I have been thinking a lot tonight about a School Community Association Meeting I attended at Lansdowne Friends School shortly before my tenure as Clerk ended. We had a Parent-to-Parent forum on difference that was very well attended by a fairly diverse group of parents. I don’t remember exactly the question that was asked, but at its essence, parents of color were asked about what it was like to raise a boy of color in this country. I was deeply struck by the responses that were offered—in part because of the generosity of spirit and patience displayed by the parents of color in answering the question and partially because of my sudden understanding that these stories were both so deeply personal and so universal all at the same time.
As parents, we are fiercely protective of our children and it is our deepest anxieties about their current and future safety, health and happiness that keep many of us awake at 2 am. As the parent of a child who does not conform to societal norms, I have an inkling of what it like to live with a constant low level of anxiety that my child’s safety could be at risk simply because of who he is. But the lesson that still resonates for me from that SCA meeting is that really, at the end of the day, my white privilege means that I only have the beginnings of an idea of what these parents lives are really like. My experience of the world as a white woman means that I only have touched the tip of that iceberg of what it must be like to raise a child of color, particularly a son, in the Unites States.
I try to imagine what it must be like to walk daily with that fear of how the world could treat a beloved child, not based on their character and talents and the size of their heart but simply by their appearance. I try to imagine how exhausting it must be to live with this fear day in and day out while simultaneously trying to ingrain feelings of self-worth and self-acceptance against the unceasing tide of messages to the contrary. Think about how many of these you have read or seen. Think about how many you have read JUST TODAY.
I try to imagine how exhausting it must be to be constantly waging this war, fighting for a child’s survival. How full of rage a parent could become about feeling compelled to teach their child that it somehow their child’s responsibility to make white people feel more comfortable around them. Think for a moment of what it must be like to have to teach your child that their very lives might depend on their ability to be non-threatening. That their lives might depend on their ability to contain their justifiable anger and defiance. That they must always be on their guard because someone who knows NOTHING about them except the color of their skin might feel threatened and have a gun and authority.
I think tonight about the parents who shared their experiences at that long-ago SCA meeting and I think about the parents who were eloquently silent. It was NOT your job to teach me. But know that I am still thinking. Still learning. Still struggling to look beyond my own protected position. Know that I am thinking about the conversations you have had to have around your dinner tables tonight and that my heart aches.