Let me preface this by saying that I know there are plenty of moms like me who want to raise boys who are caring, sensitive and basically not total douchebags (for lack of a better word choice). As the mother of a black son, I feel there are extra challenges in place that will make it difficult for my son as he gets older.
I’m not going to sugar coat the fact that I know my son has an automatic target on his back. It scares the shit out of me in a daily basis, and sometimes (more often than I’d like to admit), I will find myself with tears running down my face thinking about how unfair it is.
You may see the word unfair and think that I am over exaggerating and being extra, but I’m not.
It’s unfair that every time my husband, son, father or brother are out that I have to worry.
It’s unfair that my son has white friends who make comments to him telling he’s not that kind of black person (at 10 who on earth even says this?) because he’s into Star Wars (hey, blerds exist and have for a long time).
It’s unfair that my son can’t ride his bike around without fear or just exist because others assume he is a threat.
All moms worry about their kids. But the level of worry that black mothers have just isn’t natural.
Our first encounter with how the real world will perceive him happened when we stopped at the gas station on the way to my grandmothers funeral. I was 6 months pregnant and profusely losing my breakfast, lunch, and dinner in the parking lot. My son offered to run inside and purchase me a ginger ale while my husband helped me pull it together.
At 10 he’s often gone into the store to make purchases with my debit card if I don’t have cash, so this is was big deal. By the time I pulled myself together I noticed that he had been in the store for quite some time, so I went in to check on him. He was being grilled by the cashier and some random woman asking where did he get the debit card from. My ten-year-old who normally so full of life looked terrified.
Although I handled that situation, I began to think about the “what if’s” that could have occurred:
What if I wasn’t there?
What if they had called the cops?
What if some overzealous security guard thought he stole the card and wanted to restrain my ten years old?
These are all questions that I have in my head, and it filled me with more dread than I’d like to imagine.
Most importantly I didn’t understand why didn’t realize why didn’t they just listen to him or even stick their head out the door to see that he was telling the truth.
What was already an incredibly emotional time for my family, was escalated because two women wrongly assumed my son was a thief. Apparently, in their world, no parent would ever give their child a debit card to make a purchase. (Maybe some don’t, but I do, rather frequently and so do many other parents that I know).
Also, let me throw in the fact that my son is also autistic. While high functioning, we have taken many strides over the years to make sure he stays that way. There are moments when he completely shuts down–not just for minutes, but for months. I could see in his face how terrified he was and that in a way, his innocence had been lost.
When my husband and I talked to him later about the incident, he relayed to us that the old woman behind him in line made a comment once he presented the card saying “who did you steal that from?” and looked at the cashier saying “you know they always steal everything.” He couldn’t figure out what they she was referring to.
As a mother, I shouldn’t have to point out that there are people in society who are just racist pieces of crap to my kids a young age. I see so many moms in online threads like Scary Mommy, Romper and Babble, point out how they don’t teach their kids to see color and how awful it is to talk to young kids about simple things like being sensitive to other cultures (because it ruins their innocence), like it’s a glorious thing. Doesn’t anyone stop to think that moms of color would love to have those rose-colored glasses, even if just for a day?
Meanwhile, these same women have no issue simultaneously negating the fact that moms like me don’t have the luxury to not teach our kids about the real world, because if we don’t, our kids may have to learn the hard way.
My son didn’t understand that not everyone will ask questions first, but at 10 I had to tell him. He also doesn’t get that people will look past his “preppy” wardrobe (or in this case 3 piece Calvin Klein suit) and only see his skin color, assuming first that because of that he is up to no good.
They don’t care that you come from a two parent home.
They don’t care that you play golf and love coding.
They sure as hell don’t care that you’re an honor student.
Despite all of the negative, it’s important that my son knows that no matter what people think of him, he still needs to the best he can be. He will continue to be an honor student, he will continue to remain the same caring and loving young boy that he always was. As his mother, it is my job to not shield him from the realities of the world, but to teach him how to deal with it. In that respect, I will remain honest with him in every way possible.
Being Christian, I try to hold true to the things that I’ve been taught. Over the years that is one Bible verse that has always stood out to me:
My son now looks at the world and people a lot differently. He is still eager to go into the store and make purchases for me. But he won’t go without my teenage daughter. He has said maybe they will be less likely to think he steals if he has his sister with him.
I haven’t had the heart to tell him, no sweetie, not even that matters.
Love of impromptu dance parties, 80’s cartoons, and horizontal life pauses (aka naps); Natasha Brown is a stay at home mom of 4 kids, and wife to one lucky guy! In her spare time, she is co-editor of Grits & Grace, as well as editor for The Mother Hustler Blog and Creative Director for the Mother Hustler podcast.