The “Where’s Your Mom?” Microaggressions

It happened again.

People who know us forgot that I was his mother.

IMG_20170303_171030I am white. My son is Black. This is a tremendous invisible burden for him. Being asked to explain yourself or justify yourself as an adoptee is called “narrative burden.” It’s not fair to him, but it is his albatross.

Every.single.time. we are out in public together, something small happens to make us feel “othered”. These tiny things add up, especially for a young impressionable child. “Microaggressions” is a term I have recently learned, and, while it applies to race, I think it may also apply here to transracial adoption.

Yesterday, after Cub Scouts was over, I was following my son out the door. We were close together. Another mother (who knows us) stopped my son from exiting and said, “Wait, where’s your mom?” WHILE HE WAS TALKING TO ME. I firmly said, “I’m his mom” and brushed past her quickly.

Last week, as I was checking my three sons into the gym daycare, the woman at the desk (who knows us) said, “How many children today?” while looking at only my Black son. WHILE HE WAS HOLDING ON TO ME. My white twins were probably doing cartwheels around us, but she wasn’t looking at them. She was looking at my Black son, who was touching me, and basically asking if he counted. I sternly said, “I have THREE CHILDREN.”

The week before that, I took my son to his school’s book fair. He chose his book, and we walked together to the cash register. I was right behind him in line. We were the only two in line. The teacher (who knows us) added up the total, and then said, “Where’s your mom?” WHILE LITERALLY MOVING HER BODY TO SEE AROUND MY HEAD. I followed her gaze over my shoulder and noted that she was looking at a Black family across the room. I said, “I’M his mom” while shoving my credit card in her face.

Yes, each of these things may be small to you. Yes, each of these things can be explained (“whitesplained”) away. Yes, each of these things might be understandable. Until you put yourself in my son’s shoes. Until you realize it’s cumulative. Until you realize that it happens every.single.time. Until you realize what that would actually feel like to be him.

It’s not fair. It’s a heavy burden. It’s a cumulative effect. It’s one more way the world makes him feel like an “other.” It’s just one more way he may feel he doesn’t belong. He’s getting old enough that this burden bothers him, but he’s not yet old enough to want to answer anyone himself. We talk about these things. I try to give him the language he will need, and the choice to answer when he’s ready. Right now, he is introverted and uncertain about everything. Wouldn’t you be, too?

These microaggressions are probably why he doesn’t want me to eat lunch with him, or chaperone field trips. Unlike white/non-adopted kids, he is asked by peers and adults alike basically to explain himself. No child should ever have to explain why he belongs with his own family.

We know the “colorblind” mentality didn’t work. It was a failure. It is not the goal, either. It is well-documented that children do better when diversity is acknowledged, voiced, and celebrated. Yet white people stubbornly hold on to that “I don’t see color” crap. If you don’t see color, then you WOULD see that he was wearing matching t-shirts with his brothers. If you don’t see color, then you WOULD see that he was holding my hand. If you don’t see color, then you WOULD see that he was calling me “momma” and talking to me and holding onto my waist. You would have already noticed and remembered that we are a family. If you don’t see color, then you wouldn’t make him feel so othered from his own family every damn day. Don’t you dare ever say to me that you don’t see color.

A  Meme That Changed My Life?

Scrolling through Instagram, to escape my kids and my brain (both of which were driving me crazy), I saw a meme that changed my life.

Hold up. Say whaaaat? Yep, I’m for real. I might be exaggerating a wee bit, but it was still important. A friend had posted a meme that was a quote by Mooji, a “spiritual teacher” from Jamaica. It said:

“Feelings are just visitors. Let them come and go.”

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My own version of that meme

Those words just happened to hit me at the right moment. I could use any cliché here to describe what happened: it clicked, lightbulb moment, “aha” moment. What happened was a profound and real paradigm shift in my thinking.

I am not my thoughts. I am not my feelings. I am not my guilt.

