Lessons from my Father

I needed a little break from writing. My energy has been so off lately. Not sure if it was the new moon or bad vibes, but I haven’t been in a good space.  I think I was a bit off because I’ve been doing this whole adult thing. Oh my word, no one tells you it’s going to be so hard.

Last week wasn’t a total bust though. I think it was Wednesday, but I’m not sure, I found myself calling my father. Funny how the universe works sometimes. He was happy to hear my voice and actually let me talk. I didn’t realize how much I had pushed down inside of me until I began to cry. I told my dad about the incident at the school with my daughter. I thought he would…well, I don’t know exactly what I thought he would do or say, but I didn’t expect the reaction I got. After I was done, he commented on how racism is a part of education and was a part of his education. He let me know that he intentionally sacrificed to send me to the school I went to because he didn’t want me to receive the same education. He then said something so eloquent that I think about it daily now. He said:

When I was in school, I had no images of myself. No history of myself. I was invisible, which is racist within itself. In a sense, it teaches you that you’re not a part of the story. You’re not human. You’re something else. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I hit my children. Spankings, hitting your children, is like stripping them of their humanity too. When you violate someones personal space or their person, you’re taking their humanity away. When you can look at someone as not human, then you can mistreat them. When a person believes they are not worthy of being treated like a human being, then they are lost, broken, without value. It’s quite easy to send that kid to prison or treat them sub-par because they aren’t human to you. People treat us that way and then because we’ve internalized that treatment, we turn around and treat our own children that way…then the cycle continues. The blessing is that you let Olivia know she is of value. You don’t strip her of her humanity. No matter what, she comes from a home of love. No one can break her because you all are there to build her up. Stay the course. You and your husband are doing an excellent job. She is in good hands.

images

Apologies come in all shapes and sizes, but in my heart, this was an apology from my father. He admitted he was wrong for hitting me and that is worth more than I think he or anyone else will ever know. He also complimented my parenting style, which was pretty freaking awesome! We look back on our lives and wonder why certain things happen. We question why and then it all comes full circle.

So…for every person in my family who came before me, my ancestors who felt that they were less than human, those who were stripped of their humanity, beaten, bruised, and abused, it ends with me.

One of my favorite authors, Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, that just like genes carry from one generation to the next, so does hurt and spiritual pain. When one can heal from his or her past hurt they can also heal those that came before them. It made sense to me then and it makes even more sense to me now. What an awesome gift to give my children and grandchildren. I have my dad to thank for reminding me.

Love and light y’all.

 

 

Advertisements

Racism aside, everything is going well

I’ve decided to let last week go. Anger is a terrible thing, especially when you volunteer in the class of the little kid who just hurt your child. You can’t trip him. You can’t give him dirty looks. All you can do is be an adult and sometimes being an adult sucks; however, time waits for no one, so an adult I must be.

It wasn’t that hard going in there today. I realize the teachers are doing the best that they can. My daughter was hurt, but she is moving right along and I am incredibly proud of her. The young boy with the not so kind words smiled at me today and although I got nauseous, I realized that he too probably learned something in all of this. He did write, well he typed, or maybe his parents typed a lovely letter of apology. We thought it best to keep it away from our daughter, but she saw it yesterday and she too thought it was complete bullshit. There was a line in the typed apology that was to the effect of, “after watching (insert black movie of struggle) I learned what I said was hurtful”. My daughter said, “mommy, why didn’t he know that was hurtful before watching the movie?”. I couldn’t answer that, but all we can hope is that he learned something and now we must let it go.

I read an article today about parents teaching their children to be “colorblind” and it said that when race or culture of others isn’t discussed then children form opinions based on what they see in video games, television, or surroundings. In essence, a family that doesn’t consider itself racist could have a child with racist views simply because the family chose to ignore race, deeming it a non-factor. I found the article quite interesting and more than likely true. We are at a stage in society where children are basically being raised by tablets and television, while parents bury their heads into cell phones. It’s quite possible we, as parents, have no idea what we are raising because we aren’t truly raising our children.

On another note, I got a call from a dear friend on Friday about his little one. Our children are in the same grade, but go to schools of opposite demographics. Last week, I thought I would give anything to be in his shoes, but as we got to talking, my opinion changed. He had just left the school’s morning assembly where the Principal made comments in reference to the day being the day Trayvon Martin was assassinated and references to the young men at the school having the same fate. It was a bit shocking to me because that would never happen at an assembly here and I got why my friend was upset. We both felt that it was an issue that should have been discussed at home by parents in the context that they saw fit. He went on to tell me of other occasions where this Principal made other comments that just weren’t appropriate and although they may have been in reference to issues that deal with African Americans, the issues were much too complex to be said at such a short assembly with no follow through.

