SARcasm











Since the events surrounding the shooting of unarmed African-American teenager Michael Brown by a police officer in Ferguson, MO (details on the incident can be found here and here), I have wanted to write a piece about the realities of raising young black men in today’s world – the world where Brown’s death, and the death of Trayvon Martin remind us that racism still exists, that it is still far more dangerous to be black today than white. But for a number of reasons, I haven’t really felt able to. For one, I have just felt too strongly about it to really be able to string my thoughts together into some narrative whole – it’s been easier to share others’ perceptions that I have found right on.

But perhaps on a deeper level, ultimately, what it has come down to thus far has been this: while our (adopted) boys are mixed-race (born to a white mother and a mixed-race father, is our best understanding), my husband and I are white, and can’t even begin to comprehend the realities they might have to face. While we can make vague claims to having been bullied or mistreated in our youth, in light of recent events in particular this feels woefully inadequate – the reality is, neither of us have ever had racial epithets flung at us. We will never know what it is like for people to assume we must be up to no good, simply because we are (a) young and (b) … well, Not White. Sure, as a woman, some of the bullying I’ve experienced has taken on a sexist/sexual connotation at times, and Ari has had some systemic issues and assumptions to deal with in terms of being Jewish, but let’s be honest – this is a whole different ball game.

That said, today my friend Anne Theriault (who is a phenomenal feminist blogger who writes over at http://www.bellejar.ca) had this piece, on teaching young children about racism, published at the Washington Post today, and in the ensuing discussion she mentioned that she would be interested in my husband’s and/or my perspective on raising children of colour. And while I can’t say I have any more of a cohesive perspective or message than I did beforehand, I thought I would accept her invitation as a challenge, and at least put to proverbial paper the (admittedly jumbled) thoughts in my head on this issue. This isn’t going to be the most eloquent piece I’ve ever written, but roughly:

  • First, I want to second just about everything Anne says in her piece. We are blessed to live in a neighbourhood that isn’t colour-blind, but diverse, and where our boys are ‘different just like everyone else’. Being “brown” can mean you are native, Arab, mixed-race, Indian, or any other number of things – there are a variety of cultures, religions, languages, and just about everything else in the rainbow that is their school, and just that exposure, in their lives, in the media they absorb, in the world they inhabit, is an important step to teaching the ways in which we are all both the same and different, and wonderfully so. In terms of the ramifications of these things – both privilege and marginalization – frank, age appropriate discussions of the ways in which they, we, and others are sometimes lucky, unlucky, and the struggles people can face for being different, can happen as needed and appropriate.
  • Recognizing my own privilege without becoming overly cynical or jaded. I grew up privileged to be able to trust the police. I was always taught that if I was in trouble or lost or scared or needed help, that the police were helpers and I could turn to them. And don’t get me wrong – I know there are good cops out there and it is a difficult and important job, and there are few people I respect more than a good cop who takes their job seriously and does it well. I want my children to be able to believe in those police officers, and trust in them to serve and protect. But the reality is also plain – perhaps plainer now than it has been in years – that this isn’t always the case, and especially for young men of colour. The reality is, someday our cute little brown boys will become brown teenage boys (although this unbiased mother assumes they will still be adorable), and this in itself can create distrust, fear, and yes, let’s call it what it is, hate. Racism. It might not even be conscious, but it’s there. So who do I teach them to trust, to look to for help? At the same time – I don’t want to raise them to inherently DIS-trust police either, or to be belligerent should a situation arise where a police officer might legitimately just be doing their job. But then, just being able to say that feels like it smacks of naivete, and brings home more than ever how I have never and will never live the experiences my sons might.
  • I take some comfort that we live in one of the most diverse areas of one of the most diverse cities in Canada, whose racism at least feels less dangerous, less charged, somehow than that which exists in the United States. But again … I don’t want to be naive about just how far that gets us. Even in Canada, black males are still disproportionately stopped by police in comparison to other members of the population. And even outside of the realities of law enforcement, boneheads exist here too. FACT: someday, somewhere, our boys will experience being called the N-word. Neither Ari nor I ever have, and there in some ways is nothing we can do to prepare them for that day other than breeding a strong sense of self in them, and keeping the lines of communication open – that we are there for them, and that we recognize we will never fully understand their experience, but we will ALWAYS fully try, and we will always support them.
  • And I guess that last is the ultimate thing I would add to Anne’s list. Expose the boys to multicultural and multiracial media, for sure, and ensure that they have friends from all walks of life, not just racially but economically, religiously, ability-wise etc. – but recognizing in the case of our family in particular education won’t be a one-way street. There will be a point where THEY communicate to US their own experiences of race – their experiences of being black children, and eventually, black adolescents and black adults. And it is our job to listen, to understand, to believe and accept the experiences they share, and not allow our privilege – the privilege of our skin colour, of our age, or what have you – to colour our perceptions of their realities. And on that score – the willingness to have our privilege and assumptions challenged – I think we’re on the right track. At least if the gut punch that Ferguson was to me is any indication – both in terms of disappointment in an institution (law enforcement) I’d always been brought up to respect, and more especially in terms of bringing home very potently that it can be dangerous, even fatal, to be a black man not that much older than my very own babies
My boys, ages 4 and 5.

My boys, ages 4 and 5.

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