I’m part of a great group of women who are mothers to black boys. Some of those women are, like me, white. During a candid discussion (the best kind) about ways in which we would keep our kids safe, one of the black moms wrote that she warns her black sons about being careful around white women. One of the white moms was offended, and quite a discussion ensued.
So, here’s the deal – I will have the very same discussion with my son. Is that incredibly awkward and heartbreaking? Yes, it is. For not the first time, I will warn my black son about the harm that may come to him via people who look just like me. For those of you who are as offended or as hurt as the white woman in my group, I understand your shock and offense, and I hope you’ll keep reading.
Historically, interactions (real or perceived) between young black men and white women have ended tragically for the young black men and their families and friends. The Atlantic wrote a piece this month, How The Blood of Emmett Till Still Stains America Today, for example, about the recently released The Blood of Emmett Till.
“…it wasn’t too long ago in American history that millions of Americans were trampled under the heel of a repressive, anti-democratic kleptocracy and faced economic reprisals, violence, or death for any dissent. And nowhere was the iron grip of that system—known as Jim Crow to some of us—stronger than in Mississippi. That grip manifested itself most notoriously in the murder of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy, in 1955. That year, Till was tortured and lynched by white men after allegedly making lewd comments toward a white woman. His mutilated corpse became one of the first mass-media images of the violence of Jim Crow, and the trial of his killers became a pageant illuminating the tyranny of white supremacy. And through protests across the country, Till’s broken body became a powerful symbol of the civil-rights movement.”
In my own back yard I can read about how a 19-year-old black man, Dick Rowland, and a young white woman, Sarah Page, riding in an elevator together provided the tipping point for the 1921 Tulsa Race Riot. The Riot, which was actually a massacre, resulted in the destruction of 35 city blocks, including Black Wall Street, injuries to over 800 people, and nearly 300 deaths.
If you’re reading this and thinking, “but that was a long time ago. Those things don’t happen anymore,” unfortunately they do. Another example from my own community is that of white police officer, Shannon Kepler, who killed his daughter’s bi-racial nineteen-year-old boyfriend, Jeremy Lake. Mr. Kepler searched for Jeremy’s family’s address, drove to the address with his loaded firearm, shot Jeremy to death, shot at two other people including his own daughter, fled the scene, and later turned himself in. His two trials have resulted in mistrials. A juror from his last trial posted on facebook that two of his fellow jurors were so biased against black people that they wouldn’t even discuss the case with their fellow jurors, much less consider that Kepler could be guilty. Thankfully, the Tulsa County District Attorney is preparing a third trial. I’m hopeful the prosecution can find 12 people without racial bias, but I’m also realistic.
I am so thankful that the black moms in my group shared openly and honestly about their fears regarding people who look just like me. Honestly, before I adopted three black children, I had no clue what the world of black people was like, something I wrote about here. Black people have had “talks” with their black kids about how to behave around white people for hundreds of years, if not longer. I look at my beautiful, black son, and I am terrified, because at 11-years-old, he keeps being mistaken for 14-years-old. I’m terrified that he will be confronted with these issues much sooner than his child’s brain can prepare him for. I’m also resentful that I have to break his heart repeatedly by explaining that people who like me, me his protector and nurturer, are potentially a threat against which he has to protect himself. If beautiful, black children are ever going to be safe, white people have to
- Confront our biases (I am not calling you racist. I’m biased, too. Breathe). Here’s a great way to understand your own bias.
- Listen to what black people have to say about their own experiences (they’re really not making this stuff up – promise).
- Leave our defensiveness at the door (Again, I’m not calling you racist. See above.)
- Be uncomfortable for a good, long while.
That’s a good start.