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?

Raising Black and Brown Babies

As much as I love the exchange of information and communities that can form online I have to say that there are areas where I feel it’s very limited. No matter who we are and how open minded we see ourselves the fact is we bring our lens to how we interpret information. In the US, our race, class and gender greatly inform our views even down to the politics of how we parent our children. In the past 24 hours I have read two pieces and the resulting comments that really bring home the point for me as a Black woman raising brown kids that no matter what parenting philosophy I choose my experiences as a Black woman in America shape my views. In this first piece we have Erica Jong discussing the parenting style known as attachment parenting and in this second piece we have a great blogger who happens to be Black dealing with her brown boy asking for a white doll. I realize they are both lengthy but I encourage you to read them.

I not going to get into specifics but I will say that what I was struck by in reading these pieces was how much as a Black woman that shapes how I raise my kids. To be honest I feel I live (and most Black/Brown folks) in a world that requires no matter how progressive I am as a parent that I instill in my kids some things that white folks will never have to worry about when it comes to raising their kids. In order to do that I must start early in childhood, I believe I have moved far away from the harsh manner in which my parents raised me. I don’t spank, I don’t yell, I allow my kids a voice but at the same time I understand that black and brown children if they are caught out in the world expressing themselves no matter how cute and articulate that as they grow older the stakes get higher. What am I trying to say? Well as the mother of an 18 year old brown boy, I will always worry will my son become a victim of police brutality? I can’t imagine my white friends have that worry but I know that every Black and Brown mother I know raising boys has that fear. All it takes is a simple traffic stop for my son’s life to end.

This reality was brought home recently when speaking to my former mother in law who happen to be an attorney and she was telling me about this story. Apparently I missed it in the news but you have a young Black man whose life was ended too early. Sadly these things are all too common in Black and brown communities. My former mother in law was talking about how this story made her fear for my son, her only grandchild. I almost laughed but simply said I understand. See, since my son hit that stage at about 14 or so when his height exceeded mine and he looked less like a boy and more like a man, I have feared for his life. Oh, I know he is a level headed kid who while he will make mistakes often will try to do the right thing but may fall short. We all do, no one is perfect. Problem is we live in a world that does not give black and brown bodies the benefit of the doubt.

I fear that my son could at any minute become a victim of someone else’s stupidity. I fear that as my girl grows up she will internalize the images that say black and brown are not beautiful yet she will be a prime candidate for the boys and men that will be eager to use and abuse her.

I realize some might say gee…you live a grim existence. Nope, I live the life the cards dealt and understand in ways my parents never did when they tried to raise me in a color blind (to some degree hippy fashion) that the world is not kind to black and brown bodies. I understand that as a Black woman, shit happens to brown and black bodies at a greater rate than it happen to white bodies. I understand that sadly the political is not just a discussion I have online but my reality. Black and brown bodies in this society break down faster than white bodies; we are bombarded by stresses on every side…as bell hooks said in Sisters of the Yam “Life threatening stress has become the normal psychological state for many black women (and men). Much of the stress black people experience is directly related to the way in which systems of domination-racism, sexism, and capitalism in particular disrupt out capabilities to fully exercise self determination.” It’s why as a Black woman raising brown kids, my children know how to breathe deeply and my son started taking yoga. It’s probably why whenever I go to the doctor they seem amazed that my blood pressure is good, it pisses me off yet I know I am the same age my mother was when she had to start taking the blood pressure medicine. It’s why in the late 30’s Black and Brown bodies slowly start breaking down almost certainly insuring we will leave this planet earlier than our white counterparts.

I share this all to say that if we as a culture want to have a true discussion on parenting and motherhood in this society that first thing we must be willing to look at is the differences that impact us as mothers. Yes, we all want the same thing for our babies but the means by which we get there may different. It’s why in Black and Brown communities the need for a village from my perspective is stronger than in the white community. I know I cannot parent alone, I have tried. Yet for my white sisters many are okay without that village yet they often have greater supports, partners who often can earn enough to provide. While my white sisters also deal with the fact that as women in this society they are still not valued as much as men the fact is with whiteness comes a level of privilege that is harder to access if you are Black or Brown.  While most certainly lower income whites face many of the same struggles that low income and even middle class Blacks face the fact is whiteness is at times less stressful.

To come together as mothers concerned about the world and raising kids, I need my white sisters to understand that while my methods of raising kids may differ from you, it’s only because our reality is different.  Once there is that acknowledgment then I think as women and mothers we can come together to address the inequities that face us all.