These things are actually separate from me. And they are temporary. If they are visitors (maybe not the more favorable word choice of “guests”), that means they will leave. Eventually.

It’s not as if I’d never done my homework before. I know about retraining your brain by changing your thoughts. I know about cognitive distortions. I know about cognitive behavioral therapy. I have a Bachelors’ degree in Psychology (granted, it’s old); I have listened to professionals; I have read books. I have even read books on this very topic. I have probably even seen almost identical doofy self-help quotes on social media every day for years. I had thought I understood what my brain was doing and how to change it. But somehow, somehow, despite all of that, my brain didn’t actually accept that “feelings are just visitors” until this one stupid (or amazing) meme.

A mom with depression, anxiety, or simply a guilt-prone personality, might see a children’s book lying on the floor at night after the children are in bed. This kind of self-deprecating mom will have some or all of the following thoughts:

“I promised my child I would read that book to him, and I didn’t. He will never trust me if I don’t mean what I say.”

“I don’t read to my children enough. I’m a former teacher; I KNOW how important reading is. What is wrong with me?”

“I can’t keep this house clean to save my life. My husband will think I’m lazy.”

“Why are there always books on the floor? Haven’t I taught my children to respect books? Maybe they never actually see me reading books myself. I’m on my phone too much. Have they even seen me pick up a novel?”

“My husband will be stressed by this mess when he comes home. Why can’t I get it together?”

A mom with a healthier line of thinking – or (let’s be honest) A DAD – will look at that same book and think:

“There is a book on the floor.”

And that’s it. A fact with no blame. Maybe that person would go so far as to put the book away, or make plans to read it to his child tomorrow, but there would be no judgment attached to the thought.

Mr. Okayest is so very good at simply seeing that there is a dang book on the floor. I say that with awe and respect. It’s one of the things I love best about him. He’s factual (so he adds no blame to anything), but simultaneously so loving (because he can factually see where I differ from him, and he can see it without blame). He’s a good example to me, and a huge help to me.

I’m fairly certain I’m a non-judgy person. The older I get, the more gray area I see. The more wiggle room. I am pretty sure I follow “live and let live” and “love your neighbor” and “meet people where they are.” I think I almost always remember that everyone is fighting invisible battles and will do things differently than I will. (I even consulted with my husband to be sure that I really am that kind of person.)

So WHY OH WHY do I judge myself so harshly? I’m realizing that every single thought and feeling about myself comes with 1) judgment, and 2) directing it inward. Making it a part of my personality.

Instead of saying “I’m so anxious”, I’m now going to say, “I have a temporary feeling of anxiety.” It is not me, and it is not permanent. Instead of telling myself “I am a bad mother”, I will try to reframe it and think, “I have a feeling of inadequacy that will pass.” It is not me, and it is not permanent.

Now that my brain had finally assimilated all that, I began my research anew. With new lenses on. I went back to the books, information from professionals, journals, articles, and read many of them again, with a new understanding of how to really apply it to my own self. While reading an article about how to help children with their anxiety, I learned that you can teach your children that thoughts are like a train. Each thought or feeling or emotion is a train car. They are not actually YOU. They are passing by. You can watch them pass, and you can do so without putting any blame on those train cars.

I have actually been applying this simplistic children’s advice to myself. I had to start practicing when the children were in bed, or in preschool. I was not able to retain the self-control, or time, to practice it when they were around and demanding things in triplicate – and I didn’t want to set myself up for failure. I am not a visual person (I like words – duh), so imagining a train passing by whenever I recognized a negative or anxious feeling is not natural for me. It takes a lot of effort. But, to my surprise, it was actually working. I found that often I had to picture my stupid negative train slowing to a stop at my station, because the feelings wouldn’t budge for a while. But remembering that those feelings were separate from me, no matter how long they parked there, was a revelation.

