As a White Mother of Black Sons

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“If you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view, until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.” Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird 

I offended some people this weekend, family and friends whom I love. This caught me by surprise and I was reminded that we all see life, and read words, through our own lens and experience.

On Saturday I shared a blog post on my One Thankful Mom Facebook page written by Steve Locke, a professor at Massachusetts College of Art and Design. He wrote of his experience beinging detained by the police because he matched the description of someone who had tried to break into a woman’s house.

I read, I Fit the Description, and for the first time, I experienced the internal process of a black man being questioned by the police. I read it as the white mother of black sons, and I thought about my boys.

I’m a fan of police officers and I’m very thankful that I live in a country where I can pick up my phone, dial three numbers, and they will arrive to help. I’ve taught my children that police officers are our friends; they are the right people to go to in an emergency.

We have police officers in our family, in our circle of friends, and in our church. One of them called me out on FB over sharing this blog post, and I have to admit, I was surprised. I didn’t read the article and see it as critical of the police officers, they were doing their job and they seemed to do it well.

What I experienced was Mr. Locke’s fear, and I thought about it a lot that day. I asked myself, “If this happened to Noah in Seattle, would he experience the fear this man did?” I played it out in my mind, and decided Noah would be frustrated, and probably a little shaken up, but he would not be afraid.

I’m pretty certain that Noah would assume the best, know that even if he was taken to the police station, everything would be sorted out, and one day it would be quite a story to tell.

But what about Ebenezer? What about my big boy who sometimes struggles to navigate social interactions, and, who is also black? How would he respond to being stopped by the police? What do I teach him about how to respond?

This weighs on me.

It’s a hard time to be a police officer. I’m especially reminded of this when I hear stories about ill-treatment of good men and women who make tremendous sacrifices to protect us. What on earth? They put their lives on the line every day – and I’m quite certain they don’t get paid nearly enough for what they do.

It’s also a hard time to be a black man, and I suspect that many black people would say that this is nothing new to them.

I was awake thinking about this in the early hours of the morning. When I gave up on sleep, I came downstairs and read the post again. This time I tried to read it through the eyes of a police officer, and I realized how it must feel to, once again, be made out to be the bad guy.

It seems that a key to empathy is setting ourselves aside, and trying to see through another person’s eyes.

Can we read this post and let ourselves feel what it might be like to be the black man detained by the police, or the white police officer detaining a black man, or even the small, black woman who stayed near offering support with her presence? I won’t try to put myself into the mind of the white woman who made the snide remark to the officer as she looked at Mr. Locke. She just ticked me off.

Empathy. Compassion. Race.

We have a long way to go, and as the white mother of black children, I have a responsibility to do more than just ponder this.

Lisa

 

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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.

24 Comments

  1. Jane vandeventer
    December 7, 2015

    Yes,I also am a white mother of black children and have been pondering these same thoughts.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 7, 2015

      Thanks for commenting, Jane. I've been holding my breath since I posted this.

      Reply
      1. ahhodgman
        December 8, 2015

        Why the breath-holding?

        Reply
  2. Kerri
    December 7, 2015

    While I sympathize with the concerns of police officers – it is a VERY hard job and no one does it perfectly – I am so frustrated with a climate that allows no room for critique and examination without that critique being interpreted and received as total condemnation. For instance, why can we not love this country and at the same time acknowledge that, as a nation we have also done some bad things? Is it not possible to admire and respect police, while acknowledging that there is significant room for improvement? Reducing a complex issue to "you're either for us or you're against us" does no one any good. (Lisa, I have never commented before, but I so appreciate your blog and pray for you and your family often.)

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 7, 2015

      Thank you, Kerri, for taking time to comment. I'm so glad to hear from you.

      Reply
  3. shannon
    December 7, 2015

    You are right on, Miss Lisa! You read through your lens and the police oficer read through his. Grace needs to be given knowing that people see life and read articles through their own lens as you stated. We, as moms of black children, are walking a road that is unknown to us, and the rather small piece of the population that walks with us as adoptive mamas. My experience has only been as a white person growing up in America, and raising my white bio children, until God called us and BLESSED us with our beautiful brown skinned children. But, the experience of black people HAS been different. And we HAVE to step into that in order to raise smart, aware, prepared children. I am sad that our world has come to that and I, like you, worry for my children, particularly my son.
    You often write what I am thinking. Thank you for using your strong voice and allowing God to speak through you. He is honored by you and how your represent Him!