After our conversation, it dawned on me that this parenting is hard. It doesn’t matter what zip code or demographic, it’s just plain hard. We try our best to shield them, but at some point we let them go out into the world and it is hard to accept that people will hurt them or even influence them negatively. No one tells you this when you’re buying the bassinet you’ll never use. Any who, all we can do is try our best and hope our children don’t talk too bad about us in therapy.

Love and light y’all.

Heartbreak

My husband and I were naive. We thought we could move anywhere the Army sent us, find a home in a good school district, and go on about our business like most Americans. We thought our children would flourish regardless of race or racism. We thought that if anything, our children would not have to deal with bigotry because kids don’t think that way. It was the adults that we felt like we needed to worry about. We were so wrong.

When we first moved here there was an incident in my daughter’s Kindergarten class. She hadn’t even got settled quite yet. Her daddy was away in Afghanistan and she had just moved away from all of her friends. We told her to go into school with positive thoughts and to make friends, but someone told her she couldn’t play because she was black. Because she had an awesome teacher, the incident was handled in the best possible way. Towards the end of the school year, another incident regarding race, that I won’t even mention happened. We thought that the worst was over. Surely, this was just a fluke and as time went on and she found a good group of friends, these incidents would not happen again. Again, we were wrong.

IMG_7479

Yesterday, while getting ready for a day full of birthday parties, alone in our home because “the boys” were away, we discussed friendship. I told her that people have all sorts of reasons why they don’t want to be another persons friend and sometimes those reasons include things that a person can’t change. I was combing her hair in front of our bathroom mirror and I caught a glimpse of what I saw as sadness. She kind of looked into the mirror and said, “mommy, there is something I’ve been wanting to tell you”. Of course I gave her the floor and she told me of an incident that happened in the 1st grade and in the current grade of 2nd. The first incident involved a “friend” who told her, “kids did not want to play with you because you are black and there are a lot of mean black kids at the school, so they think you’re mean too”. The next incident happened this year (it’s only February) with a boy who told her, “I don’t like you because you’re black”. I asked her how that made her feel and she said, “it just makes me want to act nice and try to do my best, so people won’t think brown people are bad”. At that moment, I began to cry. I had no words of encouragement. I could not muster up the strength to be “strong”. I realized what a heavy burden she has been carrying and I was hurt because someone hurt my baby. She began to cry too and we moved out of the mirror onto the floor and cried together. I’m sorry if someone may see that as wrong, but our children need to be able to be children and human. They need to see their parents vulnerable and they need to know that when they hurt, we hurt too. I fought hard to get her here. How dare someone attempt to damage my baby?

IMG_3665

 

After crying for a bit, I told her that she had learned a lesson that most brown people learn later in life. The lesson is that people will lump you into a group like cattle and judge you by the actions of people who share the same skin color as you. However, when others do bad things, they are judged as individuals. I asked her if she remembered when those bad things happened in Kindergarten and how we told her to remember that was one bad thing and not to judge everyone or think that someone else would be the same. Unfortunately, my daughter isn’t afforded that same respect in this society. My goodness, she’s only 8. Why on Earth should she feel obligated to carry the entire black race on her back in her behavior, work ethic, or personality. I’m so angry. I’m so hurt. What is wrong with people? Every year, she has had to deal with this crap and everything has become clear.

We wonder sometimes why she is so timid. We wonder why she has to have everything perfect. We wonder why she is so much more comfortable in certain settings over others and we have wondered why she leaves school sometimes so emotionally drained. She is carrying too much for her little body. I watched her at the parties yesterday and I saw her, like really saw her. What we thought was personality is uncertainty. It’s not that she’s timid or shy, she just doesn’t want to make a mistake. I saw how comfortable she was at one party over another. Listen, the parents, teachers, and children are awesome, but it is that small minority that take their insecurities out on others. I don’t mean to brag, but my daughter is awesome. She is beautiful. She is intelligent, not like just book smart, but really intelligent. She is insightful. She’s an old soul destined to make a change in this world. This, her skin color, is the last thing someone feels they have over her and dammit, that makes my blood boil. We are not a home that teaches self-pride and hate. We are a home that teaches pride in oneself and also love and acceptance of others. I have to teach my children that because if I didn’t my daughter would be worse off than she is now. She knows that her skin color isn’t a negative, but what am I to do if at every turn someone is trying to tell her different. She knows who she is because she is the one who made this eloquent statement one evening, she said, “I have the beginning of time running thru my veins”. Yes, my dear you do and don’t you EVER forget it.