I practiced this visualization and thought retraining (oh, semi-nice pun!) for about two weeks before I was actually able to stop a full-blown anxiety attack in its tracks. (Ohhh, super nice pun!) I left the kids to their Legos and went to my room and shut the door. (I could not have done this two years ago. I am able to steal moments away now that the twins are four and not constantly in mortal danger.) I sat in my happy papasan chair and stared out my window. I slowed my breathing and pictured my stupid train. I repeated my stupid meme quote. “Feelings are just visitors. Let them come and go.” I did it. I de-escalated myself. I waited until I was really sure of that fact, and then I went back to my children.

At a recent adoption conference, I heard an adult adoptee (who is also a rapper) say that if we are caring for foster children, traumatized children, adopted children, special needs children, then we have a responsibility to get it together mentally in order to help them. He, of course, mentioned the ubiquitous oxygen mask analogy, which I have often heard and thought I had understood. But, for some reason, the way he phrased it changed everything. He said something like, “If you are the kind of person who is willing to care for children of trauma, then you are probably the kind of person who doesn’t think about herself. Who doesn’t put herself first. So I’m going to frame this from that perspective. Taking care of yourself and your own mental health IS being selfless, because it enables you to care for the needs of your child. You have to get it together yourself in order to BE SELFLESS enough to care for that kid.”

Straight into my heart and leaking out my eyes.

The oxygen mask analogy never really sat well with me, because, seriously, I don’t know if I can even FIND my oxygen mask. (Also, I am wary of the “saviorism” mentality that many white adoptive parents have without knowing it. I do not believe I am “selfless” for having adopted. Nor do I assume that my child is “better off with me.” I benefited from this man’s words because he was helping me figure out how to best help my child.) But this adult Black male adoptee who had been to prison and to college was telling me that taking the time to work out my own sh!t was for the good of my child. … And somehow it sunk in this time. Somehow, even though I may have heard it a hundred different times in a hundred different ways, and even though I had thought I had understood it, my brain and heart were actually finally ready to assimilate it.

Why am I ready now? Why is years of already-gathered information suddenly resonating? Maybe it’s because the kids are older, and I am actually able to take those five minutes to myself in my bedroom while they play Legos. Maybe it’s because my anxiety is already more controlled with professional help. Maybe it’s because I’m not in emergency mode anymore. Maybe it’s because I am being blessed by a higher power. Maybe because I can see, as my kids get older, how my mental health does – and will – affect them. Maybe it’s because I’m freaking sick of living like that.

***

The man who spoke to us was SaulPaul (who has given TED talks before). When he was done making me cry, he got out his guitar and sang all of us adoptive parents a song he wrote about his grandmother who adopted him. It’s called “Mama” and you can hear it here. 

 

 

And a heartfelt thank you to the friend who originally posted that meme… you know who you are and I love you.

“Fighting for Your Kid” Really Just Means Trying Again

During my first year of teaching kindergarten, a more experienced teacher kindly said to me, “Sometimes being a good teacher just means showing up again the next day.”

I never forgot that.

Sometimes being a good mother just means showing up again the next day. Trying again the next day.

Every teacher struggles tremendously during the first years. I had a student with some serious emotional challenges that I really was not equipped to handle. I went home and sobbed to my husband that I wasn’t going back, he couldn’t make me, and I was going to work at Walmart. Somehow I managed to go back to school the next day, and the next day, and the next day. I wasn’t the best teacher for that boy who was struggling, but we struggled together. I remember trying to approach him from a different angle the next day: I kneeled down, at his eye level, and very gently painted his hands with an empty paintbrush. He looked me in the eyes. Everything was not smooth sailing after that, but it was a start. I was an emotional wreck sometimes, and I could have done a thousand things better and differently, but I did the best that I could at the time.

And I tried again the next day.

And the next day.

Now that I am in the belly of the beast of motherhood, I recall that lesson I learned from that wise teacher and that hurting child. Being a good mother means showing up and trying again the next day.

