I was asked by a friend to write about being a white mom to black kids a while back and I thought Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was an appropriate time to finally post it. At first, I was eager to write. And then I sat down to write and I couldn’t. I didn’t know how to sum everything up in a single blog post. Not to mention, it’s a huge possibility that many of my friends and family will be offended by what I have to say and I just don’t like confrontation. So, I give you my words with trepidation. And I ask, as I speak about my family & my experiences, that you be kind in your responses. My experiences are real along with the feelings they evoked and still evoke. Please treat them with respect.
Let me begin by saying I grew up in a white, middle class, southern family. I knew black people and would have even said I had black friends. But as I sit here and recall my childhood, I can’t think of a single black person that ever entered my house. I would have guffawed at the accusation of being a racist, but black boys with sagging pants and hoodies made me wary and I would tell my friends that I was going to become the 1st white Ms. Black America because “they” would be the ones discriminating if “they” didn’t allow me to participate.
Like many of you, I thought I was ok because I didn’t actively participate in discrimination or saying racial slurs. But like I tell my kids- if you see someone being bullied, the good thing is to not participate but the better and right thing is to stand up to the bully and for the bullied.
Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that racism still existed. Some things you just can’t understand until you personally experience it – I would venture to say racism is one of those things. I would listen to my black friends and my friends who had black kids talk about their experiences. I listened and was aghast at some of the things they told me. But I never really understood until I experienced it myself. This is why we need to and we must listen to those who have lived this thing called racism, day in and day out. We need to take our cues from them, rather than from our own experiences and perceptions. Because as white men & women, our own experiences and perceptions are vastly different than our black friends and neighbors, I can assure you of this.
I learned just how real this difference is when I became the mom of black kids.
I will never forget the disappointed look on the man’s face when I told him our son was from Louisiana instead of Africa – like it made my son less important. Or the man on the train when he found out we adopted our son from the foster system asking, “Oh. Is he a crack baby?” Or the numerous people who ask if I’m babysitting or running a daycare- because the idea that I, as a white woman, would actually take care of these kids in any other capacity is absolutely foreign. Or the lady who only saw our son’s feet at first and just thought he had “really dirty feet.” Or how our black teenage daughter is frequently asked if our son is her kid when we are out. Or how my teenage daughter is watched more closely when we’re in stores. Or how the store clerk looked at me, with my daughter by my side, and said, “What language does she speak?” Or how my daughter, very loudly, yells “Mom!” in my direction when we are out so people know she is with me. Or how the eyes quickly dart down to my left ring finger after noticing my family. Or the pit in my stomach after a social worker told us the kids hardest to place are black boys- because black boys grow up to be black men. Or the look on my daughter’s face when a relative firmly declared that interracial marriage is wrong because it’s unfair to the kids they might have. Or the intense fire that burned in my belly as I came to my daughter’s defense. Or how sick I felt when our social worker told us that our son is classified as special needs just because he is a black male with an unknown father. Since when did the color of someone’s skin make them special needs? Or how I can never allow my black son to play with his new Nerf gun outside. Or the subtle, hesitant looks I get when I suggest my black son marry your white daughter one day. Or how the looks and comments became worse when we became parents of a black teenager, because there comes a point in society when black kids are no longer seen as cute but as trouble makers and threats.
I wish I could explain the grief and fear that seizes my body when I hear of another black person killed simply because of the color of their skin. I wish I could convey to you how I’m scared for our teenage daughter to be out without us, because someone might think she doesn’t belong. I wish I could help you to understand how I want to protect my kids from anything that could ever harm them, but I’m not quite sure how to protect them from the color of their skin. I want you to know I never imagined how fiercely I would have to fight for my children to be viewed as equals, even by family members, and how diligently I would have to guard their hearts & minds from the evil of racism. I want you to know I never imagined being verbally attacked for protecting my kids. I want you to know how keenly aware I am of our surroundings, all the time. As a white woman, I want to believe that the 9 lives lost in Charleston, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Renisha McBride, & Dajerria Becton are isolated incidents and that there are more important issues to be concerned about. But as a mom to black kids, I know they are not isolated and there are very few things you could convince me are more important than the safety of my kids.
I want you to know that as a white mom to black kids, I carry around both deep embarrassment & disappointment for my own past racial biases and extreme fear & grief over my children’s future. I want you to know that I don’t have all of the answers. I am not an expert on racial issues. I haven’t been at the racial reconciliation table for very long and I’m disappointed it has taken me this long to pull up a chair. But I am committed to staying, continuing to examine my own racial biases, listening to those who have been here a while, and giving my voice to the voiceless. I am committed to standing and working against racism wherever I see it, even if it makes me uncomfortable or unpopular. My kids have opened my eyes. It is my prayer that many more eyes will be opened to truth that I learned and many more would stand against injustice. I pray that God would raise up more black men like Dr. King and more white people to stand beside them, working together for racial reconciliation and justice.
The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy. – MLKJ