IMG_4923

This last incident has changed my husband and I. We were naive. We thought that because we were good people and at one point in time we would have given our lives for this country, we were afforded some type of respect. We know racism exists, but for an 8 year old to deal with this for all of her school years is just wrong. My husband has made the decision that when we move, we have to consider diversity, preferably an environment where our children are not the only ones. I don’t believe everyone goes through these types of things, so please don’t take this as a slight because I know there are many of us who are living in areas where we are the minority, but when asked what would give her the strength to speak up, she said, “mommy, I just wish I wasn’t the only one. I’m all by myself”. I don’t know how that feels. I don’t know how that will affect her later in life, so whatever we can do to help her heal from these “incidents” we have to do it.

IMG_3298

You know, I had a talk with a friend not too long ago about a comment that was not nice made by a woman in regards to black men and how she didn’t like them. This was a black woman no less, and I told her that it was wrong and I couldn’t just be quiet because my son is black. When she talks about black men in that regard, she’s talking about my son. I was told, “but he isn’t here”. I implore upon everyone who reads this blog to stop people in their tracks when they say things that are downright wrong. Stop the uncomfortable giggles. People have been shamed for being politically correct, but what is wrong with being correct. I, myself, have been silent in the presence of black women when they make disparaging comments about white women and that isn’t right. We have to stand up for one another. We have to shame people or at least stop them in their tracks because even if it isn’t about you, it’s still offensive and wrong and maybe one day, my grandchildren won’t have to go thru these same things. We will overcome this as we have overcome so many other things. Love will win.

Love and light y’all.

 

 

Cultural Insensitivity?

There are so many things that come along with being the only black stay at-home mother in the suburbs. One has to deal with the occasional Trump bumper sticker sighting, the comments about your daughters “crazy”hair, or the weird looks you may get when people see your family actually has a father attached to it. I’m joking…kind of, but there are little things that happen and sometimes you have to make the decision to either react or be quiet. Fortunately, I have a few friends that are in the same boat as me and we bounce things off of each other to see if we should react or just let it go. Most of the time, we just need a sounding board or a place where we can be comfortable to ask the hard questions that deal with race.

Insert my good friend who lives in a very small town in Massachusetts. I’m living in urban luxury compared to her. While my little city is about 4% Black, her city is 1 percent Black. Basically, she is the Black population. For the most part, she has been able to maneuver quite well. The town is friendly. She is involved in the PTO, local church, and community. She has made friends and race had not been an issue until a few days ago. Her daughter was assigned a heritage project for school and was instructed to pick a country of origin to research. I should point out that my good friend is married to a very nice White man and decided that this would be a great assignment to highlight both parts of her daughter’s background. Here comes the problem.

My friend’s family, like mine, is from New Orleans, LA. Everyone knows that New Orleans and the whole damn state of Louisiana is bursting at the seams with culture. When my friend pointed out that they would be doing their assignment on France (her husband’s family) and Louisiana Creoles (her family), the teacher suggested that they only do her husband’s side of the family since there was an actual foreign country to pick. The teacher then proceeded to tell her that “Louisiana Creole” was not a particular heritage, but instead a language or dialect.

First, let me point out how insensitive it is to discount what one may think is their heritage. Next, African Americans (Black people) typically don’t have a country of origin. Africa is a very large continent and we cannot pick one particular country because we do not know where our families were stolen from. What we do know, is that we come from very strong blood lines because we are still here and that alone is something to be proud of.  For one second, imagine all that those Africans who first came here went thru, then those who survived slavery, then those who survived the Civil War and Reconstruction, then those who survived Jim Crow or the Great Migration, then the Civil Rights Movement and up until now. There is so much to be proud of. We also know that we had a hand in building this country, so we have a right to use this country as our origin and whatever subculture our ancestors may be a part of. It is incredibly insensitive to demand that one pick a foreign country, when there is no country to pick.

While listening to my very good friend tell me this story, I heard the hurt in her voice. She was less angry about the whole country insistence and more angry about her children having to choose between their two backgrounds. Because I am not in an interracial marriage, she pointed out a few things that I didn’t realize. I did not realize how often people try to put her and her family in a box according to their comfort. I also did not realize how people often lessen her value in their marriage. She is perceived as this poor black women without culture who lucked up and found this white man. Perception dictates that she has somehow been saved from the depths of the ghetto and she should welcome leaving that all behind. I almost questioned the validity of that last statement until she pointed out to me that my family would not have been asked to simply leave out one members background. I firmly believe the teacher would have handled a family like mine much differently and that makes me sad and more aware.

