I have been working hard to get as far as I can with Poppy’s adoption this week. Our paperwork is currently being processed to gain her U.S. citizenship. As soon as that is done, I will get to go and hug her up. I can’t wait. I am elated about that. Seriously, cloud nine over here.
Overshadowing that happiness is worry though, not only for her health, but for the larger world. Some of the funniest people in the world are so sad that they have decided to end their own life. There are people blaming this man for his own actions, as if he made a choice to do this to his family out of pure selfishness, as if he could just wipe away the depression and illness that plagued him by choosing to let it go. Then there’s the Ebola Virus, that is creeping its way toward Ghana and to the family of the children I have come to call mine. My kids are worried for their first families, who currently have no medical care. There are people who are blaming the doctors who contract this virus, when all they were trying to do was help people who have no access to medical care. None at all. And, inside our own backyard, Ferguson, Missouri has erupted into a scene that resembles what I remember learning about in history class during the all too brief period we discussed the Civil Rights Movement. People are blaming each other there too. People who look like me are blaming children that look like mine.
As a mother, I’ve lived through this before. I’ve watched another mother, with a boy who looks like mine, grieve the terrible, terrible loss of a life cut short, of promises lost. I’ve had to try to make sense of it. But this time, I watched a community that could make sense of it no longer take to the streets. They took to the streets for a boy that looks like mine. The loss of his life cuts deeply. And no matter what the Officer who shot him was thinking at the time, I’m sure he has regrets now. I’m sure he will for the rest of his life. He has created his own hell. So many lives lost. So many.
I don’t care what happened in that store. I care about what happened in the street afterwards and the comments that came later. Even more than that though, I care about the comments that didn’t come. Some people have no idea what to say or do, so they say nothing. People who I consider friends, who are educated at higher levels than I am, who love my children, stay silent. They are afraid to say anything. I don’t fault them. I understand how hard it is to bridge that huge racial divide when you think the problem isn’t really yours. Let me be very clear though, it’s all our problem. Regardless of what you feel about what happened both in that store and in the street outside of it, it’s all our problem. Any time a community cries out at an injustice that is perceived to be rooted in the color of their skin or their ethnic background, it is all our problem. But, acknowledging that it’s a problem doesn’t get us any closer to solving it.
As a white person, I can’t begin to answer for any of this to the black community. Part of solving the problem involves me, as a white person, never assuming that I have even the smallest inkling of what it is like to be black in America. I don’t know. I never will. I tell my children this every single day. While I love my kids more than life itself, and while I know how it feels to be the mother of a black child, I will never know how it feels to be black. My experience is my own, their experience is theirs. Acknowledging that, and never assuming we know how it feels to be in another person’s shoes, will go a long way to finding common ground. It always does.
While I can’t answer the how to fix it question, I can tell you, as a mother of four black boys, what you can do to help me. I need you to help me. I am asking for you to help me, because that’s the only way this is going to change. I need you to stand with me. I need you to stand with my boys, my babies, the ones that will always be etched in my heart looking like this, even when they are grown men with babies of their own.
This was a long time ago, and since then they’ve added one mighty Asian boy to their ranks. They look different now. Now, when I take photos, they throw up peace signs, they cock their hat to the side, and they try to look tough. In my head, I know that this is all part of adolescence, part of figuring out who they are, and who they want to be, much the same way that I tried to find myself by dying my hair a very unnatural shade of red right before I had my Senior pictures taken (FYI, my mom was NOT amused). While my head knows that what they’re doing is part of growing up, that it’s something that I myself did, my heart worries they’ll be killed for it. Will they lose their lives for doing something that, when I do it is viewed as normal adolescent behavior, but when they do it makes them a thug?
My boys aren’t thugs. Most of the African-American boys I know and love aren’t either. As they find their way to becoming men, looking tough may be something they experiment with, but please don’t assume they’re out to hurt someone. My boys are gentle and loving. Being black doesn’t make them violent. We need to let go of that stereotype. Help me let it go. If we let it go, then our children will never know that fear when they look at each other, and think of how much better the world will be just because of that.
You can help me by educating yourself about the privilege that comes with being white. A friend recommended this book. I finished it in a day. How eye opening and, for me, completely terrifying. And when you do read it, because I know you will, please don’t roll your eyes and deny that this exists. It does. Denial is the new white hood. Yes, I went there. Denial is so very easy to hide behind the same way people hid behind their white hoods when they committed overt acts of bigotry, racism and horrific violence. It’s so easy for everyone to say that the world has changed, that it’s color blind.
I can tell you that. I can tell you that from my own experience. From my time as a mom of the four sweet little men pictured above, who have been followed through stores while FPD shopped two aisles away, who have been yelled at and belittled when they were thought to be ‘alone’ by people whose attitudes miraculously transformed when they laid eyes on my white face, who have been told over and over again, in so many subtle ways that they need to fall in line with what the world expects them to be, with what the world NEEDS them to be in order to fit into the stereotype that society has created for them.
My boys are not what anyone needs or wants them to be. My boys are exactly what every other little boy is, full of limitless potential.
–FullPlateMom, who is pleading for your help.