My friend, Kathleen, wrote this post last week, and although days have passed since the George Zimmerman verdict, and the flurry of Facebook posts has begun to slow down, the words of a fellow adoptive mom are important for us to consider.
Last weekend was difficult at our house. We have many difficult weekends raising a household of boys (and one very sweet precious daughter!) but this one was different because of what was going on in the world around us. Last weekend was the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial and I know that some of the difficult conversations we were having at our house were being echoed around the country, and probably the world.
Here are some of the responses from our young black sons last weekend when we told them about the not guilty decision from the jury in Florida.
“ I feel like I’m going to be the next Trayvon Martin.” (20 yr old)
“ It makes me feel like white people have more power.” (13 yr old)
“I feel like I’ve got to be so careful around white people.” (15 yr old)
What makes our conversations different is that we are adoptive parents of two sons from Kenya and have welcomed a young man from the projects of St. Louis as an unofficial part of the family.
When I think of all the other adoptive parents I know with young sons from Africa, foster care, or somewhere else, I wonder what they are telling their sons this weekend. But here’s the difference… most of the adoptive parents I know have younger children than mine. We brought our boys home almost 10 years ago and they are well past the years where people smiled and commented on my “darling little black boys”. I often wondered during those days what those same people might be saying about our sons when they became young black men who might tower over them.
I may not always know what they are saying these days, but I certainly don’t get comments about how darling my children are any more. What I do get are the uncomfortable stares, the eyes averted and the outright fear of people crossing the street – giving us a wide berth as we pass. My boys make some white people uncomfortable. My boys are handsome, smart, mostly well dressed (I have one who refuses to wear anything but athletic shorts and t-shirts), mostly well behaved (same kid… not always well behaved) but always respectful of others (especially if I’m there!). Yet, these young men create fear in the eyes of those we pass, even when they are walking down the street with their old white mama! It hurts my heart to think of the kind of looks they receive when they aren’t with the other members of our family who are white, and therefore not so scary in our predominately white neighborhood.
What hurts and scares me more is the reality of the verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. These 6 women (5 white, 1 Hispanic) told my sons that anyone with a gun has the right to kill them if he feels afraid for his life in their presence. Let’s be real here… MOST white people they encounter right now are fearful in their presence. My boys are big, strong, young black men with confidence and poise and presence. I have raised them to be exactly that. In light of this verdict, have I done them a disservice? Should I have raised them to be subservient and fearful? Should I have taught them to lower their heads, avert their eyes and step aside when a white man passes? Is this what I needed to do to ensure that they will not make someone “fear for their life” in the presence of my boys and pull a gun on them? Should I have taught them that indeed white people do have all the power? At least a white man with a gun in Florida?
We have spent hours talking with our children about the realities of racism in our world. We have faced the ugliness of it in our own schools and neighborhood. The very night of the George Zimmerman verdict our boys were walking around a major league baseball stadium in our diverse city and were told to “move aside, you jigaboos!”
When my husband responded that it was good he was not there when this slur was snarled at them on this particular night, the 20 yr old from the projects of St. Louis assured him that he wouldn’t respond to this racist at all because he knew that would mean prison time for him. Sadly, he has learned his place in our society – he knows what it takes to stay out of prison.
Again as I ponder my friends with young black children from other cultures, I wonder what we should be teaching them now. Should we teach them to fear those who look just like us – their families?
I don’t know what is right and what is wrong to teach my children. I know that this verdict has caused our family to discuss yet again the issues of race and power in America, and that’s okay. I just hope that parents raising white sons are having the same conversations about race and power with their children and teaching them that fear and hate are not the answers. I hope they will learn the lesson shared by our 20 year old friend from the projects, who ended our conversation with these words,
“I’m gonna let go… I’m not gonna hold hate in my heart.”
This post may contain Amazon Affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.