Thoughts from a White Mom of Black Kids
I am a white mom with black daughters.
I am heartsick over what has transpired in the last few week in our country. I am unsure of what I should say. I know that I can never fully understand; I know that I can only speak from my limited experience.
A while back, my son was stopped by the police twice in one night. The first time, he was speeding. The police officer asked him where he had been and what he had been doing. Evan explained he had been at his girlfriend's house watching a movie. The officer asked him what movie and Evan admitted it was "Steel Magnolias." The police officer gave Evan a hard time for watching a chick flick, and joked that he should give him a ticket for that.
He was stopped again about half an hour later, this time for a brake light. The second police officer noticed a suspicious white powder and crumbs on Evan's jeans. He asked Evan to get out of the car. Those white crumbs turned out to be the vanilla fudge that he had been snacking on while driving hime.
When Evan got home and told us what had happened, we laughed. We made jokes about him being an old lady, eating fudge and watching Steel Magnolias. Now, it is a funny family story.
All moms know that anxious feeling when a teen is out late and how you can finally rest easy when you hear them come in. I was glad he was home safe and that he didn't get a ticket.
Not once did I worry about him being harmed by the police. It never even entered my mind. Evan is white. Because of his skin color, I have the privilege of not worrying about him being harmed.
I am a mom of six kids: four white and two black. When we adopted, I knew it would be different raising a child of another race. But I did not give too much thought to modern racism and how it would affect my child. I had no concept of the systemic racism in our country.
I certainly did not see my own white privilege, bias, and prejudice.
The first time someone made a comment about our girls, I brushed it off as one person's ignorance. But as time went on, the continuing comments and questions I heard made me pause and question.
I started to notice assumptions others made about her or her birth-mom because of her skin color (such "I bet she's a great dancer/athlete" or "Are they real sisters?"). I began to wonder, is that racist? But for the most part people were kind, and comments were not too negative. I didn't realize that the girls were insulated a bit due to my skin color.
The first time one of my daughters read about the civil rights era sit ins and protests, she looked up from her book with disbelief and fear in her eyes.
"Mom, they won't do that to me, will they?' I assured her that because of the brave work done by those civil rights activists, she can sit where she wants.
But of course this is not true. It may be the law, but it is not the reality. By law she may be able to sit where she wants. But she cannot sit how she wants. Her very presence in the world without my white skin next to her puts her at risk.
When she was nine she came home in tears. A neighbor girl told her that she would have to stop living with us because she is black and we are white. Ella told me the girl used the word segregation.
We were on our way to church and I cried angry tears. I was so mad I did not think I could walk into church.
The first time I felt the hurt of racism this strongly was when Ella was nine. But countless mothers of black and brown children deal with this every single day.
My pain and tears are just a tiny drop in a bucket that has been overflowing for years.
Yes, I have a black children, but I am white. Their race has suffered at the hands of my race for a very long time.
People who look like me are people who think she is less than me because she is black.
After this and many more instances, I started to panic.
I am a mom of six; I know how to prepare a child to be an adult. But I have no idea how to prepare them to be black women in this society. So I got to work, reading, talking to people of color, and examining my own prejudice and bias. It is not easy work. It is hard and uncomfortable. But it is necessary work, not just because my children's lives matters, but because all black lives matter. As a white person I have always inherently known that my life matters. To this country, to our racist system, black lives haven't mattered.
As the events of the last few weeks have unfolded, I have struggled what to say to Ella; how do I explain it or prepare her? The truth is that I can't.
But I can listen, learn, and continue to examine my own bias. I can challenge others in their conversations and comments about race. I can love, I can pray. I can support causes that help bring racial reconciliation.
I can live by the main tenet of my faith: I can love my neighbor.
When life goes back to normal for us with white skin, we need to remember that our normal is not always what people of color experience.
We need to never stop learning, listening, advocating and loving.