After letting her vent, I took the time to be a friend and tell her that in this country people simply don’t know. Ignorance is one of the many cancers of society and instead of getting angry, she should educate the teacher about her background. I doubt a number of people outside of Louisiana know about Louisiana Creoles. There are so many good lessons to be learned from this situation. The assignment teaches her daughter about her culture as it relates to her father and mother. The children and teacher  will learn about something that is never taught in textbooks. The whole situation teaches my friend to always stand up for what she believes in and that is the most important lesson for her and her children.

Overall, the lesson is to be open. People are going to be ignorant. Most of the time it isn’t because they are mean, it is simply because they don’t know. When we close ourselves off from people because they don’t understand us, there will be no progress. Likewise, when we are insensitive, dismissive, or unwilling to learn about our differences, there will be no progress. As a people and simply as human beings we should always strive to move forward.

Be open to dialogue. Don’t shy away from conversations about race. Be kind.

Love and light y’all.

 

 

 

 

Barriers of the Mind

I have an 85 year-old grandmother who is laugh out loud funny.  She has always been funny, but now I’m old enough to laugh at her jokes without getting the side eye.  She is a gun packing, smack talking lover of pearls and all things elegant.  She is all kinds of awesome, but sometimes she says some things that make me think…is this the same lady who had a hand in how I see the world?

I was talking to my cousin on the phone the other day and she told me she was showing a few of our pictures to our grandmother.  My grandmother of course commented on my weight and hair and then proceeded to ask what beach were we at.  My cousin told her and she made a comment I would not expect from my grandmother.  She said, “those white people sure do keep their beaches nice.  I guess they keep all the Black (she didn’t say Black) people out and don’t let us come over there”.  The beach was nice.  It wasn’t the nicest I’ve been to, but I never once saw a sign saying, NO BLACKS ALLOWED.  She then proceeded to ask my cousin if we stayed the whole day and what were we doing.  This whole dialogue between my 85 year old grandmother and my cousin got me to thinking about the barriers we all create in our minds.

My grandmother grew up in a time when segregation was quite real.  She grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana and has outright told me that the racism or prejudice she had to deal with came from her own people and never from a different race.  Yes, she had to ride on the back of the bus, but in her time and where she grew up, ‘if you didn’t bother them, then they didn’t bother you’ and that’s just the way it was.  The whole concept of not bothering “them” was a conscious decision to stay alive in those times.  Although times have changed, do some of us hold on to those same concepts today?

As an adult, I have been blessed to have traveled a bit and at an early enough age that I rarely feel uncomfortable around any group of people regardless of race or class.  I am a shy person, but I hardly ever let it show.  I am confident, but I would be lying if I said I never thought about being the only one in a particular setting or the instant familiarity I feel when someone who looks like me is around.  Fortunately, I push through it and let the thought pass, but I know that many people have not had my experiences and can’t simply push through it.  The idea that a group of people are keeping you out of something may sometimes mean that you are in fact keeping yourself out of it.

I am from the hood.  It isn’t something that I wear on my sleeve, but if you talk to me long enough you will realize that I’m from California, but I have only had the pleasure of seeing this beautiful State from a positive standpoint as an adult.  When I was a young adult I never traveled outside of my “hood”.  I had been all the way to Korea, but never to Malibu or Long Beach for that matter.  It is a hood mentality mixed with my elders fear from their past…”don’t bother them, and they won’t bother you”.

I don’t believe this is just a Black thing.  I believe we all have barriers in our brains that we don’t realize.  The signs excluding one race to this and another to that are no longer posted on poles, but are very real in the minds of people.  It is not just going somewhere, but it is also dreams and aspirations. If one cannot go to an opposite side of town because they don’t think it is for him or her, then how on Earth is that same person going to develop the concept that they can become a Doctor, Astronaut, Physicist, or Novelist. These barriers of the mind are self inflicted destroyers of life and sometimes we indirectly set the foundation of these barriers for our children and grandchildren.

I doubt my children think that any place is off limits to them, but as a mother I am frightened by that.  I keep that fear held inside because I will absolutely not play a part in building a foundation in their minds based on fear.  My husband, who was not born in this country, does not share my fears, which is why I know this barrier is learned.  I refuse to pass it on, so yes grandma, we were at the beach all day long and those White folk didn’t bother us one bit, they even let us get in the water and take pictures on the rocks.  They never told us we couldn’t come in the first place.  It was us who told us we couldn’t go.

For fun, or if anyone really reads this blog…What barriers do you have?  What do you subconsciously or consciously think is not for you?  Is it exercise? Dance classes? Writing a book?  Falling in love?  Leave me a comment….pleeeeeeeeease.

A justifiable fear?

