I am a white mother raising a white son.
That’s why I am not fearful of Ryan’s interactions with police as he gets older.
That’s why I am not writing a mental parenting plan for how to explain to him exactly what to do when the police pull him over for a busted tail light or stop him in a park for no reason other than he looks too tall and too dark for comfort.
That’s why I will never know how it feels to worry that the very people charged with protecting him might ultimately be his biggest threat.
I will never know. Because I am not a black mother raising a black son.
But I am a mother.
As a mother, I understand fear. I had fears before motherhood, of course. I feared spiders and car accidents and illness and even losing someone I loved.
But the fears after motherhood? Those are the fears that chill the blood as it runs through your veins.
The fear of anything harming your child — bullying or speeding or swimming pools or cancer or cliff jumping or drugs or school shootings or any one of 74 million other things — those fears can paralyze you. They can keep you up at night. They can invade your nightmares, both sleeping and waking. They can take your breath away and make you question luck and fate and human morality.
Those fears can sometimes make you question whether all your efforts are for nothing because you can’t possibly protect your children from everything. They make you wonder whether today might be the day that a series of innocuous decisions lands you in the exact wrong place at the exact wrong time.
Yesterday, Ryan and I walked out of a grocery store. I had one bag of groceries slung over my shoulder; he dragged the other along in his right hand. My little “helper.” He always wants to help me.
During this grocery store trip, Ryan had loaded each item into the basket for me and he’d unloaded each item onto the belt for check-out. He got a little indignant when the cashier mentioned that one day, he’d get to shop on his own. No, he insisted, he’d always bring his mommy with him. I joked that one day, I’d be his helper.
Then we walked through the sliding exit doors and he swerved under the weight of his grocery bag. Away from me, toward the busy parking lot and nearly off the curb. I saw this happen and then I saw the car.
“Ryan, take my hand… take my hand now!” I shrieked as the car barreled through the parking lot. He stumbled back toward me and reached for my hand as the car flew past us.
It was one of a dozen times in any given day that could have ended badly, tragically, devastatingly. One of a dozen times a day you take a deep breath and try to freeze the images before they form. The images of what might have been, what very nearly was.
Which is why, although I can never understand all the fears of a black mother raising a black son, I do understand the depth of a mother’s fear.
And it’s why I want to help alleviate her fear. I want the world to be safer for her son. I wish for a world in which she is only afraid of bullying or speeding or swimming pools or cancer or cliff jumping or drugs or school shootings or any one of 74 million other things — minus the fear that her son could be shot simply because of his skin color.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how to pledge my support in a way that makes it clear I am not just pretending to be understanding. That I am not simply offering up some hollow words about how I “stand with her” before moving along with my day, my summer, my life. That I do take the issue of race very seriously. That I want to be a part of the generation of parents who raise children to become adults who protect each other from the threats of irrational or immoral people.
I want the world to be safer for the little boy next door. I want the world to be safer for my friend’s toddler son. I want the world to be safer for the two black children a foster parent friend of mine is currently caring for.
I don’t know what to do, so I will start here:
I will listen. I will spend a lot of time right now reading the stories, the blog posts, the articles and the essays of those who have experienced, first hand, the discrimination and fear that comes with their skin color.
I will watch. I hate that it has required repeated video proof for us in the white community to finally *get it,* but I do. I get it now. I’m sorry I didn’t get it sooner, but I do get it now. If I see a black person detained in front of me, I will not duck my head and move along. I will stop and watch. I will stand by with him or her to help ensure their safety and their rights. I will hit the record button if I need to. And I will explain to my son exactly why I am doing so.
I will teach. I am educating myself so I can begin to talk to Ryan about these issues. I have held off talking about race with him up until now because he is young and is not yet at an age where he distinguishes white skin from brown skin from black skin. But I’ve come to realize, that’s exactly why I need to start these discussions now. I will find age appropriate ways to start a dialogue in our family about race and what to do if a friend with dark skin is suddenly confronted with a potentially scary scenario. (This post by my friend Kristina at Thriving Parents has been a good start for me, but I’d love any additional suggestions.)
I will teach Ryan, as I always have, that a person’s character, their heart and their kindness is what truly matters. But I won’t teach him to be colorblind. If the world around him isn’t colorblind, nothing is helped or changed by equipping him with blinders.
I know I still don’t fully understand. I know I never really can. But that’s not an excuse not to try. I will try. If I try and you try and everyone tries, surely we’ll be a little better off. Surely the world will be a little bit safer and a little bit more equal when our kids take over its care.