Strategies for Advocating as a Parent of Black Children
From the prickly micro-aggressions that occur on the playground to the implicit biases disguised as discipline against black skin that begins in preschool — racism is an illness that our children are exposed to as early as their toddler years. I am a mother of three, two young boys and a baby girl. Their joy is important for me to nurture and protect. In a recent conversation with other parents of black children we lamented about the moment when our boys will no longer be seen as “cute” and innocent humans. We tried to predict the age where our children would have to face an assumption of their guilt. Unfortunately, many of our children have had this experience before their 8th birthday.
As a mother of Black boys, in the indescribable moments of carrying life I also lamented during my pregnancies because I saw the threat of life after the killing of Travyon Martin, with brutality and violence against our children seemingly on the rise. The remembrance of the police shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice overwhelms me because my firstborn just turned 10. The anxiety of raising Black children is real, yet the fear and the persistent rage at injustice is often discounted. I’ve shared my fears for my children in “diverse” mommy groups and the response was “well, we all have something to worry about with our children”; an attempt to silence my pain because “all pain matters.”
In a society that often deems Black children as incapable, aggressive and deviant, I am constantly thinking about how to affirm my children so they can create identities outside racist frames that they will inevitably have to face in this society. But how do you teach your child resilience against racism when you are still learning how to deal with the gnawing subtleties of racial prejudice in your work environment every day? How do you teach your children to be proud of their heritage and culture when media and daily interactions at school reinforce that their blackness is the baggage that weighs them down, rather than the root of their excellence?
I am not unique in this quest, and building community is a necessity for our well-being as parents of a marginalized group of children. I moved closer to my parents for their emotional support of my children, our church is more than a religious affiliation, and social media support groups like Moms of Black Boys United, Inc is part of my daily scroll for positive upliftment that allows me to connect with other moms through our common fears and often uncelebrated joys in raising our children.
I fear that living in the United States and being constantly inundated with news about implicit and unconscious bias in our education system and the unfair punishment of black children will negatively impact my children’s health. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently published a study in which racism was described as a “socially transmitted disease” and discusses the negative effect on Black children’s health when they experience covert and passive-aggressive expressions of racism. Moreover, racism leads to a range of poor psychological outcomes, including internalized negative stereotypes. Studies show that young Black boys face depression and suicidal ideation at early ages and mental illnesses are linked to the racial trauma of exclusion and discrimination. The tragic incident of suicide by a 9-year-old girl, McKensie Adams, sends an alarm to parents to be mindful of racist bullying.
As a parent of Black children, post-Obama, I understand that any discussion on race can seem futile and onerous depending on the audience. Nevertheless, I will take the stigma of hypersensitivity and playing the race card because I know the reality. Thus, my husband and I, along with many other parents, have been intentional about looking for communities where our children are not judged pathologically but are seen as fully human with quirks and wonder just like any other child. The most vulnerable site for Black children is the classroom and it is important for parents to be aware of the racial climate of their child’s school and places of playful activities. Thus, parents of Black children should perform advocacy for them as they enter school by following these steps, amongst others:
- Be an involved parent at your child’s school. Be sure that administrators and faculty know your face and let them see your involvement with your child. We know the stereotypes of the missing Black father and the overworked and negligent Black mother; your job is to demonstrate that there are other narratives beyond these unfortunate tropes against Black parenthood.
- Make an appointment with your child’s teacher and get to know him/her before Parent-Teacher Conference. Somewhere after 2-3 weeks after school has started, schedule a one-on-one meeting and ask the teacher several questions about his/her teaching philosophy. Encourage culturally responsive techniques and learning about mental health concerns related to unfair punishment of Black children.
- Connect with other parents of Black children to encourage each other while sharing resources like Princeton professor Imani Perry’s masterful reflection, Breathe: A Letter to My Sons and this insightful webinar from EmbraceRace.org on “Managing racial stress: Guidance for parents.”
- Meet with the other non-Black parents of your children’s friends before allowing your child to spend time in their house. As a mom of Black boys, there are more concealed threats to my children than a gun in the house, like prejudicial attitudes and potential discriminatory behavior towards my child. Share resources with these parents too, because ignorance is often the root of prejudice.
- Talk to your child about race and racism. Historical accuracy about Black people should be prioritized and should not be limited to one month per year. Equip them with the language to speak about any microaggressions and discrimination they may experience at their school because of the color of their skin. Read child-friendly books with anti-racist agendas. Check out hereweeread.com for great booklists on inclusivity and intercultural competency.
Social justice advocate and author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson asserts, “In America, no child should be born with a presumption of guilt, burdened with expectations of failure and dangerousness because of the color of her or his skin or a parent’s poverty. Black people in this nation should be afforded the same protection, safety, and opportunity to thrive as anyone else. But that won’t happen until we look squarely at our history and commit to engaging the past that continues to haunt us.” We must advocate for their safety because it is not worth our children experiencing the presumption of guilt at a young age that will damage their sense of self and lead to chronic stress because of unmitigated racial trauma.
We teach our children to stand boldly against unseen and seen forces that will attempt to dehumanize them and threaten their wellbeing. The extra burden that racism places on the Black parent is laborious, yet critical. As parents and caregivers of Black children, we must find a way to sustain our joy of parenting these beautiful human beings. My job as a mother is to fight for the light in every room my child enters to be present. As our beloved Toni Morrison guided us “When a child walks in the room, your child or anybody else’s child, do your eyes light up? That’s what they’re looking for.”