My 20 year old son, Kaleb, recently got pulled over. Thankfully, he ended up just getting a warning. And the police officer was a nice guy who talked to him for a few minutes and even tried to shake his hand. That’s a little alarming since we are in the middle of a pandemic. Kaleb told me that he felt awkward not shaking the cop’s hand but knew that he would get in trouble with me if he did. So, he politely reminded him of Covid-19.
That’s not really my story but I just thought it was noteworthy that the police officer wasn’t socially distancing. And I think it’s really awesome that I still have some influence over my adult kid, woohoo!
But, in the midst of this perfectly pleasant interaction, Kaleb felt black.
He commented to me that he was sitting in his hot car while he was waiting for the officer to come back from his car. He wanted to turn on the air conditioning but thought better of it because he didn’t want the cop to think he was reaching for a gun. So he just sat in his hot car and waited. He mentioned it to me casually. But the reality is not casual.
It really struck me that he, not only had the thought process but that he accepted it as a given. And the fact that I agreed that it was smart that he took no chances; well, it hurt my heart.
Accepting may be too strong of a word. Maybe saying that he is resigned to it would be more accurate. Whatever it is, it’s not fair. People often get really weird about this topic. But, they shouldn’t. “Black lives matter” is an expression that just plain makes some white people mad. But, it shouldn’t. “All lives matter!” they say. But, the thing is “black lives matter” is actually the same as “all lives matter,” when you think about it. They (those living their lives black) just want those lives to be included in that whole lives mattering category.
I’m in a unique position as the white mother of black children. I have a toe in each reality. I can’t completely understand what it’s like to be black. But I completely understand that the reality is unfair. We try to educate our kids on their culture but I think in a lot of ways, it comes off empty. I think our younger ones think we are paranoid or being over-protective. Kids of a certain age don’t generally think that their parents know what they are talking about, anyway. And how can we really know what it’s like? The answer is that we can’t. But, still we try to prepare them. We try to prepare them for the fact that they will deal with racism and that people won’t always treat them right. That is just messed up.
Is it safe to jog?
Not long after my conversation with Kaleb, I heard about Ahmaud Arbery. He was shot during his jog, in the middle of the day. And while I don’t know what it’s like to be a black mom, I do know what it’s like to think, that could have been my black kid.
My 17 year old sometimes like to go for walks around the neighborhood, complete with his hood on. What if?
The man was jogging. The man was jogging. My God, the man was jogging! You can tell me that a white man jogging would have made them equally concerned but I won’t believe you. And we can get into all the possible motivations. They thought he was a burglar. He got aggressive when he saw someone with a gun aimed at him. He made mistakes in his past. None of that justifies his death. And none of that convinces me that any of it would have happened if he was white.
I don’t know what I can say that hasn’t been said before. But, I’m angry. I’m angry at the injustice. And I’m angry at the denial. I’m just angry.
Living With White Privilege
A couple of mornings ago, Brian and I went to a strange neighborhood at 6 in the morning. (Our orange tabby cat is missing and a very nice lady said that a stray orange tabby shows up at 6am when she is feeding her cats.) Naturally, I got the street mixed up and we found ourselves walking up and down (what turned out to be) the wrong street. It was still dark and we could barely see the house numbers.
So we are walking in the dark, loitering by random houses while we tried to see their house numbers. One man came out and we explained what we were doing. And you know what? He told us his street address and went back inside. Nothing happened. Well, nothing besides me frustrating my husband a bit. haha. We did all this in not the greatest neighborhood and we were fine.
Meanwhile my son is afraid to turn on the air conditioning in his car. And Ahmaud didn’t even get to finish his jog.
But I’m not racist.
It doesn’t matter if you, personally, don’t have prejudices (or don’t think that you do). It doesn’t matter if your brother was a police officer and was a really good one. It doesn’t matter if you know plenty of black people who have successfully jogged through neighborhoods.
What matters is that there are too many exceptions to your rules. Too many men and women of color have died while being black or lived with the everyday realities that come along with being a black person in America. And it’s not ok. It’s just not. And it’s time for us (as a country) to admit that this is a thing and figure out what to do about it.
Until then, all I can do is be an ally to the black community and be an advocate for my children. I want my amazing, beautiful, loving children to be proud of who they are. I want the world to see them as we do. And when they don’t, I want it to be because of an error in judgement that they made as human beings or because they simply aren’t their cup of tea, but never, ever because of the color of their skin.