You called me ‘white’ the other night. You called me white and negated everything our life has been about. You might not have realized what you were doing or what you were saying but it was the green bile of what separated your father and I when we were at our worst, fighting about you kids, particularly you- the son, the heir apparent, and my part in your upbringing. And what would ultimately lead to divorce.
The last and most significant time was right after “the sexual harassment” phone call from your elementary school. The principle called for a meeting about our son. “He exposed himself to a little girl on the bus” a very disapproving voice spoke into the ear piece. I was alarmed. Douglas had difficulties with knowing what boundaries were appropriate in the best of scenarios. He walked away with strangers and tried to hold hands with people he didn’t know. He exploded over the slightest discomfiture- real or perceived. Life had been complicated for him since he was three let alone now as he hit the the pre-teen stages. It’s not fair that we assumed it was him without asking any questions but he was already well known for inappropriate behavior and it wasn’t unusual to get a call from school saying he’d thrown a temper tantrum or run out of the classroom so here we were- one more thing.
The problem was that we weren’t quite sure how we were going to get through to him. Your dad was ranting about how Douglas was going to be labeled a sex offender, police would be called, he could wind up in jail or even dead, that’s how boys wind up shot if he didn’t learn to behave… (those were days before Trayvon Martin and Philando Castile- a time before there was a national conversation- or avoidance of one depending on who you are talking to- about how many young black men were killed for being black in America) I agreed hesitantly but pointed out that the even bigger problem was that we couldn’t seem to get him to see how his consequences were related to his behavior at all. How was that going to change now? We were at our wits end when we sat down with the teachers and she began, “So, we need to talk to you about the incident that occurred on the bus with Mack.”
As the teacher told it you pulled your pants down to show her your underwear. The school was very alarmed at this “sexual harassment” toward one of the little girls. I am not one to explain away your behavior, saying you were “just being a boy” but it was a bit of an overreaction considering that at six years old we had not yet had occasion to explain to you that exposing or even threatening to expose yourself to other people, let alone girls, was not appropriate. But schools don’t really take that into consideration and at the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter because it falls upon the parents to react appropriately- or not.
>This is where being a sentient being comes into play I suppose. Parents who want their children in general and boys in particular to act in the world as positive influences and not as users and takers. As a parent you hope to raise young men and women who make choices that are human but TRY to think of others. I want to reiterate here that boys and girls are human. They will make mistakes along the way and sometimes we learn our most poignant lessons through mistakes. The important thing is to learn via our mistakes and not become trapped in them OR to repeat them.<
In my mind, the situation then alters. You were and are a smart and sensitive kid. We could talk to you about your behavior and feel with some sense of security that you would understand. I knew you might shed a few tears because you got caught and it was embarrassing, but sometimes embarrassment is as good a consequence as a kid needs to not try that again. As your dad and I walked out -well, I say walked but your dad rarely walks. He pounds the pavement as though he has to beat it into submission. I half trot behind him and climb into my seat and breathe a sigh of relief, “Well that was a shock, it wasn’t Douglas for once!”
“I know. I was surprised too.”
We both laughed a little at the mistake.
“Yeah, it kind of changes how we’ll handle things. Mack can understand the situation a little better although I think they kind of overreacted considering he’s six. But we need to have the conversation with him…”
“He definitely needs to know better. This stuff isn’t going to cut it. He needs to know that a black man can’t get away with that. He could wind up in jail.”
WOAH! I thought we’d were in agreement that our youngest had more sense than to do something that would get him put in jail. Aside from that, was he really saying that the only thing that was important was to make our child, or for that matter any of our children, afraid of the police. What if the police weren’t around? Wasn’t your behavior as a basic HUMAN important?
“Well yeah,” I fumbled with my thoughts a bit. I have always felt like I’m on my back foot at moments like this. “It’s important that he doesn’t do anything that is going to get him in trouble but it’s more important to raise him just to be a good person. I mean just putting the fear of the police in him isn’t enough…”
“You have no idea what the hell you’re talking about.” His voice raised was more intense then I liked dealing with and the dread that came over me was a familiar one. “He can’t run around doing things that are going to get him in trouble with the police. You have no idea what it’s like.”
“I have no idea… “ I have no idea? I’ve been the one to bail him out multiple times through the past 15 years. I have been the one who talked to him on the phone while he was in tears as he sat in the holding cell until we could figure out how to pay because his own family wouldn’t help, and I had no idea…?? “Listen all I am saying is, that can’t be the only thing. I mean yes, it’s important to raise him to abide by the law and to keep himself out of trouble, but he also just needs to be a good person, a force for positive in the world and that isn’t going to happen if all we’re focused on is making him afraid of the police. I want my son...”
“Don’t tell me how to raise my son. I am raising the boys.”
“Don’t tell me how to raise my son. I am raising the boys.”
“You don’t know how to raise black boys. I am raising the boys. You stay out of it.” Because I was white
was the unspoken end of that phrase. I’d heard it before. It had come up when he wanted to pull out the ace and take the hand to win the “game” and he always wanted to win.
“Don’t know about raising boys…?” The words made their way up my tightened throat but they were stuck in my soul. Sixteen years of compromise, tears, humiliation and isolation strangled me. Why was I still doing this? Why was this my life?
And now I sit here in the darkness, the labor of eleven years healing wiped out and olds wounds were now bleeding profusely.
“You don’t understand, you’re white…”
I wanted to burst back in your room, grab you by the ears and say “I’m your mother. I understand more than you think I do and I have carried my share of the burden, even if it was by choice.” But I kept my tongue. No Bandaids tonight.