Let me introduce you to my son: 6. He’s about to enter 1st grade and is about as normal as they come. By normal I mean too smart for his own good, testing patience we seem to always lack, repeating himself more than a broken record and more joy than we could have ever imagined.
He is kind, gentle (mostly), rigid, a bit anxious, very funny, and is all about “the rules.” Today at the park he brought me some trash a squirrel was trying to eat because he didn’t want the squirrel to get sick. Yesterday it was trash at the beach to protect the seagulls. I need to start carrying extra trash bags with me (and rubber gloves, ick).
My son is black. I have varied degrees of race-consciousness depending on the circumstances, and Saturday scored a ten. First, McDonald’s play space where our party of nine represented the only race diversity there. My son was playing with a similar-aged girl. They were playing “Police” and the girl was being caught. My son was relentless. As a six-year-old, he’s still learning about personal space, not getting too close, and stopping (whatever it is) when someone asks him too. Well, he didn’t stop “catching” this little girl when she asked. Enter.Teaching.Moment. Yet in that moment, I’m also thinking, “He’s not just a little kid taking it too far, he’s growing into a young black man. For his safety, he needs to get this.”
Fast-forward a few hours to a family adventure at “the trail.” A white woman is in her car talking on the phone. Noah goes up to the car quite quickly, being nosey, and to say hello. The driver startles, but recovers quickly to force a smile. Then her window goes up. I’m taken aback that she rolls up her window. I feel for Noah, who gets the clear message he wasn’t welcome. Sadly, I also think, “here it is again, personal boundaries. He went up so quickly. For his safety, he needs to get this.”
Grand’mama rocks: she brought over new sweatshirts for the kids, both hoodies. Noah’s zips all the way up to cover his head, and has bug-eyes so he can see out. It’s a one piece hoodie/ski mask combo, that looks like a big fly. It is cool; and by now I imagine you know where I’m headed. Noah wears sweatshirts in the grocery store often, as he’s chilled in the refrigerator/freezer aisles. He zips up his hoodie and covers his face. He asks my permission. I’m in pain, wishing it was more simple to just wear a “fly hoodie.” Yet, I’m the mom of a black son.
I share this for the sake of moms of black sons everywhere. Think of that terror you so often feel. You know the one. It keeps you up at night imagining all the terrible things that can happen as you recognize you cannot fully protect your kids; try as we might. Every parent can unite around these paralyzing fears. If your circle includes families with race diversity, take a moment to acknowledge their fear. They may not feel comfortable sharing it, but trust it’s there. As our kids have started to grow, we’ve caught ourselves redefining successful parenting. “For his safety, he needs to get this” is a crucial barometer we would never want. Wherever we fall in our beliefs, statistically, he’s the underdog. It’s okay, welcome even, to affirm that fear for those you know.
When I imagine safe places for my children, I feel safest with those who know race is still a factor, who will listen to my children when they don’t want to come to us, and who will believe them, validate them, and embrace them. Just look at this kid. I can’t even imagine what awesomeness his future will hold, and he needs you.