“Don't act like that, White people are watching." Chances are, if you grew up black, this phrase has either been said to you... or implied by your mother, father, grandmother, grandfather, or some paternal figure. I personally remember growing up with this said (yet unsaid) truth… A truth that I am aiming to break for my own children. However, I have found myself in this tight rope balance of sorts between raising care free black kids and kids that are aware that the rules are not as clear as black and white. How do I raise care free black kids in a society where black men, women, and even children are gunned down for attempting to present their license and registration at a traffic stop… for selling cigarettes… for existing… for being a teenager… for being a child? How is it possible for me to teach them to exist freely, when I know that the world… that this country may view this freedom as a threat? This is the conundrum that most people who are raising children of color find themselves navigating through, daily.
A few months ago, I was out and about with the boys. We were outside laying on our blankets in the park at The Grove. Before I knew it, both boys went in opposite directions to interact withour fellow sun bathers. Jax began playing with sticks. He stacked them as he began to construct them into some kind of architectural structure. Jedi walked over to a young woman who happened to be lying down, and began to grab her phone and play. In that moment, I found myself doing something that I know I’ve done before. However, until that moment, had never questioned why. I began watching. I found myself making sure that my boys were being polite… perfect… not to loud… not too rowdy… I wanted to make sure that the slightest child like move wasn't misinterpreted as aggressive… that the adults who were watching them felt comfortable. I paused. Why? Why was I uncomfortable? Why was I so afraid? It was in this moment, that I realized that I cared what these white strangers were thinking about my MY black boys? Why did I care? The answer hit me… Or more so, the question… “How do I raise Care Free Black Kids who aren't afraid (and could care less) regarding the white gaze?”
Where did this come from? Much like an old quilt, this way of thinking… this fear… was passed down from generation to generation. I believe that it came from a place of protection. During the days of my grandmother and great grandmother, behaving “too free” could get you lynched. My great grandfather was murdered for being too free. His body was placed on the railroad tracks, so that it to appeared as if it were an accident. However, everyone knew the truth. Back in 1955 a 14-year-old boy by the name of Emmett Till was beaten, shot, and mutilated for being too free. Fast forward, 57 years later and you have Jordan Davis who was gunned down for being a teenager and playing his music too loud with his friends at a local gas station… In 2014, 12 year old Tamir Rice was shot by local police for playing with a toy gun. Truthfully, there are too many too name… A long list of black people who were lynched, beaten, and/or gunned down for simply being black and care free… or sometimes just for being black. Perhaps this is why this unsaid rule of black people being on their best behavior has been engrained into our psyche. Back in the day, it was a matter of life or death… Has it changed? While our country has made much progress from slavery and the days of civil rights, the question still remains. Has the need for this necessary fear truly evolved? And to what degree? No, we no longer see strange fruit hanging from trees. However, black people being memorialized via hashtag has become the new norm. How do I teach my boys that they matter? How do I teach them that they have every right to feel deeply and to express their emotions freely without fear of becoming a hashtag? The answer is two fold. I teach them that their feelings matter… that their social development matters. I teach them that they have the right to express their emotions without fear.
I have decided that although this country may not always offer an equal playing field. I will. Although this country may not allow my boys to be angry or sad without labeling them as aggressive or a threat… I will. Although this country may view them as older and treat them as if they should be more mature and behave 20x better than their white counterpart. I will hold space for them to grow, allow them to be children, and grow into the men they will one day become. It is unfortunate that white men can behave as children, while black children are expected to behave as adults from the day they enter this world. I will still have the conversation that most parents who are raising children of color have to have with their children regarding law enforcement. I will still explain to my children that no matter how amazing and profound they are, there will be people who see them as cause for alarm. I will share with them that while black and white water fountains are now non-existent, the unsaid rules will sometimes feel just as blatant and slightly familiar. I will teach them that unfortunately when you are the only POC in the room, there will be people that will expect YOU to speak for the ENTIRE race (even thought we ALL have different backgrounds). I will still teach them that because the rules are not always the same, you have to be aware.. smarter… wiser… sharper… and one step ahead.
Lastly, we create the path for our children to walk in freedom, by doing all of these things (being smarter… wiser… sharper) NOT because white people are watching, but because they are capable. We teach them to not care what people think of them, but more so what they think of themselves. We teach them to be care free by shifting that necessary fear into an awareness. We teach our kids to be care free by being freeing ourselves. I hold on to the truth that my boys being able to express themselves fully with complete freedom is more important to me than white people’s comfort. My children have rights. They have the right to bask in all the black kid joy and all the black kid magic…