President Obama was elected for the first time a week before my youngest son was born. The five of us watched the inauguration from the couch in our then dining room. The night the 2016 election was decided, my oldest son went to bed in tears, “this isn’t happening is it? This isn’t going to be the way it is?”.
He woke up to a fear realized.
This is where it gets very, very fuzzy. If I am to think about the last 12 years and our participation in public life, there is very little I can point at to delineate the two events and the resulting tenures. I had another baby, people moved in and out of our home, we moved houses and we have changed jobs. And all the while the casual cruelty of racism has moved steadily through it.
Black boys and men continue to be stripped of their humanity, first by their killers and then by the media who consumes their death as memes. Black women bear the brunt of the loss and then they are ridiculed or degraded or hunted as they seek justice or care for their loved ones or ask for help. My Black children are chastised for being boisterous (read: joyful), are not taught to read at the same rate as their peers, and are challenged to prove their worth to Whiteness as they move through their diverse schools.
There have been notable moments of despair around our interaction with immigration enforcement or your average MAGA hat wearers in the last 8 years, but we live in the Northwest where fascists skinheads have operated without much fuss for decades. If anything, the last 8 years have given many of us a single out: we are not as bad as them, we just have to replace the cancer that is him. You know where I am going with this though. Mirrors are a tricky business. The White bros on bikes who instruct their children to lay claim to the streets and sidewalks in historically Black neighborhoods or the White women obsessed with chemical free yards and school choice and calling the police are, as they have been for generations, often much more dangerous. And, so it happens, these people are also my neighbors.
Anti-Blackness is decidedly apolitical.
I am curious as to how this next part goes– the part where we endure four more years of whatever the last four years was and whatever the years before that were, too. Resources may become more scarce. Some of us will be more afraid. Some of us will worry that we will not get what we think we deserve. I suspect many will turn to what we know and what has been working out fairly well for us– getting ahead, hoarding resources, trusting systems to protect us and hoping the free market rescues our children and our children’s children.
I also suspect that some of us are getting tired of this relative comfort. We are hoping that things get better, but we understand enough to know that we don’t know how to make that happen. We are coming to realize that we might be raising children who will come to accept state sanctioned violence and anti-blackness as a way to get ahead in the world– just as we have quietly used it to get ahead in ours. We are mostly tired of being stripped of our humanity and we wonder if we are going to be able to come back from this. We want to do better and we are ready to risk our reputations and our resources and our pride on learning and unlearning and relearning a better way.
I will always be here for this last part. And I am rooting for for our imaginations and our curiousity and our willingness to think about burning it all down and then seeing what happens next.
I listen to Vs from the Poetry Foundation all the time. I listened to this one twice last weekend. If you do not have that kind of time, start it right around minute 23 to listen to Mr Abani speaks about the limitations of English and how in other cultures, language is used to raise children apart from shame. I am rethinking my entire approach to teaching (and learning) everything. What a gift.
“White people can weaponize the police against people who aren’t white, and that power only flows in one direction. The way Amy Cooper reacted in the video shows that she was aware of that power dynamic. All it took was for a white person to send a bat signal — or in Amy Cooper’s case, a racial dog whistle — to make a garden unsafe for a black person. So long as people of color, and black men in particular, are seen as a potential danger, the issue of racial equity in parks and other open and public spaces goes unresolved.”
One of the clearest entry points in any conversation about race is to try to answer questions about who has a right to safety and freedom of movement and who gets to make the decision. Ask your middle schooler how this operates in their classroom. As your second grader what she notices at the park. Ask yourself the next time to leave your house.
My friend and racial equity coach is launching a self directed course for folks who parent/teach/care for White children. This is a very, very good and supportive place to start if you are looking for a way to do better in concert with the kids you love. You cannot do this work in isolation and rely on your expert. That’s what got us into a mess in the first place. Get yourself into a class (I will list more resources next week).
“The system of white dominance seeks to embed a story of race within each white child in our nation. It needs to do this because if we, as white people, stop believing the lies it tells, it will no longer yield the power it holds today. If you are like me, you are waking up to this story as an adult.
It is painful. We look back at parents, teachers, family members, community leaders, and pretty much any adult we interacted with and ask some version of “why didn’t you tell me the truth?
“The children who orbit around us will be asking us the same, unless we do something different.”