Something strange happened about a week ago. My son and I were watching my daughter play soccer and my son decided that he would wrap our little blanket around his shoulders and walk around saying he was Batman.  At the end of practice, some of the children on my daughter’s team came over and asked him what he was doing.  Of course, he informed them all that he was Batman.  The children laughed and then started to point out why he really was not Batman.  One kid asked him where his bat mobile was and another told him that his cape needed to be black, which were all very great observations, but the moment I heard, “you can’t be Batman because you don’t have a black cape” I got very scared.  My heart started beating fast and I was literally frightened that one of the children would tell him that he couldn’t be Batman because he was not White.

It seems quite silly because children at this age don’t typically think or talk that way, but that has not been the case here.  I have never felt so Black in my life.  It is constantly at the back of my mind that someone is going to not only highlight my children’s race, but put them down for who they are.  This fear does not come from out of the sky.  I previously wrote about an incident at my daughter’s school where she was excluded because of her skin color and the outcome of that was more positive than negative.  Unfortunately, another incident happened a few weeks ago where one of my daughter’s classmates told her that she was pretty, but would be prettier if she was White.  I don’t believe the school handled it properly as I was never called and my daughter had to sit in the class with this on her heart for the rest of the school day.  The little girl was removed from the classroom, but no conference with the parents and no real apology from the parents or child like in the previous incident.  In fact, I was told to find some compassion in my heart for this child because her parents are not all that good, but I can’t…at least not yet.

The thing about this that people don’t quite understand is that the little girl who did this was in trouble for the day, while my daughter will live with these incidents for the rest of her life.  She will never forget these things and I struggle every morning with sending her back to school.  If a teacher or a school system was negligent in preventing the physical safety of a child, any parent would either pull their child out of the school or call the administration to the carpet for their practices; the same does not happen when a child is hurt emotionally.  In fact, I believe if this was a physical altercation then I would have been called, the parents would have been brought in for a conference, and someone besides her teacher who wasn’t even there to witness the incident would not have to bear the brunt of trying to explain and makes sense of it all.

I thought of pulling her out and just homeschooling, but my husband told me that would inadvertently show her that something is wrong with her and that she did something wrong. She says that she knows that girl’s words were not true, but it still hurts.  I think those words hurt so much that she wouldn’t have told the substitute teacher or me had it not been for two of her classmates seeing what happened and making a point of telling.  It makes me wonder what is she internalizing.  What is happening on the playground that she isn’t telling us?  How does she feel being the minority and then having it pointed out in a nasty way. It also makes me fearful of what else is to come.  When my son wants to play super heros, is someone going to exclude him because he’s Black.  When my daughter goes to make a friend at the park and isn’t received well, is she going to go to a place that automatically feels the rejection has to do with the color of her skin.

I still believe that the good outweighs the bad, but I am genuinely afraid for them.

Racism aside…everything is going well

The incident that happened last week at the school has made a lasting impression on my daughter and I believe my household. I don’t know why, but I just did not expect it to happen so early and not here in California.  I’m originally from California and NEVER experienced any type of colorism or racism.  I spent about 10 years in the South and I believe I had experienced prejudice, but it was kind of blatant, like people ignoring you and not acknowledging your presence. Also, I had more positive experiences with White people than I have ever had in the South, so I have been sitting here thinking about what is the issue here.

First, let me say that the school my daughter goes to handled the situation quite well.  The day after my daughter was told she couldn’t play because she was Black by another little girl on the playground, a conference was held with the little racist child’s parents, she was made to write a letter saying she was sorry, and they also made her come up to me and apologize for hurting my daughter.  I thought that it was a great way to show my daughter that the little racist child was wrong; however, I thought it was overkill.  I jokingly call this little girl, “little racist child”, but she was only doing what she has either heard or seen.  I didn’t think she should apologize to me.  I thought her coward parents should have come to me and apologized, but that won’t happen because they are coward racist parents.  The funny thing is that my daughter and her are becoming fast friends and playing together, so I guess racism aside, everything appears to be going well. Go figure.

So…what is the issue here in this little California town?  Why do I feel so uncomfortable here as opposed to where I just moved from?  I believe the answer is that although California may seem progressive, it is not as diverse as people would believe it to be.  I just moved from the South, but my neighbors were White, Black, and Jewish. They were not the type of neighbors you just wave at from time to time.  My neighbors were people I actually spoke to from time to time and genuinely cared about.  I have noticed that this city is overwhelmingly segregated.  I finally found the Black people here and they live in apartments very close to the mall.  The Hispanics live there too.  In my neighborhood, which is all single family homes, there are very few Hispanics and Blacks, a conservative amount of Asians and Indians, and overwhelmingly White (about 67%). The issues here could be more about class and less about race, but segregation could be the root to the problem.

