I just finished watching the movie “The Hate You Give” and I am left with several feelings twirling around in my brain. I sat across from my very black husband and watching him twist and turn in his seat. I watched him cringe and go inside himself as he saw our family in this movie. So much so that he had to go take some time alone once the movie was over. It was too real. It was so real that I logged into Facebook and scrolled down my timeline to see the endless posts of people creating yet another hashtag for a young man who was simply out jogging and ended up dead at the hands of ignorant racist vigilantes. It was real enough to make me get up and go check on two very black kids who are now living in the south 2 hours from where that young man was gunned down. It made me look inward at our family and the choices we made to leave the Southside of Chicago and head to Georgia where we thought their lives would be a bit easier. I too sent my very black light skinned beautiful daughter to an all-white private school on the other side of town. We don’t live in the hood but I wanted her to have access to a different way of being educated. I wanted her away from her peers who all looked like her but lacked what I felt was the ambition and the focus to be successful. I wanted her to have access to everything her white peers had access to and even if that meant driving over an hour to get there that was what I was willing to do. She did it for a year and hated it. She cried real tears on the first day of school to the point of hyperventilating in the middle of a crowded gymnasium. The very idea of looking into a sea of all white and never seeing herself was far more than she could handle. I remember holding her in the middle of the gym and assuring her it would get better for both of us.
She needed to see herself and know that there is nothing wrong with the melanin in her skin. She needed to be assured that she had every right in the world to take up space and to take it up in a way that was authentic to her and who she was created to be.
See, I was also a teacher at the school and there were only enough teachers of color for me to count on 1 hand. I too was nervous and apprehensive of the environment I had thrust us both into. I had not originally applied for a teaching job. I applied to be the head of a program within the school that was working with companies and creating design briefs but I was passed over for a white guy that I found was less qualified than me but was recommended by a friend of a friend. I fact-checked of course. I was asked to take the teaching job in hopes of something else coming down the pipe for me the following year. Nothing ever came but I digress. Start of year 2, after telling us she was going to just go ahead and graduate from the school that she had hated so vehemently at first, my very black daughter had reached her breaking point. Of the 90+ students in her grade, she was the only black girl and the only other black student was a boy who people teased was her brother. They looked nothing alike but yet her white peers thought the joke was too funny to keep to themselves. No one defended her and she felt alone. Little did I know this was one of many straws and the camel’s back had finally broken when she told her father and I that she wanted to transfer. A week goes by, I watched her take longer and longer to put on her Jordan’s and uniform skirt with matching hoodie. I noticed her smile turned into a straight face and the usual stops by to see me became fewer and far between. I assumed it was because she had made “friends”. It wasn’t. Week 2, she is again saying she was ready to go and it was because she was tired of not seeing people who look like her. She was tired of being the token black girl who got the stares when the topic of slavery was being discussed in Humanities class. Tired of being overlooked by the 5 other black boys in the school because they knew what they could get easier from the white girls who were throwing themselves at them. She wanted to be liked. And at 15 she deserved it. Why not? We listened. Investigated the school she would transfer to and within a few days the transfer was complete. I cried on the way to work the following day. I didn’t cry because I was missing my baby, well kind of, but I cried because I realize what I had done to her. Had I inadvertently impressed upon her that being with white people and attending their schools made her better? Had I sold her the message that going to school with peers that looked like her somehow made her less prepared? Don’t get me wrong. There are huge disparities in schools in communities of color. The resources and access to them were on a different level and not in a good way. The students’ attitudes towards education and the teachers who taught them in many instances were a complete contrast and those things are very real. It was the subliminal messaging that was being conveyed that gave me pause. She needed to see herself and know that there is nothing wrong with the melanin in her skin. She needed to be assured that she had every right in the world to take up space and to take it up in a way that was authentic to her and who she was created to be.
Watching this movie made me question every decision I had ever made. It also made me very concerned for my very black special needs son who doesn’t always follow instructions when he is asked to do something. His specialness causes him to question everything and make uncoordinated movements when he is anxious. “Put your hands up” might come with too many questions and not enough moving or too much moving and for that my heart skipped beats throughout the movie. I need him to survive and learn to navigate the world in a way that he can not only stay alive but thrive. But in a world that automatically will see his very black maleness as a weapon what can I arm him with that will keep his little black body alive? I have questions but not too many answers. Are my kids prepared? Do they know their rights? Are they proud of who they are? Do they know their heritage? I wonder do my white counterparts wonder these same things. Are they preparing their kids to not kill my kid on the same level that I am preparing my kid to not be killed by theirs? At some point I honestly believe we started to believe the lie that we were inferior. Somewhere we lost sight of our heritage and the rich and fertile ground our ancestors came from. We gave in to the lie that we needed to leave our communities in order to survive when in fact we need them to live better. No one can take care of us, like us, if only we would wake up. I have questions and not enough answers.
"That's the problem. We let people say stuff, and they say it so much that it becomes okay to them and normal for us.What's the point of having a voice if you're gonna be silent in those moments you shouldn't be?” -Angie Thomas
While all moms love their kids in a way that only moms can, there is a not so proverbial line in the sand that is immediately drawn when it comes to our experience as Black moms. There is something gut-wrenching about being a Black mom that tugs on the umbilical cord of our hearts every time another unarmed Black boy or girl is shot down in the streets. Every time we line our kids up for yet another round of standardized testing to see if they get into the selective enrollment school and hold our breath as we hope their number is called so they can maybe have an extra level of edge to maybe get them into a life that might protect them. Maybe. We cry differently. We walk differently with our kids at night. We wait up differently when they are out late at night. We prepare our kids for what life might look like when they leave our doors. We wonder differently when we send them into a store to pick up a few things for us. We pray differently on Sundays and Mondays and Tuesdays. We dress them differently and talk to them differently about their resources. I am standing somewhere between Starr's mom and dad. Wanting my kids to be safe and have the best life they can possibly have and wanting them to be confident and proud of who they are in all of their beautiful blackness. Wanting them to stand up tall when they walk into a room and command attention because they deserve it and have earned it and being mindful that everyone won't feel the same. Wanting them to live out their wildest dreams and be set up in the best ways possible to achieve them and know they have everything they need within them to attain the impossible. Wanting them to be brave and self-sufficient but above all else, wanting them to be alive. yeah...it's just different.