After we met, my husband and I both joked at oftentimes being the only black people in the room. He’s half black/half white and grew up with his mother (who’s white) and her half of the family. I grew up in a black household but both of our interests and hobbies have historically attracted lighter audiences. For some unexplained reason listening to the Violent Femmes, watching My So Called Life, and joining the rowing team aren’t found on the list of things black people like. As a result most of our friends are white. Two chocolate chips on top of the vanilla ice cream. It’s become such a running joke between the two of us that we actually point out any other people of color at weddings or parties we attend and whisper “Hey…we’re the black people at this shindig!” Being able to be the butt of your own sometimes awkward situation takes time, a sense of humor, and thick skin.
Fast forward several years – we marry and have a little person. A little man to be precise. He is now five and has collected several friends during his time on this planet. While they have come in all colors we know that our present living situation in a predominately white neighborhood means that his circle of friends will more than likely resemble our own. With this realization comes a flashback to the outcast moments that I remember vividly. Will he be hurt by the same things I was hurt from? Will he have people say stupid things to him like his dad did? These trivial school yard thoughts were followed by many more serious ones. Will people target him because of the color of his skin? Will his friends’ parents think he is a thug because he is black? Sadly you cannot respond with, “It’s 2016 and times have changed.” Because as you know, it’s 2016 and in many places times have not changed at all. I am keenly aware that we may not be afforded the luxury of saying “boys will be boys” to explain his teen angst BS.
We can teach him but we cannot and will not shelter him. We know he has to earn his own bumps and bruises so he can tell great stories in his old age about how he acquired said bumps and bruises. To prepare him for this life here is a list of a few things he will need to know. It is not an exhaustive one by any means – let’s call it a living document that will continue to change as our world does.
Don’t let what other people say about you or to you dictate your path –
The Foo Fighters kick ass and you love them. Go to their concerts and know that you will be able to count the brown folks on your left hand. Remember to like music for how it speaks to you; not who you might see at the show. You belong wherever you want to be. Let no one tell you different.
You’ll be asked to be the spokesperson for your entire race – Who can relate to the entire classroom turning around and staring at them when someone brings up the Civil Rights Movement or disproportionality in prison sentences for men or color? This will be you my son. Practice your quick and pithy response until it rolls off of your tongue like butter. You will have an opinion on these things. Don’t be afraid to voice it. If you don’t educate others on what life is like for young black men in America they will only know the story the media tells them.
Sometimes you will hear no and it’s going to suck – You may want to date someone of a different race and being that we are in the South they (or more likely their parents) might tell you no. There are people who will think you are perfectly great as a friend, but won’t date you because you’re black. It’s happened to both of your parents and you will get through it. The pain you feel is your disappointment in realizing they aren’t as great a person as you once thought they were and that the friendship is going to end.
Black people are going to be the worst – The worst stares! The worst comments! The worst attitudes! They will tell you that you aren’t black enough. Call you white boy, Oreo, sellout. The worst of these worst ones will be the other “only black people in the room” who you are attracted to but who refuse to go out with you. Why? Because they don’t date black guys! I wish I was making this up.
People will want to touch your hair – They do that now so I doubt that it will change anytime soon. It is up to you to decide if you want this to happen. On the one hand you aren’t a petting zoo. But on the other hand you will probably score some dates that way. Make up your own mind on this one.
People will be shocked by you – You will hear “I didn’t know black people could swim/play lacrosse/mountain bike/insert any other non-football/basketball activity here.” Also, you will hear that you are very well spoken. In all of these instances it is perfectly fine to roll your eyes and walk away. These people cannot be helped.
“The Man” may try to bring you down – We all saw that very special episode of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air when Carlton and Will got arrested for driving Judge Banks’ nice car. Don’t be naive like Carlton. Be smart like Will. Know what they are thinking about you and simply say, “Call my mother.” If they don’t understand the category five hurricane they have coming from me and don’t leave you alone immediately I can’t help them. I am a mama bear and if you need for me to growl at someone just give them my number.
Given all of these things…still love life. People and situations will try to knock you down repeatedly. When you think life sucks, know that life doesn’t suck but this moment in your life does. You keep going while I keep hoping that in the next few years activities are no longer classified as “white” or “black” and that you are less likely to be the only black kid in the room.
I could simply say, “He will be fine” but what kind of mom would I be if I didn’t stress? It is my hope that he tries everything, feels everything, and risks loving everything (all within reason.) And in the end if he becomes a rapper and changes his name to MC Nut Sack I want him to know we will love him just the same. We will have no idea where he got that sort of behavior from but we’ll love him.