I must point out that I didn’t grow up a fan of Martin Luther King Jr.  I was raised by a Sunni Muslim father who had just left the Nation of Islam and he kept a great deal of his “Black supremacist” ways of thinking even though he was an Orthodox Muslim.  Yes, I grew up singing songs about the White man being the devil.  I also grew up spending weekends holding a sign that read “DON’T KILL YOUR BABIES” in front of an abortion clinic. Anyway, I knew very little about Martin Luther Kings Jr. because he was not celebrated in the private school I went to and at home we focused most on “revolutionaries”.  Looking back, my childhood was quite comical.  I had a Christian mother who was quite passive, but quick to throw a jab at how lowdown some Black people could be and a father who firmly believed that the social ills that plagued Black people were the dirty work of the White man.  I was confused to say the least, but it gave me  an incredible amount of insight on race and religion.  I’m going off topic, but  what I want to point out is that I am now a fan of Martin Luther King Jr. I always saw integration as something that tore down the Black community growing up, but as an adult I can understand the logic in segregation being wrong.

Obviously, no one is outright telling people that they can’t live in one area over the next, but because everyone is sectioned off in their own parts of this city, individuals are not seeing one another as human beings. When your neighbors look just like you, thinks like you, and prays like you, anything other than what you perceive as “normal” is wrong, especially when the images coming from the television portray another race as criminal, hyper-sexual,  an unintelligent.

I’ll give a personal example, when I was deploying to go to Iraq there was a girl in our unit that I became quite close with.  She was a nice person.  I hurt my leg while I was at the mobilization site and ended up on crutches.  This girl helped me to no end. One day, we are walking to the dining facility and she says, “I have something I need to tell you because I’m tired of lying to you”. Of course, I told her that she could share anything with me because we were “battle buddies”.  Well, she tells me that she is gay.  I had never met a gay person before in my life.  At that point in my life, I was very much against homosexuality and anyone who supported it.  It was ungodly to me because that is what I was taught.  When she told me that, it took my breath away and I felt incredibly conflicted because how could I view someone as a friend that I firmly believed was going to burn in hell.  Quite quickly I had to rethink all that I had believed because now I had a face, deeds, heart and soul attached to homosexuality.  My views no longer applied to “them”.  My views now had a name and a face of someone I knew would give their life for me if it came down to it when we crossed over to Iraq.  I finally found the humanity. We are still friends to this very day.

I know some people won’t agree with that, but the same thing happens with race.  It is quite easy to hate what you don’t know.  It is quite easy to stereotype what you believe to be true on television. Remember, I don’t exist in real life.  My family and its dynamic are not shown on television, so what can I expect from my ignorant neighbors?  I believe this is the point where I have to (even though I don’t want to) have amazing strength and put myself out there, like my friend did, and show the humanity of me and my family.  All Black mothers are not like those women on the Real Housewives of Atlanta or Basketball Wives.

I’m having a play date tomorrow with one of the mom’s and her daughter from my daughter’s class. We will see how it goes. Hopefully, it goes well and I’ll make an acquaintance or even a friend, but at the very least I am making an effort.

First Days of School

My daughter has entered the world of Kindergarten and I am not happy about it.  I imagined that this milestone would be a welcoming break for me, but it has not turned out that way.  I just don’t understand the concept of dropping your child off with strangers. Like, I don’t drop anything that I consider valuable off with a stranger, so what’s the deal with school being that way.  I mean, why can’t I do a background, credit, or education check on these people. I totally get why a child would cry on the first day of school because I cried the whole way home after dropping my daughter off.

The first day of school was an orientation day. I learned absolutely nothing on the orientation day.  I kept looking at the door for the other little Black child to join in on the new school year.  After about 20 minutes, I realized that my daughter was the little Black child and I kind of panicked.  I don’t know why I panicked because she has ALWAYS been the only Black child (or Brown as she often reminds me), but I got this pain in my chest and had visions of grabbing her and running out of that classroom saying, “HELL NO, WE WON’T GO”.  I know, I’m being dramatic, but I have no idea what it feels like to be in her shoes and I question our (my husband and I) decision to put her through this lifestyle.  I mean, isn’t it a choice?

I should not have such tunnel vision.  The school is nice. It is a diverse school, but for some reason the diversity does not include people that look like me.  The teacher is firm and very welcoming.  She recognized that my daughter was advanced and on the 2nd day of school we spoke about strategies to help my daughter progress.  She brought up moving her to the 1st grade, something we discussed during the assessment, but I’m not going to push her ahead because I know she is ready academically, but not ready socially.  I was skipped in elementary school and it was quite easy in the classroom, but very hard on the playground and that was a private school.  I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like at a public school.

