I have written many posts about all I have learned as a parent of black children, and the all the learning that continues to be involved in parenting across their lifetimes and at different ages and stages of development. When ResponsiBoy was handed to me, I had a completely color blind approach to parenting him. It didn’t matter if he was black, dang it! The world wasn’t going to treat him THAT way. What way? Well, the way they treat all the other black people. Which black people? The ones without a white mama.
Not the best approach to parenting a black child. Eventually, he started stepping out without me, like to preschool, and lo and behold, the world treated him like he was…gasp…black. And, in case you hadn’t heard, the world doesn’t always treat black boys so nicely. Assumptions were made about him that I don’t care to repeat word-for-word here. They involved the use of the words ‘crack baby’ and ‘baby mama.’ I cried broken hearted tears over the fact that the world would see him as, well, black.
I read absolutely every single book I could get my hands on, because that’s what I do. How could I get the world to see him as a different sort of black man? My approach to the hard things in life is that education is power. I have made myself an expert in all things pulmonary hypertension and single ventricle related because of Dolly’s heart. So, in this case, I decided to make myself an expert in how to raise a black man. An excellent plan for a naive, 20-something, white girl. I remember reading this book. Actually, I read it three times, because this absolutely had to hold the answer. I want to raise a ‘healthy’ black boy, the kind that the world didn’t see as a thug. The kind that didn’t have a chip on his shoulder when they did ask if he was a ‘crack baby’ or how many other kids his birth mom and ‘baby daddy’ had. No, he wouldn’t have a chip on his shoulder from that. I would make sure of it.
I decided, in my 24-year-old naive mind, that it would be an excellent idea to send an email to the black author of the aforementioned book and tell him how much I appreciated his writing and inform him about my mission and subsequent plight. His answer to me was kind, but it was a turning point. In answer to my question about how to keep my baby boy from developing a chip on his shoulder he replied, “what is so terrible about having a chip on your shoulder about mistreatment? Maybe that chip will act as a defense, or a warning, against that type of behavior.”
Maybe he needed that chip. Maybe he didn’t need to be a different sort of black man at all. Maybe he just needed to be his own man. But, that begged the question, how do we handle that chip so that it doesn’t become a weak spot that tears him in two? How do I help him manage that chip? This is what I’m learning. How do I manage it all too? How do I acknowledge the ignorance, the pain, the fear of being in black man in America all while still holding onto his innocence for just a little longer? We’re finding this balance, but the events of this week make that difficult. How do I answer questions about current events?
Mom, what happened to Michael Brown? Why would he steal? Why did he get so angry? Why would the police officer shoot him when he didn’t have a gun? Why would they decide not to send that officer to trial? Didn’t he kill him? What about Michael Brown’s mama, she must hurt so badly? Is someone going to try to kill that police officer now? Why are people burning everything? Why are people stealing from stores?
Oh my gosh. Where do I start?
I started with stories of the past, of the civil rights movements. We talked about how sometimes things get so bad and the pressure becomes so great that one event becomes a turning point, the match that ignites the powder keg. We talked about people like Rosa Parks who just refused to move, but we also talked about Watts, and Rodney King, and the many, many other powder kegs.
Then Middle-Middle asked about Martin Luther King, Jr.
I replied with honesty. This week, I am fairly certain he has been the most misinterpreted figure in history. I have seen friends and family watching the riots in Ferguson say over and over “This is not what Dr. King preached” or “This is not what he wanted” and, my personal favorite “Dr. King wasn’t an angry black man.” Um…yes, yes he was. I don’t know what he would have wanted. He was shot and killed during a powder keg, when he was still too young to have seen history unfold enough to tell us what he would have wanted. He preached peace, yes, but he also understood the violence. And, he was angry.
I read this to Middle-Middle, because I wanted to him to hear Dr. King’s own words, and not the words others were putting in his mouth. This is taken directly is from MLK’s speech titled “The Other America” and was delivered March 14, 1968.
“But it is not enough for me to stand before you tonight and condemn riots. It would be morally irresponsible for me to do that without, at the same time, condemning the contingent, intolerable conditions that exist in our society. These conditions are the things that cause individuals to feel that they have no other alternative than to engage in violent rebellions to get attention. And I must say tonight that a riot is the language of the unheard. And what is it America has failed to hear? It has failed to hear that the plight of the negro poor has worsened over the last twelve or fifteen years. It has failed to hear that the promises of freedom and justice have not been met. And it has failed to hear that large segments of white society are more concerned about tranquility and the status quo than about justice and humanity.”
While he wouldn’t have condoned the rioting and the looting, he surely understood why it was happening. I want my kids to find other ways to manage the chip. I want them to find other outlets for their frustration, but I also want them to understand. Because I think all of us understanding will go a long way to trying to stop the injustice.
–FullPlateMom, who is just asking for a little understanding.