Up until now, I’ve been rather quiet about the recent incidents in our country involving race. As a Black mother, I am aware that it is my duty, responsibility to teach and prepare my children to try and understand and prepare for the current attitudes in this country about race and prejudice. I just didn’t know where to start; for when your children are very young, it is hard to make relevant such an important issue when they have yet to face it personally. However, it reckon it is time… time for my children to understand the important factor that their skin tone plays in just about everything, from the type of friends they make, to how they are treated in schools and public places; in learning to govern their behavior and in shaping their attitudes about their education.
Race has always been a very delicate subject for me. I spent the majority of my life in a predominately White environment; the neighborhood I grew up was predominantly White, the faith I prescribed to (Roman Catholicism) is viewed as predominantly White, and the schools I went to were predominantly White. In many cases, I was the only Black child on teams, in clubs, and in classes. Most of my friends growing up were White and as such, my parents constantly reminded me that I had to be twice as good as them, just to be given a fair shot; that my skin tone was a constant reminder that there are some people who will view me as less than, simply by looking at me. I believe this is why I chose to attend an HBCU (historically Black college/university). I wanted a chance to better understand my own culture and heritage. It was there that I learned that I was different from the “average Black person” as well. It was there that I was asked on several occasions if I was mixed. It was there that it was assumed that I came from money, simply because I grew up in the suburbs in the North. Regardless, college was a great experience. I met some great friends there, got a great education, met my husband there, and joined the greatest sorority in the world!
It wasn’t until I began working that I realized what a big deal race still is in this country. The company I worked for campaigned specifically to include minorities in major marketing placements as well as in corporate positions within the home office. This company had previously gotten in trouble for racial and ethnic discrimination within the workplace and had a “legal obligation” to do so. As a manager who often had to go recruiting for new talent, I was always given direction as to who to recruit; the type of candidates that the company was specifically looking for at the time and mostly that included people of color. The company was obsessed, it seemed, with creating that perfect image of diversity, despite obvious actions that proved otherwise. Nonetheless, I couldn’t help but feel that I was hired because I was Black and that this company was simply using me to promote their agenda. And when I wasn’t able to fulfill their highly ridiculous and unrealistic expectations, they started to find a reason to get rid of me. That’s when I quit.
Fast forward to the present. I am a mother to 3 wonderful children. And along with the everyday struggles that comes with teaching your children responsibility, respect, and discipline, there is the added task of talking about race, from an early age. My husband and I knew that it was coming, and with the oldest (a boy) in school, we knew that our window of opportunity was already opened. For those who know me, you know that my son and older daughter both are stubborn like their mommy. Unfortunately, that stubbornness mixed with an improving speech delay has led to some behavior incidents. This troubles me specifically because of the stereotypes that blanketed my children before they were even born. The idea that my children could be labeled scares me. So with that, alongside the recent issues regarding race in this country (our first Black president serving two terms and the recent deaths of unarmed Black civilians) my husband and I carefully discussed how we would talk to our 4 and 5 year old about race. The time had come but we had no idea how to go about doing it. We wanted to make it relevant to them, try a tactic that would for sure capture their attention. We decided that we would introduce a little girl to them who was about their age that personally faced racism and hatred: Ruby Bridges. For those who don’t know who Ruby Bridges is, she drew national attention at 6 years old for being the first child of color to attend a white school in New Orleans in 1960. Any familiar with the Jim Crow laws at that time knows that the decision made by the federal government did not go over too well with the locals. Much like when Jackie Robinson entered the major leagues, Ruby had to endure threats to herself and her family, taunting, name-calling, and even spitting. I felt that it was important for them to see a little girl who was about their age and who looked like them facing this type of hatred and discrimination.
We found that the movie was a good starting point. The kids were able to ask why she was the only little girl in her class and why people were being so mean to her. It helped us start that all too important conversation about race in a way that was relatable and relevant to them. While they are young, we hope to teach our children about their culture and the past struggles of our people. I believe that representation is so important. When my children can have access to movies and books that feature strong and smart Black characters, it builds confidence and pride in who they are. Building such a strong sense of self is imperative to celebrating the rich diversity that surrounds them every day. We are blessed that living on a military instillation affords our children the opportunity to meet people of all backgrounds. And in being able to understand and celebrate our own culture, we hope that our children will learn to appreciate and embrace many others.