Monday, January 22, 2007

The View From Here: On Raising Black Boys

Name: Amanda - 30
Seattle, WA
Children: two sons (3), (2)

A while ago, I wrote out some of my thoughts about the job of raising boys, and Black boys in particular. Another mother commented about fearing for the safety of her (potential, likely Black) son. I wanted to expand on her point a little more, because it's something we've thought about as well.

Right now, my kids are "cute little Black babies." Among white people they are sometimes seen as a novelty. I have heard, "Oh, Black babies/kids are so CUTE!" way too many times. I'm hearing that less now, and I'm sure that particular comment will taper off completely by th
e time the boys are preteens. Black babies may be cute, but Black teenage boys are thuggish, threatening, potentially violent gang members.

Possibly, when they are with us (their white parents), they may get a "pass." They could be granted honorary whiteness because they belong with us, despite their Blackness. When they are on their own, or with other Black boys... All bets are off.

I don't think I'm being overly dramatic about this. Have you heard what happens to Black men who cross the paths of arrogant white men with power? When Sparkle gets his drivers license, should I tell him that he's not allowed to drive alone? If he speeds and gets pulled over, and he's on his own, he could be in trouble. As Black boys/men, they will have to be extra sensitive to the perceptions of other people around them. Even if it feels artificial to them, they will have to work on projecting an
image of confidence, compentance, and cheerfulness. If they don't, they are more likely to be seen as surly, disrespectful, or dangerous.

I'm not sure how we'll handle things as they get older, but we are already working on some of this. When guests come to our house, we encourage Sparkle to "be the welcomer." Before they arrive, we practice opening the door and saying, "Welcome! Come on in, we're glad
you're here!" Sometimes Sparkle loves this job, and sometimes not. Last week he told me, "I'm feeling shy today, Mom. I don't want to be the welcomer. You come with me." And that's totally fine.
When we go to church, I hold Sparkle's left hand as we go through the door. His right hand is free, and he holds it out to the church greeter, shakes hands, and says, "Good morning!" He also knows how to shake hands while looking the other person in the face and saying, "Hello, it's nice to meet you!" We literally practice casual small talk type stuff, and reciprocal comments that help make the other person feel comfortable. For example, instead of replying with "I'm fine," he can say, "I'm doing well. And how are you?"

Part of this is just that I want the boys to have good manners. But also, I hope that their composure and charisma will help keep them safe. When Pumpkin picks up his date for a high school dance, he may need to charm the socks off her parents before she gets in his car to leave with him. If he dates a white girl, I hope he'll be the type of person that the white boys will respect enough to leave him alone. When Sparkle gets a job, he'll have to prove the stereotypes about Black workers wrong to get a promotion. It's not fair.

Of course it's not fair.

I hope that we won't be overly paranoid about their safety. And I don't want to teach my kids that the world is dangerous, or that someone is out to get them around every corner. But I want them to be prepared and cautious. And part of being prepared is knowing how to make a good first impression, how to manage your image, and how to make other people comfortable.

I'm not sure how to end this post. Maybe I'll just ask you all, what do you think? What have you observed? Are you thinking about these things with your kids (girls or boys, Black or white or other)? I'm not crazy, am I?