white parents and her predominately white school. But, one day, she is going to have to deal with the fact that she’s black. And, being black in America brings extra complications to your life. It just does.
I didn’t know about “white privilege” when I was growing up in it. Some don’t even believe that it exists. I really didn’t give it much thought when I was a kid. And, I didn’t give it much thought when I was in college and sat in class, listening to a speech by a black classmate who talked about how often he would hear car doors lock when he walked by. I thought it was unfortunate but, I didn’t dwell on it because I didn’t have to. I didn’t have to dwell on it until I became a mother to black children, anyway. Then, I started to look outside of myself and my front door more and I became aware.
We live in Florida. We have the beaches, the sun, and the recent deaths of black teenagers. And, it really terrifies me. There have been two high profile killings of youth in the last several months and they both happened here, in my metaphorical backyard. We all know about Trayvon Martin. Then there’s the Jordan Davis who was shot at a gas station. A gas station that I have used, many times. A gas station that my kids could theoretically be using in a handful of years when they are driving.
My kids are inadvertently growing up with white privilege. They are viewed as the black children who are being raised by the white parents. We’re in a class of our own. But, that doesn’t mean that one night, Antwan might not walk down the street with a hoodie and looking like he’s “up to something.” Or Kaleb might not play his music too loud, irritate a grumpy white guy at a gas station, and respond with a little attitude of his own. Or William might not make one of his goofy jokes that come off a little ruder than he means for them to because he’s constantly preparing for his future stand-up career. And, Lizzie will definitely give someone attitude because I get it on a daily basis. 😉
How do I protect my children? How do I teach them what it’s like to be black in America when I don’t completely know?
The answer is, I don’t know.
We can tell them to be proud of who they are. I can do my best with Lizzie’s hair. We can explain the realities of being black. Yes, there is such a thing as driving while black. Yes, you might get more suspicious looks when you’re wandering through a store. Yes, it can be frustrating. No, you shouldn’t mouth off to grumpy white guys at the gas station because it’s rude and you haven’t been raised that way and, yes, you should be more considerate about your volume level on your radio. No, you don’t deserve to die over it. Sometimes you’ll have to be a little more careful, in general; even though, it’s not really fair.
Will it be enough? Am I paranoid? If paranoia keeps my babies alive then I guess I’ll be paranoid.
But, if I step away from the freaked out mom routine for a moment, I remember to tell them something else. I’ll tell them that the world is getting better and better. That most people are inherently good. That they can do anything that they want to because Daddy and I will see to it.
And, when the world gets scary, they can come home to Mommy. I’ve got Batman on the DVR and popcorn in the pantry.
|I’ve got their backs.
|Looking cute and not so scary in his hoodie. 🙂
|The “hoodie brothers” as Antwan called them. 🙂