My Mom is Just Okay

My Mom is Just Okay

We have some really bad days around here. I don’t subscribe to the “rainbows and unicorns” mentality. Adoption is not easy. Sometimes it’s not even pretty. Or nice. And saying that doesn’t disrespect my child. In fact, it’s the opposite. Being honest about these feelings gives my child respect, because I respect him enough to give his feelings room to just… be.

And having twins is not easy. Sometimes it’s not pretty. Or nice. And having a child with special needs is … well, gut-wrenchingly painfully invisibly hard. It keeps a mother awake at night, going over every single thing she did wrong. Beating herself in the chest for the ways she wasn’t patient enough or sympathetic enough or just ENOUGH. Or that she hasn’t researched enough, dug deep enough, learned enough.

I have had to come to terms with the fact that I absolutely cannot be ENOUGH for any of my children. Maybe if they were all perfect singletons with no special needs. Maybe if their human and flawed mother didn’t have migraines, or anxiety…. just imagine how much better she could do. But, this blog isn’t called “Okayest Mom” for nothing. I’m okay, and I know it, and that has to be ENOUGH. I’m getting there.

All of that emotional vomit is just to say: I try again the next day. That is what makes a me a good mother.

There are meltdowns and problems so serious here that it makes me feel like giving up, for real. (I don’t mean to vague-post, but I need to protect the confidentially of my children and their medical privacy, of course.) But what does “giving up” mean, exactly, when you’re a mother? That I wouldn’t get out of bed and feed them? That I would walk to the mailbox and keep on walking? That I would drop them off at their grandma’s house and not come back? Believe me, thoughts like these have crossed my mind. (And if they haven’t crossed your mind, too, maybe you don’t have the challenges we have in this house. You can’t know, and I can’t know, unless we move in with each other.)

But I haven’t. I haven’t given up. I try again the next day, no matter how tired or how completely empty my tank is.

I have heard myself, and other mothers too, say with our Mama Bear passion that we would fight for our children. There have been times that I have fought hard for my children – for county services, medical attention, and even respect. Any mother knows that Mama Bear feeling. We have all been there and done that. Mother to mother, we know that we have all fought for our children in times of crisis.

But I have realized that “fighting for my child” sometimes means just showing up again the next day. It’s the constant, mundane, day-to-day stuff. It’s the meltdowns. It’s the challenges. It’s the invisible problems. It’s the days when you want to give up. It’s trying again.

That is fighting for your child.

 

 

My Son and I Got Another Dirty Stare (and White Woman Socialization)

And old dude looked at my son and I with disgust last week. There’s yet one more way that the world is making my son feel like an “other”.

He was grandfatherly age, wearing a cowboy hat and a plaid shirt and jeans. At first glance, I liked him. Then he made eye contact with me, and then he looked me up down, then looked my son up and down, then looked me up and down again. And made eye contact with me one last time. With a look of pure disgust on his face.

At first, I assumed that he just has Resting Bitch Face. Don’t all grandpas look a little grouchy? That night, when I was home and my son was tucked safely in his bed, I couldn’t get that man’s face out of my head. So, I wondered if maybe he just didn’t feel well. The next morning, that look was still seared in my mind. So I thought that maybe he was confused by our transracial family. But, no. I thought about his face. He looked like he had just had a vurp (“vomit burp”) in his mouth and was also smelling poo. So maybe, I thought, he has acid reflux? Later that night, I just couldn’t let it go. I remembered the way he scanned us with his eyes, back and forth, up and down. I’m used to the “triangular stare”, but it’s not always followed by a look of disgust.My mind kept turning it over and over. My mind was searching for a way to make sense of this.

My mind was searching for a way to give this old man the benefit of the doubt.

Because I’m nice, right?

