There was a moment two years ago where I lost my mind. I was standing on a public sidewalk about to walk into a middle school track meet. A friend walked up to greet me as I answered the phone.
The principal at my child’s school was calling me to check in after another parent had reported seeing my 9 year old child lined up in the hallway with some of their classmates. I think that were 5 or 6 children, all Black and brown but one. Their white teacher had them line up against the wall and she was making them turn out their pockets to find evidence of a stolen starburst.
The parent who had seen it told me as she was leaving my house after a PTO board meeting. She was shaking and started to cry as she told me because she felt like she had witnessed something terrible, but also, did she? Yes, she was pretty sure she had.
I called the school and left a message. The principal was now returning my call and I think she was tired and I am sure she was probably tired of me. She began to speak in that gentle but frail legal language of defense that principals are taught to speak in and I snapped.
I yelled and cursed and made a scene into the phone on the sidewalk. I made it personal. After years of documenting and “circling back” and letting everyone speak their truth I felt in my bones that I had nothing left to lose but my ever loving shit. It was a scene and I was at the center. Let the whole ground swallow me up. Eventually, the friend who was standing beside me, also a mother of Black children, took my arm and started whispering in my ear.
“Shhh. It’s okay. I know… this won’t change anything… this is done… Just hang up now. It’s done.”
I hung up.
I have crafted gorgeous emails and made polite phone calls. I have showed up and volunteered as if it were my full-time job. I have testified at board meetings and been in closed door meetings with policy makers. I have counseled teachers to quit. I have filed formal complaints. I have yelled.
I have pleaded.
And the truth of it is, that there has been no intercession that I have participated in that has protected my children from devastating and complicated every-day stress of being Black in spaces that center whiteness.
My nephew and one of my sons have locked wills and I am certain that my son will win, but it will look like loss and I will have to explain my son’s unacceptable behaviour. My son is vibrating with hormones and anger and I want to scoop him up but he does not want to be touched. I am gutted because these people love him so much, but he doesn’t trust whiteness and this distrust casts a wide net. People think they can love it away and god knows I will die trying, but this will come on his terms only.
I am quietly relieved that he will not bend to whiteness. He is a fighter and I know this will serve him. I have had to unlearn that I do not get to decide what a hard heart looks or feels like. This is revolution making work. Let him inherit the earth.
Over many years we have crept away from friendships that could not stand up to the scrutiny of oppression. This sounds dramatic, but it has mostly been pretty straight forward. It has largely looked like saying no or just not showing up– no to the happy hours and party invites and no to play dates. For a while our family was so big that the size of us took us off of the guest lists anyway. Sometimes I remember that many people live within the luxury of apolitical relationships. In those moments I shake my head and realize the length that we have gone to keep our kids safe.
It will never be far enough.
For example: we still send them to school.
The other day I made a quick list of 22 times that the schools my children attend had to normalize or apologize for racist behavior or policy. I read it out loud. The boys laughed and rolled their eyes and looked at each other. I woke up the next day and though of ten more things. And then 10 more. Wash, rinse, repeat
I think of my friend, grabbing my arm on the sidewalk and holding me, realizing how many times she had pressed through the nightmare of this. How ridiculous and familiar it would have been for her watch me coming undone at the treatment of a Black child.
This is nothing new. I am nothing special.
“I don’t want every black child to have to be the professor in their classroom…”
This is a very quick and moving interview with the author of Song Below Water, Bethany C Morrow. Ms Morrow speaks about her desire to protect Black children and what she means by “protection” in the first place.
Listen, I know that zero school teachers may ever read this. So, if this is you, great, but if it’s not, let me recommend this to you who may be caregivers or role models or child adjacent in any way. This book will be a gift to you and your own learning and unlearning.