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A White Woman Fighting For Her Son, A Black Boy

July 7, 2016

I know this will not be as eloquent as others, or as articulate as I may hope, but it is something that needs to be written. I have been thinking about this post for months, maybe even years, and with the current situations in our nation I feel this would be as good of time as any.

Nearly seven years ago I was dating (we might have been married at the time, I don’t remember) the biological father of my black son. We were living on the Southside of Chicago in what many would consider, “the bad part of town.” I was a naïve white girl from Iowa who thought I was invincible. I had not experienced the type of fear he tried to instill in me living on the Southside. I had no idea what he was talking about; at times I thought he was even joking. The police are supposed to help. The police are supposed to protect. The police are supposed to be nice men and women who are out for the common good. And then two events happened that changed my view of race (and police) in America:

  1. We were driving down one of the streets on the Southside, like 74th or maybe 95th and there was a police car following us. I didn’t notice it but my boyfriend/husband did. He mentioned something to me along the lines of, “Be cool Anni, we got the cops behind us. You never know what they are going to do down here to us.” I was like, “To us, what are you talking about. You are crazy.” At this point I whipped my head around to look at the police car following us. I did not think twice about it. My boyfriend/husband got so agitated and fearful when this occurred. “Anni, damnit, you don’t understand. They are going to think we are doing something wrong and pull us over. Sit still, don’t move, and just don’t bring attention to us.” From his reaction I finally realized the intense fear he had internalized all of his life, that I had not learned, felt, or even internalized yet.

 

  1. The first (and only Father’s Day) we spent together as a married couple we visited his friend on the Southside of Chicago. We were grilling, having a good time, and we went inside to make the rest of the food. At this point there were gunshots and shouting. We all knew what had just occurred right outside his apartment and went out to see. It was gang violence and the police were there within minutes. However, I sat there, with my black son on my lap, watching a Chicago Police Officer stand over a young black boy bleed to death in front of him on the front lawn of someone’s house. My husband at the time was yelling, “Sir, sir, you are supposed to do something. You know CPR. Why are you not helping him?” The Police Officer heard him, looked away and kept on with whatever he was doing, which was not helping the dying boy in front of us.

 

I have since gotten divorced, moved out of Chicago, and married a White man who has adopted my son. However, we are two white people raising a black boy in an America and culture we don’t quite understand. I did not grow up with fear of police. I did not grow up with an internalized sense of “They are out to get me.” However, reading and listening to Black men and women talk about “raising their young black boys,” we realize that we have no experience or basis to teach our son about the street smarts he needs based on his skin color. It does not matter if a young Black boy is raised in a rich household, poor household, or middle class household, society doesn’t “see” their income, they see their skin color.

Skin color. When my son goes to school, walks into a store, or is playing at a museum the first thing people see is his skin color. I cannot count how many times I see other people turn on a dime when they realize a white woman is his mother. The change in attitude, the change in tone, the change in facial expressions; it all comes down to race and I hate that.

I am an educated woman who understands that race is a socially constructed idea that American’s have taken and run with. How am I, a white woman raising a perceived black son, supposed to empathize with him, supposed to make him aware, supposed to help him understand how society sees him when I don’t even understand myself?

After this last police murder of Alton Sterling (and now Philandro Castile) I laid in bed thinking, what would I say at a news conference if that were my son? What would I say in a news conference to help people understand not all perceived Black people fit whatever stereotype you have formed in your head? How would most of America react if a White woman stood up and cried for her Black son? This may be my white privilege coming out, or it might be the fact that I should not sit up (or wake up) crying because people who are supposed to protect him killed another person who looks like my son. I taught my son at a young age that police are there to help. Whenever he saw a police officer as a toddler he would look up at me and say, “Mommy, I wonder who they are going to go help now?” But, are they? Was that the right thing to teach him? I hope so.

So what now? As a mother of a Black son, who has no life experience to base my conversations with him on, only word of mouth and books, I need to become educated and stand up. However, how much does my voice matter? How many people will listen? To the world I am just another white woman who is trying to stand up for Black people. But to me I am a white woman who is fighting for her son, a black boy.

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2 Comments
  1. Kris Adams permalink

    I thank you for your words. I know that two of my sons will be viewed differently from my other two sons for reasons pertaining their skin.

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