Or maybe it’s because I’m a white woman. My blonde self just doesn’t make people hold their purses tighter or lock their car doors. That is called white privilege, folks, and I have recently learned alllll about that. But, also, I’ve learned about something called “White Woman Socialization.” I fit the description perfectly. Guess what one of the bullet points is for White Woman Socialization? Giving people the benefit of the doubt (and too often).

Why is that so bad, you may ask?

Let me explain. When a Black friend tells you a story about getting pulled over by a cop and treated poorly yesterday, is your first instinct to say any of the following things?

  • “Oh, are you sure that’s what happened?”
  • “Maybe you misread him.”
  • “Well, I’m sure the cop didn’t mean it.”
  • “He was probably just having a bad day.”
  • “Don’t you think you’re being a bit oversensitive?”

If your first instinct is to say (or think) any of those things, then you are dismissing the Black person’s lived experience. You are silencing him. You are dismissing him. This may be the hundredth time this has happened to him. He has experiences that you haven’t. And you don’t get to explain those away.

That’s part of white woman socialization.

And I have it.

Something snapped. I remembered everything I had learned. It took me three days of rolling that old man’s disgust around in my brain before I let myself see what I was trying not to see: HE DID NOT APPROVE OF US.

I was done. My brain screamed, “I AM DONE GIVING PEOPLE THE BENEFIT OF THE DOUBT.”

Why? Am I meaner now? Maybe. But I’m a Mama Bear, and I’m gonna protect my kid, and, furthermore, I am not going to dismiss my son’s lived experiences. I am going to be aware of my white woman socialization. I am going to listen hard when he tells me about a feeling or a whiff or an actual experience of racism. I am a safe place for him. I will never know what it’s like to be a Black male in the American South, but I will be a safe place for him. I promise you that.

That old man doesn’t have to approve of my family. Not even every adoptee approves of adoption. Not every person – white or Black – approves of transracial adoption. And they all have their reasons, some of which may be valid. But, BUT, that man may NOT make my kid feel like an “other.”

I’m done. I’m so done. Tomorrow, Trump is in. Gloves are off.

Separating Adoption from Race – and a Momma’s Overdue Outrage

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Racial mirrors matter. Watching “A Snowy Day” together.

So far, the blog posts I have written about race have been placed in my “adoption” category on my home page. It’s not enough. Blackness and adoption are obviously not the same thing. In our house, maybe they have been the same thing, for too long now. But our son is getting older. He understands his skin color is different from ours.

He’s hearing what people say to him. When we are together, he gets a near-constant stream from white peers of “Is she your mom? But you’re black!” From Black peers, he gets “Is she your mom? But she’s white!” He already asked me not to come to lunch with him at the cafeteria again. He firmly asks me not to chaperone any of his field trips. That’s okay with me… cuz I have potty training twins… but I wish I could be inside his head for a little while.

It’s time to add a new category to this blog. Should I call it “Race”? “Black and White”? It can’t just be about one color, because I’m going to have to add a lot of stuff about my own white privilege. Remember, “if you don’t think white privilege exists, you are already enjoying it.”

Just because a problem isn’t YOUR problem doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.

As my son matures, so do his understanding of adoption and race. As his brain or body has a growth spurt, so do his anger and his grief and his knowledge. But you know what? SO DO MINE! I have been living in a white bubble for 37 years and I think it’s finally popped. I think – I hope – my eyes are opened. And now I’m using those eyes to try to see the world through my son’s eyes, just a little. I am learning. I am asking questions. I am reading, reading, reading. I am listening. I am growing.

This growing hurts. And you know what? IT SHOULD HURT.

I SHOULD be uncomfortable. I have growing pains as I realize all the ways I’ve been ignorant. Downright wrong. I have regrets as I realize that I wasn’t paying attention until I had a Black son – until I had to pay attention. Where was my anger before?* Why did it take me so long? Because I have white privilege, that’s why. I was completely blind to that fact. Now, I am having growing pains as I realize just how different my life, as a white woman, has been from a Black boy’s life. (And it will continue to be different, no matter how much outrage I have.) I have growing pains as I realize just how incredibly hard it will be to raise a Black man in the American South. How much it’s going to hurt to do, and to watch.