So…my daughter has been in school for about a week now and she has not learned a thing. I have not stopped crying and lingering after the classroom door is closed.  I’m having some separation issues and I plan to be in that classroom anytime I can.  In this area, Kindergarten is only for 4 hours and I have basically looked at this school as a way for her to socialize.  We are still working at home on her phonics, reading comprehension, mathematics, science, and I’m thinking of adding some real life art. She catches on to everything quite fast.  I find it kind of fascinating, so we’ve started teaching her about the Presidents. She has already memorized the first 4 Presidents and what they are known for.  I’m proud of her and I feel better knowing that she is quite secure in her ability to do things at school.  I hope that her being secure will allow her to be confident in other areas…like being the only one that looks like her and realizing that her skin color doesn’t matter.  Thankfully, a little girl in her class was just as shy as she was and they have become fast friends.  I have a feeling I am going to be asked for a play date, let’s see how that goes.

It Happened…

It happened…

Today was an off day for me.  Have you ever just felt like something wasn’t aligning itself right?  I just could not seem to shake this uneasy feeling I had gotten up with this morning.  The uneasiness lasted until about the time I went to pick up my daughter from school and just as I was beginning to relax a bit, the teacher informed me that she would need to speak to me after she dismissed everyone.  I was a bit confused because my daughter is awesome.  I know most people say that about their children, but my daughter really is awesome.  She is a good kid.  She follows the rules.  She is smart and sweet.  She is the classic first born child, a real overachiever.  So, imagine my surprise that my well mannered child was a topic to be discussed after school with the teacher.  I guess I must have given the teacher a look because she quickly followed her announcement up with, “oh, Olivia is always a joy…this isn’t anything to do with her behavior”.  I was relieved, but at the same time I could not imagine what we needed to discuss and patiently waited until the teacher was finish dismissing her class.

I came into the classroom with my daughter, son and the teacher.  The uneasiness that I had felt earlier returned and instantly I felt a bit guarded.  The teacher looked pained in the face and I couldn’t put my finger on it, but I thought I saw sadness. Here is how the conversation went from that point on:

Teacher:  Mrs. H, I called you in here because there was an incident on the playground today with a student using a racial slur towards Olivia.

Me: (Silence)

Teacher:  While Olivia was out on the playground, one of the little girls excluded her from a game and told her that she could not play because she was Black.

Me: (Silence)

Teacher:  One of the teacher’s heard what was going on and quickly got me. I reprimanded the child and she received a colored slip informing her parents of her behavior.  There will also be a parent conference with her father in the morning regarding this issue.  Mrs. H, in all my years here, I have never heard or witnessed something like this happen and I am truly sorry.  Olivia is such a beautiful, smart, and sweet little girl and I am so sorry.  This type of behavior is not tolerated in my classroom and I don’t think for one minute that this little girl picked it up on her own.  Language and behavior like that is taught in the home and I will inform the parents that I will not tolerate that type of behavior in my classroom.

Me:  How was Olivia? Did she cry?  Was she hurt?

Teacher: No. She did not cry.  She continued her day without missing a beat.

Me:  (I began to cry)

Teacher: Oh, Mrs. H., I’m so sorry.  I can’t imagine how you feel, but I promise you that I will handle it.  This transition has not been easy on you with your husband gone.  You know I just don’t get it either because the little girl isn’t White.  I think she’s Cuban and her father is in the Navy.  It is all so senseless. Tomorrow, after school I will let you know what happened in the conference. You know, the kids are sassier and meaner these days or at least the ones who are in the before and after school care. The children like Olivia seem to be nicer and I don’t know if that’s because you’re at home with her, but you are doing an awesome job.  I’m so sorry.

Me: Thank you for informing me. 

That was the basics of the conversation.  I was left breathless and all I really wanted to do was run off with my child and hold her real tight.  I’ve been her protector for so long and it pains me to know that this happened to her and I wasn’t there to wipe away her tears or tell her that there is nothing wrong with who she is.  Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on how you look at it, my daughter’s version of the story was a tad bit different.  My daughter told me that she went over to play with the other girls in her class.  The other ONLY Black girl from another Kindergarten class was there too and when they (all of the girls) were about to play, the mean racist little girl pointed at my daughter and the other Black girl and said they couldn’t play because they were Black.  My daughter said that she walked away and sat down on a bench and began to cry, but then the friend she made on the first day of school came to her and asked what was wrong.  My daughter told her what happened and that sweet girl hugged her and got up and told the first teacher she could find.  After my daughter told me what I believe really happened, I texted the mother of this sweet girl, which by chance we had just exchanged numbers the previous day and told her to tell her daughter thank you for being there for Olivia.  The mother texted me back and said her daughter told her, “someone hurt my friend and that was not right and someone needed to know”.  Isn’t that awesome?

