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My Black Children Matter

Being a mother of color isn’t much different than being a parent who is white, at least from what I can see. I struggle to get my kids to bed on time, I forget to pack my daughter a lunch for school sometimes, my almost-5-year-old still doesn’t sleep on his own. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve bribed my children for a few hours of peace. Like every other parent, I also worry about protecting my children. How do I help guide them as they make friends and get introduced to the world on a larger scale as they continue to grow up? How do I know that I’m giving them the best advice to help them make wise choices? Am I feeding them well enough? Have I exposed them to enough culture? Was that too much TV?

See? Not so different.

Except I’m constantly wondering how I’m going to explain racism to my children. How this country we live in was built on the backs of our ancestors and it was hundreds of years before they got to experience freedom — a limited freedom that was finally challenged over 40 years ago. How, despite that challenge, we are still experiencing a form of racism today.

Racism is very embedded in our country and its systems. How am I going to explain to my adorable 4-and-a-half-year-old that when he reaches a certain age, he will be perceived in a way that will be different than his white peers; that although he is half white, he’s still going to be seen as a black man; that he cannot walk down the street without being aware of his surroundings and how he appears.

How do I protect my daughter from offensive comments made about her curly hair? I want her to love her hair and her tan skin. I don’t want my children to apologize for their existence. I want them to be able to be like any other child growing up in America. I want them to be confident in who they are, without any fear of disapproval or distaste.

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The one thing I’ve continued to go back to, over and over, is Michael Brown’s mother. Is she being held during this time? Is she being told that she did her best? Does she think this is her fault and that she could have done more? No matter what the media was saying about her baby, no matter what names they gave him — "animal" or "thug" — that was her child. Her son. Her brown son. A mother is grieving and pursuing justice, yet people want to demonize her son, as if that makes him less worthy of life.

When I was four months pregnant with my oldest, my daughter, there was this moment where it hit me that my child was going to be half black. It’s not that I didn’t realize this before, but it was more like, “Well, I’m a black woman, and my husband is white, so we’ll have a mixed child.” But when it hit me on this particular day, I realized with fear that someone might refer to this baby I was growing as an n-word. They might decide to dislike my child based on what she looks like, not who she is. I instantly jumped online and started reading threads by mothers who had mixed and black children. As I read and asked questions, I started to realize that if I was going to bring children into this world, I was going to have to be more prepared than I was on the subject of race. Yes, I’m a woman of color, but I had no idea how to raise a child in a country that wanted to erase my history and, at times, my actual color.

People tell me that times are different — that racism isn’t something that exists. Please tell that to the couple that called me a nigger in front of my son.

Six years later, I have a bit of experience under my belt, but I don’t feel as if I’ll ever be equipped enough to protect my children from people who see their color more than who they are. Every day, we talk about race. Being in a mixed-race home, the conversation about skin color is common. We have yet to talk about the subject of racism, though. My oldest brings it up from time to time without realizing it. She talks about how someone didn’t like her because of her tan skin, and she doesn't understand why. Once, I told her she couldn’t come to a meeting with me, a meeting that happened to be with all black people. “Is it because I’m not dark enough, Mom? I can’t be a part of the meeting?” That caught me off-guard, and we started into a whole new conversation about race. After that, I just hold her even closer than before, as if that was possible. Because I don’t want her to know; I want her to stay like this.

Every day, I send my son off to preschool, and I’m afraid of him growing up. He’s about to turn 5 and growing taller. He’s adorable, really, but he’s not going to stop growing. His voice will deepen and his strength will be much greater than mine. This will probably all happen in high school. He’ll still be a child. My child. My brown child.

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I think about this every single day. I weep over it. Do people realize that my baby matters? Do they think of his life as valuable? This is why I think of Michael Brown’s mother, because her baby was gunned down. I ache for her. He wasn’t even given the opportunity to exist in this world as a black man. I know she had the fears I had — and probably even more so, given what I learned in my research of Ferguson. Her greatest fear came true.

People tell me that times are different — that racism isn’t something that exists. Please tell that to the couple that called me a nigger in front of my son. Please tell the woman who came into my home and said, “My husband is so happy you’re not a real black person. You speak good, and you don’t wear baggy clothes.” Please tell the friends who have told me that they’re teaching their children to be “color-blind.” Racism exists in so many forms. We’ve just been taught that it comes in one size. It doesn’t. It comes in conditioning. It comes in words that are hurtful. It comes through our systems.

I am so sad that it has taken the deaths of so many boys for us to reignite the conversation about race. I hope we keep the conversation going, so that no other mothers lose their sons.

As a parent, I feel as if I conduct these little interviews with fellow parents and friends. I talk about race. I try to get an idea of their stance. From living in a city that claims to be mostly white, I’ve been surprised by mostly positive responses, which is comforting for me. I’m like, “Oh, good, I can send my children to your home and not worry about them being respected as black children. That you know they’re still people.” Yet, I still have to prepare my children for situations where people might not respond positively. I am going to have to sit them down and let them know that they will have to present themselves in a particular way — not only to make someone comfortable, but to keep them safe.

When I write this out, it sounds ridiculous. My children should be judged on how kind they are; how considerate they can be; if they contribute to their community in a positive way. They shouldn’t be judged on what they wear, how they speak or how they look. They shouldn’t have to make a case for why their lives are important.

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I think it's terribly unfair that my sweet little children have to lose a part of their innocence because other people choose ignorance. I think I try my best as a parent; I hope I will continue to. There’s always this extra bit, though, that I don’t want to have to talk about, but I do. I’d love to just release them into the world with all the love and grace, but I know it won’t be enough. They have to be aware, the same way I’ve always been aware. I just hope and pray that when they’re older, they get to be a little less aware. That they don’t have to survey every establishment they walk into and hope to God no one wants to make a big deal about them being there. I hope my son can walk down the street and not be harassed or feared.

I hope that Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother, knows that so many other black mothers ache with her. We stand alongside her. While our pain is by no means as profound or as aching, we feel it. Michael Brown mattered; he matters. And it's the same with every young black boy, teenager and grown man. Black lives matter.

I am so sad that it has taken the deaths of so many boys for us to reignite the conversation about race. I hope we keep the conversation going, so that no other mothers lose their sons. I hope not one more mother has to watch one of her biggest fears unfold. I send her all of the love, and all of the love to my fellow mothers who are raising children of color.

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