Dear White America:
If you have eyes you've noticed that I have a son who doesn't look too much like me. Mino is fair skinned with blue-green eyes and blonde hair. It’s a shock to most people when they figure out I’m his mother, not his babysitter or that he doesn't belong to anyone who’s with me who is even a shade fairer than I am.
They seem even further alarmed when I tell them his father, though he’s light, is not white.
You could really buy them for a dollar when I have both of my sons together and (if they’re really, really nosy) they ask if they have the same father and I blow them away with a YES.
Recently I was having lunch with my office and my boss asked if Mino had some sort of “condition” that contributed to his looking “white.”
Well the answer to that is simple: Genetics.
My father is mixed, my mother is black. I grew up with a blonde haired, green-eyed Irish grandmother; so when I had a blonde haired blue eyed child, I wasn't at all confused. I figure he was kissed by an angel named Emma on his way down.
But this isn't a post about that.
I work for someone who likes to discuss race. He’s one of those “forward-thinking” people who believes that if and when we stop self-identifying, we can all be one happy, intermixed melting pot of eventually ethnically homogeneous people without racism. He’s greatly against terms like “Asian American,” “Mexican American,” and “African American.”
The issue with that is there is a difference in ethnicity, race and nationality. You would think someone who could pass the bar exam would have mastered these concepts, but again, this isn't about him, either.
This is a post for everyone who thinks like him.
As I already stated, I grew up with a mixed father and a black mother. I was born fairly dark skinned and so for the most part, I live and identify myself as a black woman. I was raised in a manner that’s commensurate with being black, I have mostly black friends and I married an (also mostly) black man.
With today’s climate, race has once again become an open topic of discussion.
Just reading this is making someone, somewhere squirm.
The discussion of the term “white-privilege” puts a LOT of people I know and work with on edge. It makes them feel defensive and frankly, it’s something that they have a hard time acknowledging and accepting simply because they do not know a life without it and therefore, admitting its mere existence is challenging.
I have the task of raising an outwardly ethnically ambiguous child as well as a child who is obviously black and because of this, the state of racial unrest in this country stirs me.
I am conflicted between teaching my sons the differences between "us" and "them" and constantly concerned with whether Mino will feel ostracized because he looks different than his family or whether Nelly will feel overlooked in the shadow of his brother who looks more like what society finds acceptable.
And still, this post isn't about that either.
It's about the fact that I have to even worry about how society will treat my "black" son.
Or that I wonder when I'll have to explain to my "white" son that he's really black.
Or when should I teach my children to be afraid of the same people who are sworn to protect and serve, for fear that they'll be the next Mike Brown or Oscar Grant.
It's about the fact that someone, somewhere doesn't even know who those two young men were.
this is about the fact that I was told by my boss that I've never seen real prejudice - yet I've been pulled over in my car and asked immediately who it belonged to even before I pulled out my registration.
Or maybe how I was snatched by a security guard during a celebratory theme park trip after getting a full ride to college and accused of stealing something that belonged to me because "all you black teenagers steal." - an experience that took a year to clear up and causes me to compulsively carry receipts, even for food.
It's about when I walk into the dollar tree for a pack of batteries and I'm followed by the security guard regardless of my $500 purse or the fact I'm in business attire.
Or that I was asked if I know Sharkeisha. Seriously.
Or how about the time I was using my debit card and it kept getting declined because the cashier assumed I was using food stamps for my groceries.
It's about the gawks I get when I'm with my very fair, blonde child.
Or when my husband couldn't be served at a local restaurant because his money was no good there.
The list goes on.
I, and every other socially aware black mother today, have to teach my sons a set of rules that you, White America, know nothing about.
Rules that may save them from being shot full of lead.
Rules that will keep them from easily landing in jail because prejudice is alive and well.
Rules to appear upstanding at all times because my sons, specifically Nelly, will be judged not by the content of their character, as Dr. King once hoped, but still, by the color of their skin.
The standards on us are twice as high. I can tell you first hand.
And if you are white, accepting and free of prejudice, this is not for you to take offense. The only thing you need to understand is that you won't understand. For all the intellect and empathy you may possess, there are no ways for me to take off my shoes and let you walk in them.
Just know that just because you yourself do not participate in racism doesn't mean it's dissipated.
Just because you work hard doesn't mean I, my sisters, my brother, my parents, don't and won't have to work twice as hard to get to the same place.
So please, if and when the next opportunity arises, don't wave off someone's cries of racism.
We're fighting a battle inward and outward that many of you forgot about a long time ago.
But I don't forget when I pray over my sons.
As far as I'm concerned, Trayvon Martin is my brother, who walks up and down the street in the suburbs still in a hoodie to this day.
Mike Brown could be my son in 13 years.
Oscar Grant died in my hometown.
I'm not reaching, I'm speaking of a reality that white privilege blinds you to.
All of our problems won't go away if we just stop saying "nigga" or calling ourselves "African American."
We are not the same.
But I can hope that one day we will be.
A Black Mother.