There are many more important topics that should be up for discussion right now, and I understand that. The topic of race seems to be a hot button issue in recent months, and though it can be uncomfortable, it can also be eye opening. A good friend of mine once asked why I chose to live in ignorant bliss. My answer was and is still simple; why choose to see all of the bad in the world or go look for it. I see ugly on a regular basis, I don't have to search it out.
As a black mother of three, I have heard pretty awful things. I worry about things that other mothers don't worry about. I also have a strength that is unmatched because of these awful things. I have been asked straight out, the following questions, and statements. They did not sugarcoat for me or my children, so I won't sugarcoat for you. "Do they all have the same daddy?" "Why did you have so many kids?" This one is most recent, by my sons 1st grade teacher. "I know you have a bunch of other kids at home, so maybe one of them can help with his homework." "It’s a shame black men don't stick around. You could use some help." You get my point. All I can say is people can be rude. I don't condemn a whole race, because some people of that same color are ignorant.
As a black mother of three, these are some of the thing I have heard. "I don't know why they have so many if they can't afford them." That was said while I walked through J.C. Penny. I have even heard "she has a Louis Vuitton, but I'm sure she has a food stamp card too" while I was in line to check out at Wal-Mart. People really should learn how to be better whisperers. Were my feelings hurt in these situations? Absolutely, and everything wanted to boil over. I wanted to yell and tell them how ignorant they were, but I didn't. I pretended I heard nothing and went on about my way. As a black woman I often feel I don't have the right to display my outrage in a very therapeutic yelling session at the wrongdoers. If I yell at them, it will only continue to perpetuate the stereotype as an angry black woman.
“My kids are happy kids, but when in public, they are on their best behavior, so they don't acquire the label of "that bad black kid."”
When I was younger, I learned from the words my mother didn't say. I learned from the actions I saw her taking. I learned from the conversations I overheard or the hushed comments between whomever she was speaking to. My mother demanded respect from us, inside and outside of the home and one phrase that she would repeat throughout my childhood was "y'all can't be acting like these white kids in the store." That may not be the exact phasing, but it was very close to that. When people see toddlers throwing fits in the store, the reactions from others are different between the races. If the child is white, people may giggle or smile, saying something along the lines of "she's got her hands full." When it's a child of color throwing the tantrum, the reaction is markedly different and you get comments like I mentioned above.
As a mother of two black boys, I have to be extra vigilant in making sure they understand how their presence can make people feel threatened, while at the same time help them understand they have value. I have to have a conversation with them when they get a little taller about how they will "fit the description" most of the time, and how to react when they do. Sometimes the reason for being pulled over is because you're brown and the sad truth is, if you don't act in a manner that is completely compliant, you can get a jolt of a Taser or worse. As parents our goal should be raising a boy in America, not raising a black boy in America or a (fill in the blank) boy in America.
I know that racism is and always will be a sensitive topic and most of us like to pretend that it doesn't exist anymore. It does exist. I myself like to live in my ignorantly bliss bubble and pretend that racism is something of the distant past, but if you would like to find out if it's as dead as you believe it to be, take a moment to look up a couple of things. The first thing I would suggest, is looking up "sun down towns" take note of where these towns are, you may be surprised. Another thing to look up is "disproportionate representation" in the department of human services and department of corrections in your state. Black and Hispanic kids are more likely to be overly reported for abuse and/or neglect, less likely to be placed back in their homes and less likely to be adopted. This means, a large group of these kids are being removed from their homes to grow up in the foster care system. Sadly not all of the kids put in this system even go to foster homes. They are placed in group homes or other residential settings. These are things people should be educated on. Different cultures parent differently and the colored representation in the department of human services portion is unjustly skewed. This is something I witnessed with my own eyes and it broke my heart every time.
My kids are happy kids, but when in public, they are on their best behavior, so they don't acquire the label of "that bad black kid." My kids speak properly, because I don't want them treated any differently because they "sound black." I do everything in my power so they don't acquire any negative stereotype, knowing no matter how hard I try they will still be labeled, because I am. I was raised in a white neighborhood, have a college education, was married to my children's father for 14 years, but I am a black mother of three. The last thing I said is the first thing they see.
A version of this post originally appeared at stopyellingatmeplease.com
Karlie is the person behind the blog Stop Yelling at Me...please! She enjoys writing about life, current events and of course, parenting. Karlie is a mother of three and the wife of one supportive husband that is not being held against his will, really. She is also a contributing writer on the Today Parenting Team. You can check out more of her work at stopyellingatmeplease.com