I can’t ever go back. I have opened a door and gone through. My old life with blinders is completely over. As the inauguration looms over us, “Black & White Thoughts” is a now new category on this blog, and in my life. You are going to hear about it.

***

*This week’s episode of the TV show “Blackish” delivered a very powerful speech about this topic. The main character, Andre, addresses the way white people (including me) were more surprised by the election results than were People of Color. He wonders why we white people were not paying attention sooner. He says, “You think I’m not sad that Hillary didn’t win? That I’m not terrified about what Trump’s about to do? I’m used to things not going my way. I’m sorry that you’re not and it’s blowing your mind, so excuse me if I get a little offended because I didn’t see all of this outrage when everything was happening to all of my people since we were stuffed on boats in chains.” Read more about it here. Watch the full episode here.

When I Learned about My White Privilege During the Presidential Election Month

As I strive to learn more about how to be a good parent to a Black son, I have joined a few online groups that have really been life-altering. “Groups” is really an understatement- they are essentially classrooms. Mentors and adult adoptees are there not for me, but really for my child. They teach us white adoptive parents about the things which we actually should have learned before we adopted transracially. They try to open our eyes and call us out on our mistakes. It’s been uncomfortable, but I see that discomfort as a good thing: growth.

When my mentors asked for volunteers to participate in a #MyWhitePrivilege Challenge every day in November 2016, I raised my virtual hand. Every day, we were to post one way in which we had learned that being white has given us an advantage. My goals were: 1) To try to see the world a bit more through my son’s eyes; 2) To learn more about white privilege in my own life; 3) Not to offend people of color; 4) To publicly state a commitment to anti-racism and connect with others who share that commitment.

What neither I nor my mentors anticipated were the implications of participating in this challenge during the month of the Presidential election. Emotions were running high – as were acts of violence against people labeled as “other”. What started out as an innocent learning experience for myself quickly became a means of defending my son’s very safety. It was also a great way for people to unfriend me – just like that time I changed my profile picture to “Black Lives Matter”. The emotional toll that November 2016 took on my family, and really on our whole country, was tremendous.

So, without further ado, here are my daily posts. The following are ways that my white life experience has been or will be different from my Black son’s lived experience.

/Day 1/ I could dress my white kids in a cute gorilla or monkey costume for Halloween without even thinking twice. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 2/ I can buy Band-Aids (and bras!) that match my skin tone. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 3/ I can use the shampoo and conditioner provided by any hotel if I forget my own. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 4/ Every prophet and religious figure in my church and gospel study books looks like me. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 5/ If I see police lights behind me, I am only fearful for my budget – not my safety. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 6/ I had never even considered the fact that my Black son has never been the majority in a room. Conversely, I can’t remember a time I was the minority in a room. #MyWhitePrivilege

(This one was a huge and heartbreaking revelation for me. Well, “for” my son, really. I can’t believe I had actually never realized that until some adult transracial adoptees shared their experiences of the first time they remember being the majority in any room. It was so rare and overdue, that each of them remembers the first time that happened with great clarity. I need to do better for my son.)

/Day 7/ I can probably get my hair cut anywhere, by anyone. I don’t need to search out a specific type of salon if I don’t want to. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 8/ I can dress my white sons in hand-me-downs, ripped pants, badly scuffed shoes, and not truly worry that people will actually treat them differently for that. #MyWhitePrivilege

—Trump is elected—

/Day 9/ I have never had to stop and think about whether the leader we elect will have a positive or negative affect on the people of my race or ethnicity. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 10/ I realized that my *surprise* over the racism I’ve seen during and after this election IS privilege. My Black friends, my Muslim friends, Latino friends, my mentors in adoption groups, white parents who have had children of color for far longer than I have – none of them are surprised. They have been dealing with this for their entire lives. They have survived worse. I was (am?) new and clueless. The fact that I am feeling any kind of surprise today is #MyWhitePrivilege.

