I finally visited the End Racism Now mural in downtown Roanoke.
And it inspired me.
This post has been sitting on my mind for years.
It has taken me this long to put it to words, because I’m not quite sure how to say it. It can go so many different places. And it’s important to get it right. Because my children are too important for me to mess this up.
But mostly, it has taken me this long because these stories are not mine to tell.
They are my children’s stories. My mother’s stories. My father’s stories. And to tell them felt like an invasion of their privacy.
I asked my boys if I could share their stories. They didn’t hesitate. Their responses were immediate. Yes. Whatever you want to write. Yes.
That is the level of trust my boys have in me. Their mother. Who failed them in so many ways.
I want to say so many things. Explain so many things. But I think for now. It is best to simply share these stories.
And it all starts with racism.
My son was three months old the first time he experienced racism. The first time I realized, as his privileged white mother, that the world may see my precious, innocent child as less than. As some thing unworthy of their space. Of love. Of safety.
Understand that babies of color, particularly mixed race babies, sometimes just look White when they’re born. Their skin color changes over time. So my son looked like any other White baby when he was still just a few months old.
And I, in my naïveté and desperation to find childcare so I could work and continue to go to school, found what I thought was a safe babysitter. With solid references. Who operated out of her home.
It was a wonderful older couple. Who appeared to adore my sweet baby boy. For many weeks. Until.
They found out that he was Black and Latino. This was apparently something someone in their neighborhood felt compelled to make them aware of.
So when I arrived the next morning to drop my baby boy off. The woman refused to let us in. Yelling at me through closed windows that she could not have Black people. Spanish people. Inside her home.
That her husband wouldn’t stand for it.
And so I stood there. On the street. In the cold. Holding my baby boy. Confused. Shocked. Devastated.
And I called my mom. Explaining through sobs. Hoping she could somehow make it better. Make the world a safe and welcoming place for my son.
I had experienced passing racist remarks before. Directed towards myself. And indirectly, towards my mother.
I was once told by a very close friend that I was a product of sin. Being part White and part Mexican-American.
And I felt anger about that. Indignation. Offense. Even hate.
But nothing. Not even close. To the utter devastation I experienced in that moment. When I realized that there are people in this world who would hate my child. My precious little boy. This beautiful, perfect life. Simply because of the color of his skin.
And I felt so powerless.
I’m ashamed to admit that I let my dad go back to the house. To reclaim my child’s things. That I’d just abandoned there in my confusion and devastation. In fairness, he insisted. Refused to let his baby girl go into that situation. Which was apparently quite dangerous. Given the mental state of the gun-loving/POC-hating husband. That I learned about after the window screaming incident.
I failed as a mother to protect my baby boy.
So my hero of a father had to protect us both.
I was far more prepared by the time I had my second son.
In choosing a daycare, I had learned to ask up front if the individual had any issues with people of color.
It shocked and perhaps even offended some of those I spoke with. But I was living in a predominantly White community. And I wasn’t going to risk my children’s safety again.
And I think it speaks to the beauty of our world that most of the White people I posed this question to were surprised that I would feel compelled to ask. But it is a naive beauty.
Because the racist incidents my children would continue to experience would sneak up on me. At unexpected times. And in unexpected places. From unexpected people.
Like the neighbors who claimed my boys as their own. Whose girls would freely walk into my home without knocking and just hang out with my kids. These people who, when asked by some visiting salesman who those boys running through their house belonged to, would say, “those are our boys.” As though they loved them as their own.
It was the perfect, safe, loving neighborhood to raise my children in. Until.
The mother and her friend were complaining to me about a recent shopping trip they’d made to the local outlets. As our children all played beside us. And one of her little girls, in front of my youngest son, my beautiful Black son, offered up, “There were too many Black people.”
The panic on her mother’s face told me that she at least knew she was wrong. But that little girl did not get there on her own. That little girl heard that said. Whether by her mother or her mother’s friend. She’d heard “too many Black people.”
Too many Black people.
How did I miss that?
I missed it because racism is still so ingrained in our society. Inside of all of us. So that even if we claim to hold dear people of color. Even if we can proudly hold up people of color as our friends. As our family members. That doesn’t mean that the discriminatory views aren’t still there. Simmering under the surface. Surprising even ourselves when these micro aggressions slip out.
When we are hit with the realization that we can love Black people in small numbers. When we are still the majority. In control. But feel threatened when we are suddenly the minority. When we are forced to feel what people of color feel all of the time.
We moved to Virginia when my children were still fairly young.
Where the incidents have continued to accumulate.
There are so many more stories. More recent stories. Stories that have gotten more aggressive as they have gotten older. Stories of KKK paraphernalia being shared with my sons at school. Stories of “fuck all the (n-words)” spray-painted across the local golf course. By my son’s friends and teammates. By children of my friends. And countless more stories. That I won’t share. Because, as I said, they are not my stories to share. And I cannot speak for them. I cannot do them justice.
And these are just the stories I am aware of. Some of which I’ve only managed to uncover when their friends or other parents have made me aware.
Because much in the same way that my father protected me by refusing to allow me to go reclaim my son’s things from that racist home, my sons also choose to protect me. Their White mother. Understanding the pain I feel each time I’m made aware of the world they live in. Which is so different from the world I’m living in.
But I do understand now that my boys, these truly spectacular young men that I’ve raised, do not walk through this world as safely as I do.
There are precious few places in this country that I fear. I feel unease when I see confederate flags and Trump signs. But that is not out of fear for my own safety. Few White people can actually see the Latina in me.
But the unease stems from a secondary fear. For my boys. Because the world that would view them as less than, that would hurl the n-word at them or attempt to do them physical harm. Just because of how they look. Holds those symbols up as part of their rally cries.
Right or wrong. Those symbols have become synonymous with racism.
I recently read Ijeoma Oluo’s “So You Want To Talk About Race.”
In one chapter she talks about her aversion to talking about race and racism with her White mother.
I’m not sure I’ve ever understood that before. That my sons may not want to have those conversations with me.
But I get it now.
And I accept it.
But just because I can’t be in that world with them. Doesn’t mean I can’t fight for our world to be better. For them. For everyone.
Because so many of you. That I love so dearly. That I truly cherish. Do not see the validity of the protesting that is happening full force today.
I wanted you to hear my children’s stories, lest you think that racism is so rare an occurrence in today’s society that the Black Lives Matter movement is unnecessary. Frivolous. That it’s simply a bunch of attention-seeking liberals unjustly villainizing the police and White people.
The movement is not meant to say that Black is good, but White is bad. It is not meant to try to evoke guilt over slavery. It is not meant to say that all police officers are evil. And also be sure, the movement is not even just about law enforcement practices alone. It is about all of our systems. That are so very broken. And it is meant to inspire change. Real change. Systemic change.
So when you respond to Black Lives Matter with deflections. About all lives mattering. Or pro-choice stances. Or black on black crime. Please understand that the message I am hearing is that, no. Your children’s lives don’t matter quite as much as mine. These issues are not issues at all. It is all in your head. And you should stop complaining and accept the world as it is. And stop making me uncomfortable.
But I am uncomfortable. Every single day. Worrying for the safety and happiness of my children.
And this is why I say Black Lives Matter.