I have no eloquent words.  I could have reacted in so many different ways, but in times like these I long to have my husband near me.  I called him while I was still in the parking lot of the school to tell him what happened and his perspective was quite different than what I expected.  My husband told me to make sure my daughter felt no shame because she did nothing wrong.  He said the other girl who was mean should be shamed and so should her parents.  He told me that we have no reason to be hurt because we are raising our daughter right and the proof is in her behavior while the other parents should be hurt that their bad parenting is on display for the whole school to see.  I love the way he thinks, but it is hard for me not to be angry or hurt.  My daughter is only 5 years old and this is only the 2nd week of Kindergarten.

Truthfully, I want to give the mother a good ole ass whooping, but that wouldn’t solve anything, except to further perpetuate a stereotype about Black woman.  I also would love to just tell them that they hurt my child, but from experience, I have learned that logic, feeling, and commonsense are typically lost on these types of people.  What I can do is teach my daughter to be proud of herself and give her an example of pride in oneself.  I am her first teacher. So, I used this as a moment to listen to my daughter and I asked her if she felt bad for being Black.  She hesitated in answering, which struck a chord with me because I know that she has internalized this event.  I then informed her that it was quite awesome to be Black and she looked at me and said, “why?”.  I told her that all of civilization, EVERYONE, originated in Africa and that she had African blood running through her veins.  I told her that her hair was pretty cool too and that it could be styled in any way from braids, curls, to even straight. I told her that she was Black because her father and I loved each other and she was a symbol of our love and because we are both Black then so was she. I couldn’t think of anything else, but I made a point in reminding her that she was my rainbow child, which always makes her smile. I named her Olivia because she brought peace to my life like an Olive tree signifies peace. I prayed long and hard for my daughter to make it here safe. I lost my first child and was told I could never have children, so Olivia is the rainbow in my life after the storm. I more than upset that someone would hurt someone so dear to me.

In the days to come, I will probably be better equipped to process what happened, but for now I am holding on to the belief that there are more good people than bad; however, good can never conquer bad if no one speaks up.  Thankfully, the shyest girl in the class spoke up for my daughter. Thank goodness for the good parents and the children with good hearts.

You can’t be the princess because you have black hair

So…yeah. There are times that I don’t particularly like living out here.  I mean, I enjoy my home.  I really like the schools. I thoroughly enjoy how quickly I can get to the beach, but there are times that I REALLY don’t like living here.  There is an immense lack of diversity, well that is not completely true.  There is a ton of diversity, but it does not include Black people.  I typically brush off the fact that I am the only one, but I often worry about my children.  I grew up in a predominately Black neighborhood and I don’t know how it feels to be the ONLY Black child. I imagine that it can be a bit different and my imagination was confirmed on a trip to the park.

I decided to take my children to the park Monday.  It was a beautiful day (most days are) and we took a stroll around the lake watching the geese and ducks.  I planned to let my children play at the park and have a short picnic by the water.  Everything was going great and my daughter even made a “friend”.  I was so ecstatic to finally be sitting down on a bench enjoying the day, until…my daughter looked my way with a very confused look on her face.  I quickly got up to see what was wrong with her and noticed her bring her hands to her hair.  When I got to her, I asked what happened and she said (pointing to the little girl she was playing with), “she said I have to be the boy because my hair is black”.  I kind of stepped back for a quick moment because the first thing I wanted to say was, “look you little snot, she can be the princess”, but I didn’t do that.  I looked at the little girl, who for the record had no mother watching her that I could see and she simply said to me that  she could be Rapunzel because she was blonde and my daughter could be the boy from the movie because she had black hair. Hmm, so in that split second I realized that the little girl was sweet, ill cared for, but sweet and she actually meant color of hair and not texture or the fact that my daughter was Black.  I told the blonde child that princesses can in fact have black hair and that they could choose another game of princess like, my daughter being Princess Tiana and the other girl being Charlotte from the “Princess and the Frog”.  They seemed fine with that and went off playing, but I was disturbed a bit because I wondered about the times I won’t be there to help my daughter.  I mean, some of this has to be internalized in a way and I wonder what would I have said had Disney never made a movie about a Black princess.

I was so ready to go after the incident that I gave my children the 10 minute warning and proceeded to have our picnic.  I kind of looked at my daughter and my heart ached a little bit and then I saw a Black guy walking behind her in his black ball cap with his doo rag underneath along with his black shorts that were sagging for everyone to see his underwear and I shuddered. 

I constantly feel like there is a battle.  Thank the heavens that my children have an example of me and their father, so hopefully no outside influence will greatly affect who they think they are or what they should be.