/Day 11/ I could easily say “I’m done with this election” or “Nothing has really changed” or “Let’s all just move on and be nice to each other” or some other such nonsense and it would be true. For ME. #mywhiteprivilege

/Day 12/ I don’t have to think about racism if I don’t want to. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 13/ Until I had a Black son, racial injustice made me sad, not scared. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 14/ My behavior, accomplishments, and failures reflect ME, not my entire race. No one ever says, “You’re a credit/shame to your race.” #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 15/ I don’t have to teach my white sons about hoodies. (But I will.) #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 16/ I don’t have to teach my white sons about talking to police. If I do teach them about that, it will probably be for reasons other than protecting their lives. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 17/ Before I had a Black son, Confederate flags didn’t bother me. I grew up with them here in Virginia. I was taught “Heritage, not hate” and I believed it – because I could believe it. Everything looks different now. I steer my black son away from those cars in the parking lot or people who wear that shirt. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 18/ I never thought about how many black people were in any TV show or movie. Now I notice- and I count how many episodes or minutes in until I see a person of color in anything. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 19/ Genealogy seemed pretty straightforward when my ancestors were considered important enough to be recorded. #MyWhitePrivilege

(I just read this quote yesterday: “The ancestry of any black American can be traced to a bill of sale and no further. In many cases that cannot be done.” -Julius Lester, “To Be a Slave”)

/Day 20/ If my white children have a rash or other skin condition, a Google image search can help me. Not quite as easy to count on images to help my Black son. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 21/ I never wondered about or the origins, meaning, or appropriateness of songs like “Eenie Meanie Miney Moe” and “Five Little Monkeys Swinging in a Tree”, and would sing them naively to my children and students. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 22/ My appearance has never caused someone to cross the street, lock their doors, or hold their purses tighter.  #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 23/ Before my Black son was born, I never thought about or checked diversity statistics in potential preschools and schools. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 24/ I never understood or noticed that the history I was taught was only from one perspective. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 25/ No one tries to touch my hair without my permission. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 26/ My white children are actually viewed as their age- and not treated as someone older. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 27/ My white husband has every other Friday off work. We can do errands without ever wondering if anyone assumes he is lazy or unemployed. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 28/ I never paid extra money to buy the more expensive/ harder to find baby doll to look like me or my white sons. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 29/ No one ever asks me where I’m “really from”. #MyWhitePrivilege

/Day 30/ I never noticed that all of our Christmas decorations feature white angels, Santas, and nativity figures. (Now that I am paying attention, I find it incredibly challenging to remedy this situation.) #MyWhitePrivilege

And that is the end of the My White Privilege challenge for the month. If you’ve read this far, thank you for not unfollowing me yet! I just have one last white privilege to share: I can stop thinking about racism now if I want to. I can ignore my white privilege for the rest of my life now that my challenge is over. I don’t ever have to revisit this topic again, really, and that’s white privilege. GETTING TO DEBATE THAT WHITE PRIVILEGE EXISTS IS A PRIVILEGE.

I know many of you were annoyed with this challenge. Some of you were even angered by some of my choices. I’m fairly certain that I was unfollowed by a large number of my friends. (My proof is that the number of “likes” on my innocently cute twin photos has decreased sharply. And permanently.)  However, many of you were engaged in lively discussion with me – which I appreciate, even if we don’t agree – and many of you told me that I have really made you think. A few of you have even thanked me for bringing these issues to your attention.

I started this challenge because my mentors asked me to do it for myself, to learn more about how my own life as a white woman has been and will be different than my son’s life as a Black male. I feel that my eyes have been opened quite a bit, and I can never forget what I have learned. This was for my son. The fact that so many of you have thanked me for making you examine your own privilege for the first time is icing on the cake. Thank you for reading!

