Monday was Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day and it’s always a day of reflection for me, both because of my personal experience as a young child hearing Dr. King speak, then after waiting in a long line having the opportunity to shake his hand. Mother told me to look him in the eye and never forget and I never have. Who could have imagined then that I would become a white mother raising black children and that we would still be hoping that someday his dream might be realized.
With all the racial events of this past year, especially the Black Lives Matter movement, I’ve given a lot of thought to white privilege. As my children become teenagers I often think about their safety in a society where the violence and death of black people does not seem to be as concerning as of those who are white. It’s certainly not a new concept, but frustrating when you grew up in a time where you complacently thought, maybe just hoped, we were past all that. Ignorant and naive because of my white privilege. I wasn’t living it every day as my children are beginning to.
My black children have lived in a white privilege bubble of sorts. Because they have white parents, they weren’t scrutinized as they shopped or made friends or perhaps in school once the color of their parents were known.
As they have grown older and moved away from us, venturing out in to the world alone, that is changing. I often now walk a few steps behind them to see how people view my children. More than once my husband or I have been there to step between them and a store clerk questioning their motives when touching merchandise or merely walking in a store. Our white privilege bubble won’t always be there, and I grieve for the times they will have to verify their right to shop, or simply be wherever they are.
We know that black young men, children really, are viewed as adults at a far younger age than caucasian children. My tall 12 yr. old son is no longer seen as a child. I learned early on to refer to my son as little man, both because historically the word “boy” has been used to denigrate black men’s manhood and because I wanted him to think of himself as a man from early on.
I know I haven’t done the best job preparing them for what is to come, how can I when my mere existence has shielded them from conversations that might have come about naturally in a black family’s life. They are often annoyed by my desire to have these conversations and I get that too. Who wants to believe there are those who look upon their color with suspicion and fear and oh, how I wish we were much further along in the struggle Dr. King worked to end. To believe that struggle is over is to belie reality and for my children’s sake that is something I can not do.