As I sit at my desk and look out at the calmness before me in nature, it would be easy to retreat into this piece of heaven. However, this sense of calmness does not paint an accurate picture of the current state of our country. We started off this year dealing with a global pandemic, with our children quickly ripped from their schools and friends due to being quarantined at home. Now we are faced with a new pandemic, one that has been present for hundreds of years and bubbling right below the surface; the pandemic of racism. When did my brown-skinned boy become a threat?
In 2014, Toni Morrison, said that,
There is no such thing as race. None. There is just a human race — scientifically, anthropologically. Racism is a construct, a social construct and it has benefits. Money can be made off of it, people who don’t like themselves can feel better because of it, it can describe certain kinds of behavior that can be wrong or misleading, so it has a social function, racism.
When I became a mother for the first time in 2012 I did not identify myself solely as the mother of a black son. I identified myself first as a mother. I identified as a wife, a daughter, a sister, a niece and a granddaughter to name a few. Since the birth of our son, we also welcomed a daughter in 2017. Despite our best attempts at shielding our children from hate and racism, it reared its ugly head in 2016.
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All throughout my son’s time in daycare he never saw himself as a black child. He played happily with his friends who were from varied backgrounds, races and ethnicities. Never once did he question his blackness within these friendships. Fast forward to 2016 when he entered Pre-K. He attended a school where he was the only African American student out of 50 Pre-K students at his school. And I do not over-exaggerate by saying he was the only 1.
Over the course of the school year, he would come home talking about his skin color, how he would frequently be the “criminal” in jail while playing “cops and robbers” and the white children the “cops”. He would say how others would compare his skin color to that of “poop”. He was pushed off the swings, singled out in Art class and made to sit out during his after-school program because he was accused of pushing other students in a game of tag (which does involve touching others). In all of these incidents I became “mama bear” and would quickly schedule a meeting or compose an email to those in charge to address these situations. However, these situations ultimately culminated into one final straw that broke the camel’s back.
He came home that day like any other. Except this time something was different. When I asked about his day he told me that he had been threatened by another Pre-K student. Pre-K, y’all. To this day I am still floored at the story he laid out before me on our usual drive home.
The student told him that he would come to his house with a shotgun and kill his entire family. And as I tried my best to stay calm and find the right words to say in that moment, all I could do was reassure him that he was safe and his family was safe. When we arrived home, we continued with our normal routine and as I lay him down to sleep that night I became awash with fear. Fear that all of his innocence was gone. Washed away by the words of another 4-year old who had learned it was okay to threaten another person.
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After our son laid down to sleep, I relayed the story to my husband and we came up with a plan to address the situation. That night I emailed the principal and requested a meeting to discuss the incident. Prior to our meeting an investigation was conducted. All throughout the interviews our son told the same story over and over again. He never wavered; to the counselor, to his teacher, to the assistant principal and principal. The other student, however, changed his story each time. Finally, it was time to meet and you know what excuse they gave? Yes, the student threatened him, but our son said “well I will bring a gun too.” As if to say, yes, the student threatened him, but the threat was diminished by our son saying the same thing in response.
How often do we see the same situations play out in our community today? Where the blame is placed back on the one who was the victim. Or a white person’s actions are justified although they were the aggressor in the situation.
My son is 8 years old. He is only 4 years away from being 12. The same age as Tamir Rice when he was shot and killed by a police officer. Do I only have 4 years until my brown-skinned son is deemed a threat by those in our community? He has no privilege to fall back on. His skin color at some point will become the first thing people see rather than the gentle, kind-hearted soul that he truly is. He can’t react a certain way when he is angry, whether he be in public, in school or at the playground, for fear of being labeled or hurt. He can’t walk, run, sleep, eat, and just be a kid when he should be a kid because of the color of his skin. He faces adversity in school, at the playground, on the basketball court and on the football field. We teach our children that they have been twice as talented, twice as good, twice as smart and more well-mannered to get the same opportunities as their white counterparts.
You see, my son loves being active and playing sports and wants to one day play professional sports. Not because we have taught him that but because he truly loves the sport. Oftentimes, we see these men of color on the television screen where they are praised and revered for their performance in sports, but vilified once they step foot outside that arena all because of the color of their skin. They are often told to shut their mouths when they offer up an opinion about politics or other social justice issues. Told to “shut up and dribble” as some have been quoted as saying.
After the incident in his school, we quickly transferred him to another campus, but not before the damage had been done. He developed a “tic” from the bullying, for which we have had to seek counseling and therapy. Those “tics” have continued on and off for 4 years. He still talks about the specific student by name and what he experienced. He had a heightened reaction to perceived “wrongs” and it took his Kindergarten teacher the entire school year to undo what had been done during Pre-K. He lost almost two years of instruction due to the bullying-the effects are everlasting. We have had to hire private tutors and therapists to address his needs.
You see the effects of racial bullying don’t end after the incident. The effects extend into their everyday lives and shapes and molds their perception of themselves and others. They start to question their worth, their place in this world among those that don’t look like them; those who would treat them differently simply based on the color of their skin.
While most people may not understand the anger and protests that they are witnessing around the country, we do, as an Black community. We understand. The long history of systemic racism in our country and around the world is enough. We have to do better.
Many say, racism is taught not learned. Countless studies have shown young children do not see color. We have to teach our children to be loving and accepting of those who are different than them, not just in skin color, but in all areas.
You see, given the current state of our nation and my son’s own personal experience with racism, the way I view myself has changed. I now see myself, first, as the mother of a Black son and daughter. Why? Because that is what the world sees when they see my children out and about in the community. As a Black mother I will protect them, educate them on the adversities they will face and and stand with them as they grow up. They are the future and will influence the change that we need to see in this world.
To say that I am scared for them is an understatement. I am afraid. Very afraid of what the future holds for them. However, I am optimistic and always prayerful that change will come. Change that will come in the form of equal opportunities for my children and all children no matter their race, gender, ethnicity, religion or background.