Monday, March 26, 2012

My steep learning curve of parenting a Black son

With each new piece of information that comes out regarding the murder of Trayvon Martin, my heart aches a little more. It hurts for Trayvon and his family. It hurts for my son and Black boys across our nation who are frequently viewed through a racist lens. It hurts for George Zimmerman. And this tragedy has been a huge reminder of the added layer of responsibility that comes with parenting a Black son.

I studied race in college courses. I taught in Detroit. I interned during grad school with an African American anti-gang violence group in Boston. I have Black friends. For a white gal from a small white Midwestern town, these experiences have helped me look at the world from new perspectives. In the past reading a news story about racial profiling or discrimination would make me angry on a macro, social justice kind of level. But now, when I look at a photo of Trayvon, I can see Turo in Trayvon’s smile.

Turo is going to grow up in a country in which many stereotypes and fears about Black boys and men abound. He doesn’t get a “pass” because he has white parents. When he’s out in the world, the first thing people will see is that he is Black. And some people (even in our liberal college town) will judge and assume and feel threatened. I can’t claim ignorance or be “colorblind” or think “love is enough.” Because it’s not. By not helping him understand the reaction some people will have to his skin color, I am putting him in danger. I have to help him get ready for this and as a White Mama this means my learning curve needs to be steep.

So I read. I listen. I work on my own biases and assumptions. I work at being an ally to people of color and speaking up for equality and social justice. I seek opportunities that will allow me to help Turo build connections to the African American and Ethiopian communities.

Then I have to hold my breath and send him out into a world that isn’t always just and fair. Into a world where no amount of preparation will protect him from a bullet. Into a world that can be made better by talking and listening and seeing each other with open hearts.

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