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 7, 2015

      Thank you, Shannon. This was hard for me to write – I hope I've done it well.

      Reply
  4. Susie
    December 7, 2015

    I thought it was a beautiful opportunity to step inside this man's shoes. I am thankful that you shared it. I am the mother of Asian girls. My children will experience racism but it will be a different manner in which our black friends and family do.

    Were the police doing their job if he did indeed fit the profile? Yes, of course. But did he truly fit the profile? Or are we all so bad at describing people who are of different races than our own (there are studies on this) that we will make mistakes? Especially poignant to me was the idea that because of the color of his skin he would be waiting for another person to judge his guilt or innocence. That her word would be better than his. But, I think you did the right thing. If we do not talk about it, we can not ever hope to see the other one's side. I never ever think someone might stop me for not "belonging." It did not occur to me that another professional person might. I know the poor and or under educated might feel out of place and judged (not that that is right) but I didn't expect that to be the case with someone like the writer. Now,I know and I better understand. And honestly,after hearing the racist things people have said in my presence assuming that because I am white I agree, I wonder what is said to people of color by some when they think that person has no possible recourse. I am NOT saying that any or all law enforcement hold these ideas-i'm saying that if a person in authority in the past had said racist things to me I would be worried to be thought suspicious by another person in authority-even if the original person were not a police officer. I think about what Donald trump said about hispanic immigrants and I would be scared if detained by a white officer that he/she agreed if I were hispanic. If I were Muslim right now and stopped for a ticket or on the street I would be terrified they would think I were a terrorist.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 7, 2015

      Susie, thanks for your comment. I read another post about racism written by Mr. Locke that you might find interesting: http://artandeverythingafter.com/a-recent-inciden

      Reply
      1. Susie
        December 7, 2015

        My 7 year old goes to a Christian school. She asked me about Trump when she saw him on tv. I told her he doesn't like certain groups of people because of where they come from and what religion they are. Her response was to be speechless and then she followed it up with "Well, he needs to come to my school and find out how God wants us to treat other people!" I was so proud that she knew right away it was wrong. I know that post was not really about Trump but rather everyday people's encounters with racism. And I wonder if the people think that they could not possibly be racist because look at their friend from that local business who is black and employs a Mexican! We can't be racist since we know and like them! And then the second part of their false assumption-that they aren't racist because what Trump says is true…you can't be racist if you think it is the truth? I think the conversation from the business makes me sadder than his detainment.

        Reply
        1. Lisa Qualls
          December 8, 2015

          I was really affected by that post too. It's hard for me to understand the cruelty of people, or even read about it – I just don't have the heart for it. Thanks for reading the post and sharing your thoughts with me.

          Reply
  5. Donna
    December 7, 2015

    I saw your post last night on facebook and was going to comment then saw the comment you are referring to and choose to wait and process also.

    I have family members and friends who are in the police force as well, and am concerned for their safety and frustrations with all that is going on as well. I, as you, have always seen the police as our protectors and friends.

    When my children came home from a war zone, I went out of my way to teach them that those in uniform here in the US are 'safe'. My children would soon have brother-in-law's who were in the military and needed to see that the military was safe and was not out to kill civilians for their own profit. It took a while for them to believe and trust this as their hearts were damaged by early childhood trauma.

    Now I have a 15 year old black son and a13 year old black daughter. I just had to have a conversation with my son that I never had to have with our 23 year old white son—oh yeah we talked about respect with police officers if you are stopped, but I never felt the need to tell him that his life could depend on it.

    I am not trying to scare him or make more of it than I should, but when I repeatedly read articles like the one you shared and others from respectable persons in the black community saying the same things, I feel I would be foolish not to prepare him for how he should act and what he should say (keep your hands visible at all times, ask permission to get something out of your pocket or in the glove compartment, do not turn your back on the officer). He was even asking scenario type questions of me like what if this happens…. HE, as many from hard places can have trouble with emotional situations due to his PTSD so I want to train him. He is aware, he hears the news, he has talked to his BIL in the police force, for me to give him the information is giving him the tools he needs to walk through life, and nothing else.

