Brown faces in white spaces…thoughts?

This weekend I had a chance to leave my little hamlet and venture into the big city of Boston, MA with the girl child for some one on one quality time. The past few weeks have been hectic with me dealing with various health issues and a crazier than usual time at work, so we needed some time together. To make it extra special I decided to take the train which the girl had never been on, hell she even got her first cab ride! I am so glad to know that cab drivers still drive crazy in larger cities!

Our travels took us to the Boston Children’s Museum which I must admit was fun even for me…I generally loathe Children’s Museums but this one had the perfect balance of exhibits to entice even the most cold hearted to connect with their inner child. The other thing this museum had that our local Children’s Museum never has was a great ethnic and racial mix of folks. Seriously, it felt good not to be the only darkie, to be in a space where I could just concentrate on being present in the moment with my daughter. I admit I was more than a tad sad to head back home and since then have been wondering is it possible to raise a healthy well adjusted child of color in place that is lacking in melanin?

I have been in Maine nine years now, in the first few years here I made regular trips back home to Chicago and into Boston but overtime life changed, finances dwindled and travel simply wasn’t a priority. I admit as lovely as the idea of not being in Maine is the reality is financially I would be shooting myself in the foot. Yet there is that gentle nagging that makes me wonder is this the best place to raise a child of color? My son spent a good chunk of his childhood here and believe me, when he first landed in Maine it was very different than the Maine we now live in. While he now goes to college in the Midwest, he loves New England, its home to him…but he also had the advantage of having spent his early years with me in Chicago surrounded by my family and others so he had a different foundation than my daughter. One that I think has served him well in navigating white spaces.

All this to say I am well aware of the fact that I am not the only person of color that grapples with raising kids in predominantly white spaces. I have several friends here (also Black) who have raised Black kids in Maine; one is now retired with sons who graduated from college a few years ago. In her case, one son hated Maine so much he rarely visits; the other son eventually did come back to Maine after college and now lives in New Hampshire with his partner. Interestingly both boys decided after growing up in Maine to attend historically Black colleges. This family was originally from Boston and had summered in Maine before making the choice to live here year round. My other friend also raised sons in Maine; her eldest just graduated from college this past spring and is back in Maine looking at job offers in Maine and in other parts of New England. This particular friend is a very afro centric sista who moved here from New York City because she wanted affordability and some connection to nature and knew there would be a trade off to achieve those things. But I have always loved how despite being in this very white space she created a home for her boys and often has served as the unofficial ambassador bringing together all of us brown and black folks who do call Maine home. In my early years we often got together for Thanksgiving, a potluck event that brought together African American, Caribbean and Latino influences.

In both instances these were families who are educated and basically could have chosen to live anywhere yet were drawn to Maine but often have acknowledged the hardships yet both have often told me and reminded me that raising Black kids can be hard period so don’t sweat the small shit. I know…I know but it’s hard not too.

I think back to my own childhood growing up in Chicago and while I had 2 Black parents, I rarely went to schools where there were more than a handful of Black kids. It is no secret that despite being the third largest city in the US, Chicago is a pretty racially segregated place once you get out of the downtown and north side lakefront communities. I knew kids from the area my grandparents lived in who never had white friends, the only white folks they saw were teachers, police, etc. I also know that sadly in many parts of my hometown Black kids see Black folks but they aren’t always seeing the most positive role models. I also know that outside of a handful of communities in the US that sometimes we as Black folks can be as intolerant and bigoted towards our own kind if they display any type of difference that we find threatening. Coming of age in the 1980’s as a Black girl who liked non-Black music and expressed myself wearing combat boots and other “white” things was painful and I still bear those scars. I do believe there is a greater spirit of tolerance in some areas though. I keep hearing wonderful things about Brooklyn but never having been there I can’t speak firsthand.

I have heard rumblings that when the Census Bureau releases its stats in the next few days it will show that for the first time ever, New York City will show a decline in Black folks. Already the information in general is showing that Blacks are leaving larger cities instead going south but I also believe coming to smaller states that traditionally don’t have great numbers of people of color. One of the interesting things that have come out of writing this blog for several years is the number of Black folks who contact me because they are interested in living in Maine. I often joke the state of Maine should contract with me as the face of diversity in Maine since apparently between my blog and other writings I am the only Black writer (we had another brotha who worked for the state’s largest paper but he moved south to Beantown) in the state.

So I pose the question is it possible to raise well adjusted children of color in white spaces or spaces with little diversity? If you have done it or are doing it I would love to hear your experiences. Do you think it’s even something we should consider? Is it harmful to a child to grow up in a space where they are loved, that is safe and wonderful in many ways but lacks people who look like them?

4 thoughts on “Brown faces in white spaces…thoughts?”

  1. I too grew up in a predominantly white school district, in a predominantly white neighborhood. I was made fun of because I didn’t act ‘black enough’, or because – as some kids lovingly put it – ‘She think she white!’

    I know one of the major reasons I made it through with such strength was because I am stubborn as my father, outspoken as my mother, and because I was the second tallest kid in the 5th grade. (Height is amazingly intimidating to smaller kids.) Racism flows all ways ’round. The important thing is to identify with your heart, if you choose to identify at all.

  2. This is particularly a struggle for me, as I am a white woman in Maine raising 2 black children. We are heading down to Boston this weekend for dinner at our favorite Ethiopian restaurant, the museum, a basketball game, shopping. We travel all the time- I need my kids to be around black people. They see mostly white all day, white at home….although every piece of art on my walls shows beautiful brown skinned people. But it’s not enough. I know it isn’t. This is something I struggle with all the time. We have black people in our life, a black teacher, a black neighbor, black friends, and again, it’s not enough. I will go anywhere, do anything, to help my children feel strong and proud of their color. I have to. I too wonder if this is the best place to raise children of color. But then again, some people argue that children of color shouldn’t be in white families….

  3. I am a middle aged white woman from, well, all over the world, now residing in North Carolina. Much of my time living in the US has been in the South- Louisiana in particular. I was raised in a multiracial, global community, and find it difficult to relate to the many prejudices I come across. While traveling in various states, including Maine, I often feel uncomfortable and a little odd. The reason was not immediately apparent to me as a younger person, but I soon figured it out – there were no black people – none. It truly astounded me when I figured it out, and then made me a little angry. I equated the lack of diversity to the situation in the town of Vidor,Tx, a place I was well familiar with, that has shut black people out successfully for generations. I am not sure there are any families of any color other than white there to this day. Anyway, I think that the white citizens of Maine deserve, at least, to have the option of having an acquaintance or co-worker of another color – they would miss much if there were no families to interact with. And frankly, if there were no diversity, I would never consider staying there.

  4. Being white and not understanding the challenges POC deal with on a day to day basis in Maine, leaves me a bit lost.

    I am also from away, grew up in suburban Maryland, just outside of DC and lived just outside of Minneapolis for 14 years before coming to Maine. In looking for a place in Maine to settle and raise a family we chose Brunswick due to the Navy base (2003) and the diversity that it would bring to the community and schools. Oops, gone in the stroke of a pen 🙁

    I was raised colorblind and have tried to teach my kids the same, for if they are in a loving and nurturing family what different should it make? (Maybe my ignorance of being in a majority, though I’m Jewish if that counts as a minority). My kids have very few friends in school that are POC, or any other background for that matter, as the Navy personnel have all but moved away. I want them to experience all that the community might offer and am grateful for the few years the schools were “more diverse.”

    If the kids are comfortable with who they are and their upbringing, are we a parents making it worse by projecting our prejudices upon them? Different generations, different priorities, perhaps?

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