Author of: The Notes They Played - a lyrical collection of short stories & The Impossible - a what-if story of the triumph over fear

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

The Whitest Blacks

I went to bed sad a few nights ago. Sometime during the night the sadness I slept on morphed into anger. It was the snarling, smokey-eared, red-eyed, flared nostril kind of anger that every Mama reserves for those who hurt her children. And my child had been hurt. He'd been called a name that he hadn't fully understood. And, he'd questioned his identity. And, he'd come to me to help him navigate it.

I did not thank God, right away, that he'd come to me. But, I should have. These years are the years where kids are trying their hardest to pull away from us while all the while wanting desperately to cling to us for dear life. They choose their friends over their parents. They experience a roller coaster of emotions that they don't entirely understand. I would not go back to adolescents for any amount of money. It's harder even still when you a minority, of any kind. That my kids still come to me with the things that are big to them is a blessing!

I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and went to a predominantly white elementary, middle and high school. I never had a teacher that was not white until I went to college. I was, often, the only Black person the kids in my school knew. My family was often the only Black family the people in our neighborhood knew. We were upper middle class. Both of my parents are college educated and they both held high level executive positions. My sister and I were both expected to go to college, and then graduate school. And, we both did.

When deciding where to buy a house, Hubby and I looked for top performing elementary, middle and high public schools because we didn't plan to send our children to private school. What we found was a beautiful home in a predominantly white neighborhood.

I was taught by my parents that some white people expect Black people to act a certain way - to be loud, to speak improper English, to be poor, to be uneducated, to be impulsive and ignorant. They taught me that Black kids often had to outperform whites in order to be noticed and to get ahead. They taught me to never act the way some white people expected me to, but to instead always act with pride for myself and my race, with dignity, and with God's light shining from me.

I have done my best to raise my children the same way. Almost. I do not tell them they have to outperform white kids. To me, white kids are not the yardstick by which to be measured. I tell them to live up to their own personal potential, and to the purpose that God intends for them. Their only goals should be living lives of purpose and living lives that glorify the Almighty.

I knew that my children would face racism. It has not gone away. Plus, we live in Georgia. My first job out of law school was in Swainsboro, Georgia, where the prom was still segregated. In 2003. But I thought that their generation was more enlightened. They would have been exposed to Black people, they would know that you can't judge a person solely by the color of their skin. Right? Wrong! Despite what I may have thought, the way the world at large sees Black people really hasn't changed that much from when I was a kid.

At school, my eldest son is quiet. He follows the rules. He does his best. He is kind. And, the kids he is drawn to for friendships have these same qualities. He learned recently that, to some, he seems to be an anomaly. Some ignorant kids called him "the whitest black kid" in the school. He was told that since he doesn't use profanity, isn't loud, and doesn't get in trouble ever, he acts like a white kid. He came home mostly confused and also a little hurt.

When he  told me, I was shocked. Certainly in 2018 my son's generation didn't still hold the cookie cutter idea of the Black man. I mean, these kids have witnessed Barack Obama - articulate, intelligent, dignified - as President of the United States.

I told Hubby about it because he is the household expert on what it means to be a Black man in America. He would have his talk with his son. And, I asked my Dad to talk to my son as well, because he has been close to my children since they were born, and he is an excellent role model for them all. 

But, I am his Mama, and I needed to talk to him too. I allowed myself to feel the anger, to stew on it for a few hours, and then I prayed for wisdom. I called him into my room for a talk.

Here's what I told my son;

It's the Great American Fallacy that when God created people in general he created each one to be unique and spectacular. But when he created Black people, he made them all the same. You can be whatever and whoever you choose to be. I hope you will choose to follow Jesus. I pray that for you fervently. I know that you will never forget that Daddy and I raised you to be strong and courageous, hard-working and kind, forgiving and loving. And I know you have what it takes to be all of that. You are not what the world tells you to be. You are you. The you God made.