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Further reading

White Privilege explained: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/chris-boeskool/when-youre-accustomed-to-privilege_b_9460662.html

Post-election hate crimes: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2016/11/12/post-election-spate-hate-crimes-worse-than-post-911-experts-say/93681294/

About day 22, Alligator bait: http://theundefeated.com/features/the-gut-wrenching-history-of-black-babies-and-alligators/

About day 22, Monkeys: http://www.authentichistory.com/diversity/african/3-coon/6-monkey/

About day 26, Things we teach black sons: http://www.upworthy.com/things-a-black-kid-is-often-taught-not-to-do-that-his-white-friends-can-are-heartbreaking?c=ufb4

About day 28, Black boys perceived as older: https://www.apa.org/news/press/releases/2014/03/black-boys-older.aspx

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New Year, New Haircut, New  President – and the Racial Mirror That Was

January. A new year. Everyone is all excited about kicking goodbye the dumpster fire year of 2016. But are we actually excited to welcome 2017? It is now the month and year that we will inaugurate … that guy. I can’t seem to remember his name.

No matter what your political leanings are, you can certainly understand that any mother of a Black boy will be saddened to see President Obama leave the Oval Office. My son has had a racial mirror in the President of the United States of America for his entire life. I absolutely cannot stress to you how important that has been for our family, and probably for millions of other families. I am overcome with emotion.

(When he was born, his grandma took one look at him and said, “My little Obama!”)

wp-1483411314734.jpgToday was haircut day for my oldest son. For certain sensory reasons, it’s not easy for him. He says he is not ready for a barbershop, so, as always, my husband was cutting our son’s hair in the upstairs bathroom. I thought my twins were playing in their room, but as I reached the top of the stairs, I saw Twin A perched on the toilet lid, holding my oldest’s hand. He was offering his hand of comfort to his distressed brother. No one asked him to do that. A fat little four-year-old white hand holding the shaky brown hand of his six-year-old brother. My heart melted.

The steady hand of his brother calmed my son, and the rest of the haircut went smoothly. They sat like that for about ten minutes, no one saying a word as the clippers buzzed.

There is a now-iconic image of a five-year-old Black boy touching President Obama’s hair in the Oval Office. Have you seen it? President Obama, the leader of the free world, is leaning over to let the boy touch his hair.

Photo credit: Pete Souza / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

I don’t know if the significance of this image can truly cross the racial parenting divide. I am no expert in Black hair, not by any means, but as the mother of a little boy who looks like the one in the picture, I weep every time I see it.

(I was thinking of printing that photo, to hang in our home, but what if I cry every time I walk by it? Hmmm.)

“I want to know if my hair is just like yours,” he told Mr. Obama, so quietly that the president asked him to speak again.

Jacob did, and Mr. Obama replied, “Why don’t you touch it and see for yourself?” He lowered his head, level with Jacob, who hesitated.

“Touch it, dude!” Mr. Obama said.

“So, what do you think?” Mr. Obama asked.

“Yes, it does feel the same,” Jacob said.*

Even if you are staunchly anti-Obama, can you see how important this image is to us? Can you walk with me for a moment and feel this? More importantly, can you walk with my son, who sees only white faces in his very own home? Can you imagine what it’s like to be him – or any other Black boy in America whose ancestors were probably slaves – and know that the most powerful man in the world has hair that feels exactly like his?

For eight years we’ve been able to hold up that mirror to our boys: The President of the United States of America looks like you.

And now, in this new year that is supposed to be new and fresh and better, we get to hold up … a man who… not only doesn’t look like our boys, but … nevermind. I can’t.

It was not just hair. It was hope.

 

***

*Source: Calmes, Jackie. “When a Boy Found a Familiar Feel in a Pat of the Head of State.New York Times. 23 May 2012. Accessed via Web 2 January 2017.

And the Washington Post says it better than I can: Photo Speaks Volumes About Obama and Race.