Thursday, December 4, 2014

Knowing better

It’s time to talk about this. Time to come clean. If you don’t like it, tough shit, it might be time for a little self-examination. If you agree, then it’s time to do something. Get uncomfortable. Tear your ass away from that chair and that Instagram account and that cocktail recipe you’ve been meaning to try from Pinterest and get fucking real. Because for everyone else, shit just got real. Or, as my daughter says almost every day of her adolescent life, “Ma, the struggle is real.”

So, what’s real? Here’s what’s real, on the ground. On my ground. Where I walk every day with my kids in tow. And if you’re sick of hearing it, which many of you have expressed that you are…let me tell you…we are sick of living it. EVERY DAY. It’s not a figment of my imagination that when I let my daughter roam the aisles of the grocery store to help me do the shopping that she is stared at, followed and in some cases, glared down—especially when I send her to the health and beauty aisle for the expensive face creams that she and I both insist on purchasing. That we share.

‘Cause we share everything. We sip from the same mug of coffee, she pilfers my sock drawer, I steal skirts from her closet, she watches re-runs of “Full House” in the same bed where I’m reading a recycled farm magazine. Some people think we are sisters. Most cannot even fathom that we are blood.

“We look exactly the same,” she says, pulling Moroccan oil through her springy curls. She hands me the bottle so I can use the oil on my wild “stick” hair she calls my “Cherokee ‘fro.”

But, to the outside world, to this culture that I am struggling to raise my children in and against, we are one thing and one thing only. Black and white. Night and day. Not child and mother.

A few weeks ago we made the mistake of going to the mall. She loves to shop. I’m not a fan. But I choked back my hatred of chain stores and took her into…god help me…Delia’s…to shop for trendy graphic tees. A wardrobe essential for her, who wants to fit in. There were at least 10 other girls her age in that store, not to mention a packed cluster of six giggling and hovering around the jewelry section. And yet, while my daughter obliviously wandered the place looking for that perfect thing, a sales clerk was hot on her heels at every turn.

“Can I help you with anything…?” became the battle cry of that experience. Every store—every single fucking store—seemed like it had a designated clerk assigned to following my kid while she blithely shopped for skinny jeans, T-shirts and, because she is mine, the perfect ‘ugly Christmas sweater just for fun.’ I pretended that she was a Saudi princess and that these people were waiting on her hand and foot because of her exquisite beauty and regal stature.

But we all know the truth. We are all part of the truth, whether you want to admit your complicity or not. Your complicity in the complete plundering of the innocence of kids because of the color of their skin. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, or you don’t care, there’s this essay highlighting the disproportionate rate at which black students (as young as preschool age) are disciplined over their white counterparts. Wanna know why? There is a perception, apparently, that somehow a 4-year-old child of color should “know better” and is less innocent than his/her white peers.

Can you get your head around that shit? I’ve been prepping my 13-year-old for months about watching "Schindler’s List" in school. She’s going to be a wreck.

She’s just a kid.

But, bit by bit, I’ve felt compelled to warn her about things. About things that I’m guessing other mothers don’t talk to their kids about. I am the one chipping away at her innocence for the sole purpose of trying to protect her. It’s unconscionable. But, it’s my job. I cannot trust that society will watch out for my kid when I’m not there. Because it won’t. The same police officer that will help your white daughter back to her sorority house because she’s had a few too many is the one who will look at my daughter like a piece of dirt, and bloody her lip and throw her in jail…or worse.


We have a problem in this country. And that problem translates into the kind of anxiety that no one wants to understand. Because, as a mother, my thoughts naturally go to the worst place possible. Most mothers go “there” occasionally. We have to, to get that horrible shit out of the way and move on with our day.

Where your thoughts have stopped, mine keep going to the routine traffic stop where my daughter is a new driver—probably speeding if she is anything like her mother. The car will be searched for drugs. She will be roughed up, handcuffed, and possibly injured, or what the hell, shot. Forget a fucking citation…that’s for other people’s kids. That’s for ‘good’ kids who don’t know any better.

“I think there is a huge difference between calling someone a nigga’ and a nigger,” s/he says, in between drags off a cigarette. I am stunned. The air is heavy. I can’t breathe. S/he is a cop. S/he has a gun. These are the thoughts…
“Why don’t you ask my daughter,” I say, slowly. “I’m pretty sure she won’t notice the difference. They both sound the same to me, especially coming out of your mouth.”

I suddenly remember my daughter’s third grade social studies folder. And a packet she brought home, entitled ‘Teaching Tolerance.’ We should be grateful that society puts up with us.
And I wonder. Who’s tolerating who?