It was a typical day at the zoo. My kids were ‘chasing’ the sea otter by running back and forth along the sea otter’s tank, laughing hysterically. A young white woman walked over and her two little boys joined in on the fun. The lady struck up a conversation with me about my daughter’s hair. It’s long and curly and was bouncing as she ran. She complimented it and explained how my daughter’s hair was the exact texture she always wished she had.
When it was time to go, she told my daughter how beautiful her hair was and asked if she could touch it. My daughter smiled and obliged. My kids have a lot of hair and are frequently complimented on it, so a request to touch it was not out of the norm. They love their thick curls and light up whenever anyone expresses their equal admiration for it.
We went our separate ways and continued with our zoo visit.
Later that week I read an article entitled, “Don’t touch my black child’s hair”. I was intrigued and clicked on the article ready to read all about some scandalous event. Instead I read a two page post on a woman feeling as though she had to speak up for her child because a woman asked to touch her son’s hair.
The woman was white and her son was black. She wrote something along the lines of, “I felt paralyzed. No one would have ever asked to touch my white child’s hair. I felt like I had to speak up for him, for all black children. White people need to know that it is not okay to touch a black person’s hair.”
At first I just laughed it off. “Silly white woman and your misplaced activism”, I thought. But then over the next few months I began to see more articles appear where white women, with black children, explain the black experience. They were all the same. A white woman experiences some form of perceived racism directed towards her darker skinned child, decides that she needs to check her white privilege, reads articles and books about racism, and then proceeds to explain to her children and to the rest of the world, the dangers of being black in America.
If you are a white woman raising a black child and you are guilty of what I mentioned above, I know you mean well. I know you watch the news and are scared of the countless ways that your child’s life could negatively differ from yours. You begin to worry that your black son could be shot for simply being a black male in the wrong place. You fear that your black daughter will be ignored and made to feel as if her opinion doesn’t count in academic settings. You stare into those deep eyes that you love so much and you wonder how you can protect that child from all of the hatred that exists. And so you decide the best way to protect them is to prepare them for the cruelness in the world.
I know you believe you are doing your child a service by pointing out every ounce of racism in your child’s life. I know you believe that if your children are prepared, a cruel comment will somehow sting less. I know you believe that raising this child has helped you to better understand the black experience and now you want to share that knowledge with others. As the kids put it, you believe you are now ‘woke’ and that it is your duty to awaken the masses. But I promise you, that is not what your child needs.
The truth is, there is no such thing as ‘the black experience’. That is just a catchy phrase that someone made up to feel a little more PC while speaking about something they knew little to nothing about. Every black person has a different ‘black experience’, much in the same way that every person has their own unique life experiences. Every black person must decide for themselves what it means to be black and what qualifies as racism. Every black person will walk a different path in this life depending on how and where they were raised, what values and morals were instilled in them, and what opportunities and advantages they were given.
Just because your child looks similar to mine doesn’t mean that they will deal with the same types of racism or live even remotely similar lives. One might deal with racism every day and the color of their skin might affect nearly every aspect of their daily life. One might barely have to deal with that sort of ignorance and view the world very differently. One of our kids might find that they experience the most racism and feel the most excluded and torn down by people who look just like them.
It’s impossible to prepare your child for every negative experience they might deal with, no matter the color of their skin. And why would you want to? If you wouldn’t sit down with your white child and explain to them every rude or cruel comment that might be said to them, then why would you feel the need to do that to your black child? What could possibly be gained by convincing your children that they are the victims of their own story? Why would you purposefully give a group of despicable individuals that your child may or may not come into contact with permission to shape your child’s view of the world?
Instead teach them that they can be anything they want to be because of who they are not in spite of it. Teach them that racism is ignorance and that it’s not their job to convince others to like them or even tolerate them. Teach them to walk with confidence and dignity. Of course, take the necessary safety precautions and teach them to respect and obey police officers and maybe avoid places where the Confederate flag outweighs the American flag. Focus on the good in the world and teach them how to contribute to it. Teach them the history of Black people in America as a tool to help them understand how far we have come and proof that they can determine their own futures.
I know that the media would like to have you think differently, but raising a black child in the suburbs really isn’t that different from raising a white child in the suburbs. And here’s the best part, we have entered into a time where most Americans aren’t racist. Most of this perceived racism comes out of genuine curiosity and a lack of knowledge. So, just love those beautiful brown babies unconditionally, protect them fiercely, and never let them for one second think that the melanin in their skin makes them any less worthy of love or any more deserving of hatred. And for goodness sake, let people compliment their hair.