Preamble to this post: I write this blog to educate people about what it’s really like to parent many kids from hard places, the ups, the downs, the joys, the sorrows. BUT… I also write this blog to document the momentous things that happen in their lives. I consider today momentous. Please don’t send me angry emails about what I am about to write. It’s not because I don’t respect your opinion, or because I want to censor you. I just feel this isn’t a subject that anyone will change my mind on. And, damning me to hell won’t do it either. Crazier people on Facebook already tried that.
My children are old enough to know when I’m sad, they’re coming into and age of awareness of others. Naturally, when I woke up angry, and so sad this morning, they wanted to know why. My boys have heard of Trayvon Martin. When he died we discussed what had happened and why it was causing the political and social stir that it was causing.
We also discussed how it pertains to them, especially to my boys.
These are my boys.
Regardless of what you think about how race plays into this case (FYI: I believe it never would have happened if Trayvon weren’t black), it’s about race for us. You see, a lot of things are.
The world judges you first on your appearance.
It’s a sad truth that children have to learn too young. We teach our kids why it’s important to adhere to social graces like combing your hair, or wearing clean clothing. You’ll feel better if you do, and people will think more of you. You need to be polite, and respectful, in order to earn respect in return.
We always have, and always will, take it one step further with our children. They know that while in our home you’re judged by many, many other things that go so much deeper than your skin, that when they step out the door, this is the first thing people see about them.
Today, I used Trayvon’s death as a stepping stone to have a very tough conversation with my boys. One that I, suburban white mom who has lived in a state of white privilege her whole life never, ever thought she would be having with her sons. Today I talked to them about the code.
In case you aren’t familiar with it, like I wasn’t until four of the ten people I love most in the world happen to be black boys, it goes like this:
–Always pay close attention to your surroundings, boys, especially if you are in an affluent neighborhood where black folks are few. Understand that even though you are not a criminal, some people might assume you are, especially if you are wearing certain clothes.
–Never argue with police, but protect your dignity and take pride in humility. When confronted by someone with a badge or a gun, do not flee, fight, or put your hands anywhere other than up.
–Please don’t assume, boys, that all white people view you as a threat. America is better than that. Suspicion and bitterness can imprison you. But as a black male, you must go above and beyond to show strangers what type of person you really are.
I have had people call me alarmist and accuse me of making “everything out to be about race.” It does alarm me, and when you’re white and tasked with the amazing privilege that is raising African-American and Asian children in this country, a lot of it does become about race.
Until we had ResponsiBoy and Middle-Middle, I never woke up, not once, and considered the color of my skin. Now, we never blend into a crowd. They can never wake up in the morning and suddenly not have to think about what color they are. This is something that never just goes away for them, or for me, as the mother that loves them.
In that way, it is all about race.
I once wrote to the author of this book. I was young (mid 20s at the time) and scared. I told him that I enjoyed his book and wanted so badly to raise two strong, proud men who would grow up without a “chip on their shoulder” about the color of their skin. His response to me…
Why? Sometimes having a little bit of a chip on your shoulder isn’t such a bad thing.
Now, with a decade of parenting black children under my belt, I see what he means. I don’t teach my children to adhere to this code so they can go through life quietly never trying to change the hand they’ve been dealt. I teach them the code to keep them from getting gunned down needlessly because someone perceives them as a “threat.”
A white father of a white daughter wrote this about his discussion about Trayvon Martin and the code that my boys have to adhere to with his little girl…
“But in calmer moments these parents of color will also tell their children the truth. That in fact everything is not going to be OK, unless we make it so. That justice is not an act of wish fulfillment but the product of resistance. Because black parents know these things like they know their names, and as a matter of survival they make sure their children know them too.