    I do not want to stand in my white privilege and say this is blown out of proportion, and if it is, then he will be safe because he is super respectable in all situations.

    But mostly I do not want to be the mom on TV saying how great my son was and because he was reaching for his license in his basketball gym bag something horrible happened.

    I will be cautious, I will have direct conversations, I will speak of the awesome people in uniform, but I will not keep quiet because some choose not to try to see things through others eyes.

    Praying my eyes continually are opened.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 7, 2015

      Donna, wow – this is just so good. Thank you. I'm right there with you trying to find the balance. You're a great mom.

      Reply
  6. Holly
    December 7, 2015

    I don't have black children, but I read the article from the detained man's point of view. I also think that most police officers are doing their jobs well. I can only imagine, and probably not well, the fear that is present being a black man in our society. The facts are that there is a racial disparity in the way black people are treated vs how white people are treated. I would also say that the fatality rate for black people being detained by police is higher than for white, and I can see this leading to fear, regardless of how well the officers are doing their job. I think the quote you used, walking in another's skin is appropriate for everyone. Police officers can try to see the situation from his point of view and he can also see where they are coming from.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 7, 2015

      Holly, thank you for commenting. I appreciate the encouragement.

      Reply
  7. AmyE
    December 7, 2015

    Great post, Lisa! Love the Atticus quote at the beginning. We would all do better to remember this. And yes, as a mom to a black son, who is a "fighter" as a result of his trauma I worry greatly about this as he gets closer to his teen years.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 7, 2015

      I'm with you, Amy. Thanks for commenting.

      Reply
  8. Emily Summers
    December 7, 2015

    Such a heartfelt response to the article.

    I had a variety of metal responses to the article (and a lot more to the comments, but that's anyways dangerous territory). Where I finally came to land was at an understanding of humiliation in being accused, exorcist of a crime you had no idea was committed, that I cab relate to. What I can't relate to, and have to trust the author's narrative of, is the fear a black man can feel when interacting with police. I don't share that fear, and my cultural experience as a white woman doesn't make me feel like I should feel that fear.

    Any article that challenges our societal normalcy and comfort will incite offense and unrest. Yet your boys will not inherit your whiteness with time – nor do you want them to. What you want is a world where their blackness does not inspire fear or prejudice in others. Walking in others' shoes is a stepping stone.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 7, 2015

      Thanks for sharing yours too, Emily.

      Reply
      1. Emily Summers
        December 7, 2015

        I am so sorry for all my typos! I thought I proofread it, too, but apparently not!

        *ESPECIALLY of a crime you didn't even know had been committed – that was the worst of them.

        Reply
  9. Angelina Denver
    December 7, 2015

    The author of the original article wrote it in such a way that he opened the door for us to step inside his shoes and his mind. It was a profound picture of his fear, anxiety and angst. His blood pressure was rising and he offered me an opportunity to see this particular interaction through his pained eyes.

    As a parent with children who are minorities I have already heard their stories of racism. Stories that are painful and pain-filled. When store clerks treat my children differently when I am there vs. when I am not there. Stories of people being surprised by their 'White' accent, people including teachers. Stories of people saying about my Black girls, 'They don't act Black' (what does that even mean?) My children's inner senses are becoming more finely attuned, sadly, to their surroundings and that they sometimes know that there is a certain way people think they should act because of the color of their skin.

    I wish it wasn't this way. We have conversations about it regularly. One day I pray that we will no longer need to talk about it because it finally will have ceased to exist. Maybe I am wishing for Heaven though on that one.

    Reply
    1. Lisa Qualls
      December 7, 2015

      Thank you for your good words, Angelina.

      Reply
  10. Ann Hodgman
    December 7, 2015

    I find myself angry at whoever called you out on FB. Now that I've read that person's post, I'm impressed that you were able to answer so responsibly. I would have come out swinging!

    Nothing in your original post was offensive.

    Reply
  11. Tricia
    December 15, 2015

    It seems to me that the inability to step into the shoes of "other" is one of our country's biggest challenges right now. It seems we have to "pick a side" and stay right on it. Jesus didn't do that. We shouldn't either. Everyone has a story and all voices matter. Thanks for writing Lisa.

    Reply

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