As a parent of seven children, I thought I had experienced nearly every common parenting trial. Then we brought home three more children and added them to our family and there were new experiences in abundance. Tonight for the first time, I experienced a hint of racism toward my child and I was struck in the heart and stunned by it.
As I write, we are on our way home from a wonderful trip to Oregon where we celebrated the New Year with Russ’s sister, her husband, and their six fantastic kids. We had a delightful time enjoying their new home which is perched on top of a small mountain or a large hill, depending upon where you live in the United States.
Today, after five hours of driving, we stopped in a town where we spotted a Burger King. We weren’t going to stay long, but the kids caught sight of the huge, two-story play structure and were thrilled. Letting them play hard seemed likely to make the next few hours easier, so we settled ourselves at a few tables. There were several other children running about and all seemed to be having a jolly time. I felt a little uneasy when I realized that I couldn’t see E. and hadn’t seen him for a few minutes. Then he emerged from a slide with a smile on his face.
As he went to climb back in, I noticed three older boys, maybe eight to ten years old, who were grouped together talking inside at the top of a tube. As E. climbed in one said, “Here he comes” and they looked down to watch him. They paid no notice to me since surely I couldn’t have been E.’s mother, after all he is a beautiful shade of brown and I am white. So with happiness on his face and excitement in his eyes, E. began to climb up toward the tube where the boys waited.
I ran to the entrance and called to him, trying to get his attention. I knew that most likely they were going to scare him, or chase him, or make faces at him, and it probably had nothing to do with race….but my heart caught in my throat when I realized I couldn’t get E.’s attention.
K. came flying down the slide and I sent her after E. to try to get him to go a different way, but she is a tiny girl, and no protection from these boys. Then I grabbed Rusty and sent him in after E. By now the boys had figured out that maybe I was watching them after all and just maybe this little brown boy had some significance to me. That didn’t seem to intimidate them a whole lot, but Rusty’s presence did and he got E. through the structure and back down the slide again. E. was still all smiles, completely unaware that I had almost climbed in after him.
They probably weren’t being racist, they may have just been playing, but my “mommy radar” was turned up to high and when Russ walked in a moment later I nearly began to cry. I realized how completely vulnerable I felt seeing these boys waiting for my beautiful, innocent child. He is 2 1/2 . What will happen when he is ten or twelve and I’m not there to warn him or send his brother in to protect him?
In the town that we just visited, a young, black teenage boy was beaten by a white couple who happened to cross paths with him as they emerged from a bar. He wasn’t severely injured, but what if he had been? What about his confidence in himself and his trust in other people? I am burdened by tonight and the foretaste of what could come. It is good to be aware and at the same time not live in fear. Fragments of verses flit through my mind, “God does not give us a spirit of fear”, and “There is no fear in love” and “Perfect love casts out all fear”.
One year ago, my “Mommy radar” was attuned to dangerous adults who might try to hurt my children, to cars backing up with the driver not looking, to pots of hot water left dangerously close to the front of the stove. Never did I worry that the color of my child’s skin could bring them to harm. It just shouldn’t be.
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