Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The "crime" of living while black

There is an important conversation going on right now at Stuff White People Do (SWPD). The post addresses the "a common white tendency to attach negative value to brown or black skin, regardless of context or other cues to the contrary." The author shares some of her own experiences in the post, and readers also contribute their own stories in the comments. These stories are heartbreaking and utterly infuriating. When you read--and, of course, dear fellow white parents of black children, I do advocate that you read--I suggest a tissue in one hand and something breakable to throw at the nearest wall in the other.

It's not news to me that my son will face this stuff, but reading these personal experiences has brought it home to me in a new way. And it raises one of the familiar transracial parenting questions: how do I prepare him for experiences that I have never had? At a minimum, I want him to come through these experiences alive. But also, I would like him to come through with as little psychological damage as possible, although this seems like a somewhat impossible wish. So I invited the good commenters of SWPD to weigh in here.

My questions are these, although commenters are welcome to pose/answer others that seem relevant:
-Are there ways that your parents prepared you to encounter and cope that you are particularly grateful for?
-Are there things you wish your parents had done differently to prepare you better?
-What other advice do you have about preparing children?

Comments will be open, but trolls will quickly be shown the door.

Thank you, in advance, to all who contribute.


  1. Hey Julia. I don't really have anything to add but wanted to thank you for asking because I was recently presented with this situation with my eldest son. He's half Cuban but appearance-wise he looks like he didn't get a single gene from me. He looks Hispanic and identifies as such. He and a (white) friend went into this little store near his school one afternoon and were followed around the store until they left. My everyday-white side said, "They're middle schoolers and the store probably has a problem with the middle schoolers." But the white side that knows differently after being followed around when I shopped with black friends (among many other horror stories) could not shake the feeling that they saw him for his race and not his age. I mean, if they had a problem with middle schoolers, kick them out right away.

    And I started to tell him but I realized I had no clue what I was going to say. I just found myself asking questions down to the most minute detail. We discuss race but we haven't discussed it in terms of him and his race yet. He's just now branching out into the world alone and I'm realizing now that my white skin may have protected HIM too when he was little.

    I look forward to seeing the responses you get.

  2. I work with a lot of white mothers raising children of color and I've noticed that they've got fairly good support systems because they raise their kids in communities of color, for one.

    Fashion tip #1 for raising children of color in America: teach them to survive. Their safety is and will be a major issue for decades to come. It has to be your main priority and concern at all times. You have to be hyper-aware, you can never let your guard down, and you can never take anything for granted. A mother rarely gets to go on "vacation"; a mother with a child of color never gets to go on vacation.

    This isn't paranoia; this is cold hard reality for POC.

    Fashion tip #2: Knowledge really is power. As a white mother you have insight into the white world and its less friendly faces; you can tell them what to look for, whom to avoid, and whom to keep at arm's length and how. Use what you know to your fullest advantage.

    My parents talked with me often and honestly about race in America. There was no sugarcoating. All in all, I think they did a pretty good job, my dad in particular.

  3. White Savior Complex.

    You have one. Now go ahead and be in denial like a typical internalized white supremacist.

  4. Thanks, Moi, for the Fashion Tips. :)

    I had never thought about it from this point of view: "As a white mother you have insight into the white world and its less friendly faces; you can tell them what to look for, whom to avoid, and whom to keep at arm's length and how." Very smart. Very helpful. Thanks.