I wrote to a local mom the other day. I said "Hey, we need to be friends. We have multiple friends in common, we are both white moms raising black sons in the whitest of cities, we both have strong attitudes about things, when can we get together?" She replied with a warning: she does indeed have strong opinions about adoption, race, and gentrification. She cuts her friends no slack in these areas. I can expect strong push back. I laughed, and replied something like "Bring it on, sister!" This is the reason I want to be friends with this mom. I need more warriors on my team. Not just comrades, but serious not-afraid-to-get-bloody warriors.
It feels as if the world is going crazy. The political situation is insane. The cruelest people in the world have a champion in one of the presidential candidates. There have been threats throughout our state that mirror the things we are all seeing on social media. Perhaps in part because of the industry I work in, some of my co-workers of color are showing obvious signs of hate-related stress. And I am raising a black son. We are trying to adopt another black son. We are going to need all the support we can get.
I joined a new online group of moms raising black sons. I see the love and the fear in the tens of thousands of mamas as they share pictures of their boys of all ages, and I hear them keen with pain at the real threats they see facing their children. And you know what? These mamas are supporting each other, but they are also organizing. Committees, conference calls, action. They, like me, feel the need to DO something; and the internet gives us the means. I learn of other mamas in my state, in my city. I begin making connections.
I feel inadequate, an imposter. Of course, there are other white mamas raising black children out there, but we are all protected at some level by the color of our skin, by our privilege (which does not necessarily mean economic privilege). Our white privilege won't shield our children from discrimination they will face, so our mama-bear fears are just as burning and real as those of the brown-skinned mothers in the group; even so, it is not the same. We may be doing our very best to be good allies and good mothers, but we are still privileged. It's not something we can get rid of. It's always going to be there.
The racial situation in this country is intensely personal to me, but it doesn't directly affect my body. I don't have to deal with threats to my personal safety along with worrying about my kids. In comparison to the hundreds of thousands of brown-skinned mamas in this country, I am safe, my male relatives are safe, my husband is safe. It is a very real luxury, this knowing that the bulk of one's family will not be targeted because of the color of their skin.
I am conscious of the disparity every single moment of every day. The injustice eats at me. My awareness makes me feel an additional obligation to speak out, to use my position of relative privilege to point to the voices who are being ignored or shunned, to shut up and make space for them to speak and be heard, to get out of the way, to be a good ally. I watch out for any behavior of my own that tends towards hidden biases or white savior syndrome. I choose my words carefully. I make mistakes anyway. I apologize, own my shit, and move on. Every day, I get up and try again.
I was messaged by a reader (people still read this blog?!) who is also raising a black son. Do I live in XYZ city? Why yes, I do. And which neighborhood? Oh, hey, we're neighbors! And then it turns out that we live within blocks of each other, and that we've seen each other's kids playing in our respective yards, and she's actually had a conversation with my daughter. And one day I walk by this neighbor's house when she and her son are in their yard, and I say "Hi, I'm Rebeccah," and she invites us in. And another mama is added to my list of People Who Will Understand.
But it feels so fragile, sometimes, so inadequate. Squeaker asked the other day about "All Lives Matter," because he heard a black street performer say the phrase to a white crowd last weekend. The Mister and I scrambled to explain about sarcasm, and situations in which you find yourself saying what people want to hear so that they will like you, even when you know it's wrong, and what it takes to earn a living on the street, and how you can't always show your true self, and how most people who insist that all lives matter have no freaking idea why it is so important to talk about black lives mattering.
Squeaker is 7. These issues are so complicated, and he really wants to understand. We do the best we can to be honest with him without traumatizing him. It's a tricky tightrope to walk.
The series of police-involved shootings of unarmed black men that culminated with the Dallas officers being shot all happened while we were on vacation. I had been doing my best to unplug from social media, to enjoy our family time together, but it eventually became too much, the violence and grief unavoidable. I sat in a hotel room, sobbing, trying through tears to explain to my 7 year old what happened, what he had seen on the hotel's breakfast room TV, why mama was crying, why we need to do everything we can to make the world a better place.
He asked me whether he needed to be scared about police shooting him. He's 7 years old, people. Seven.
I can't protect him. I can't build a wall to keep him safe. All I can do is teach him compassion and self-esteem and street smarts, teach him about those who came before him who fought these battles so he could live a better life, show him his own super powers, and teach him how to build his own community. I can build my army of mamas to prop me up when I'm feeling fragile so that I can pour all my strength into his little body. I can search high and low in this lily-white state for men of color who have the time and energy to serve as role models for him, because the Mister is an amazing dad, but he can't explain to our son how to live in his skin as a black male in a system that was not built to treat him kindly. He'll need multiple mentors so that he can see how many healthy ways there are to be a good man in an unhealthy world, a world that judges people who look like him harshly for no reason at all that he will be able to control. He'll need all the advisors he can get, because his white parents are, well, white. We can love him as hard as we can, but ultimately, when he reaches an age where society judges him to be a danger simply because he is a man of color, our love won't do him a damn bit of good. He'll need more.
In the end, Squeaker is going to have to make his own way in this dangerous world. An army of loving mamas won't be able to protect him when he's out there. It's absolutely terrifying. Now imagine that fear multiplied times the number of male children in your extended family, in your neighborhood, in your child's school. I stand in awe of the mothers of black children (because it is just as dangerous for black girls out there, even more so than for boys in some ways), these strong mamas who have done this for hundreds of years because they simply had no other choice. They are the true warriors. I'm just trying to figure out how to follow their lead.