Between Privilege and Vulnerability: Social Protests

familyI said that this Lent I”d be blogging about raising a son in a faith-based home that values social justice.  I keep landing on how our identities straddle privilege and vulnerability…This post is inspired by our son’s trip with me to campus.  The university where I teach participated in a #BlackLivesMatter teach-in.  Even though I am on sabbatical it feels important to stay engaged around such issues.  I volunteered to facilitate the faculty discussion. Here is an example of a Lib Guide from San Francisco Public Schools: http://sfusd.libguides.com/blacklivesmatter)

“Mommy why are you wearing all black?”

“Well, my university had a #BlackLivesMatter #TeachIn. The teachers taught their students something that had to do with #BlackLivesMatter. Today I am going to help the faculty talk about what they did.”

“Oh. Is that what you did with Anye?” (This story has many newspaper articles, this is just the one about the actual march & rally: http://www.lowellsun.com/todaysheadlines/ci_28953936/marchers-protest-handling-lowell-high-texting-incident)

“No. With Anye we had a march and rally. We walked around the city so that people could pay attention to an important issue. It is what #BlackLivesMatter does often.”

“Oh. Are we going to march today?”

“No, not today.”

“Oh. Boo! I wanna march!”

Flash forward to after the teach-in debrief

“Mommy. Who were the people sitting on the other side of the room?”

“Those were the students. We were listening to the things they are concerned about.”

“Are they concerned about Black Lives Matter?”

“Yes. They are concerned with being treated fairly on campus and wanting to see more people that look like them…”

“Oh! Like Anye!…And like me at my school.”

“Yes, like Anye…And like you at your school.”

“That’s cool. Students everywhere want to be treated fairly. No bullies or mean people allowed.”

Our son is five. He was not quite two years old when Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by George Zimmerman. Since then many people of color, especially black men have been shot and killed by police or vigilantes. There is no way to hide all the news from him (not that we want to) and there is no perfect way to explain it all to him.

He, like me is both privileged and vulnerable.  He is a black boy (one day to be a man) living in the U.S. He lives in a two-parent home with educated parents of reasonable means. He is able-bodied in a brown skin body. He attends a private school in which he is in the minority.  In his own way, sometimes with more or less guidance from us he is coming to terms with his own position between privilege and vulnerability.

The ABC show #Blackish recently covered the topic of children & teenagers and understanding racial justice and protest.  If you haven’t seen the episode, you should!  Here are some other thoughts on the issue of kids and protest movements:

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/bs-md-freddie-gray-children-protests-20150502-story.html

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/08/18/kids-at-ferguson_n_5688393.html

http://www.xojane.com/issues/ferguson-protest

 

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Thoughtful Tuesday

familyOur son was not yet 2 years old when Trayvon Martin was shot in Sanford, Florida. That night we held him tightly and I prayed that I would find the words as he grew up to talk to him about vulnerability, oppression, being a person of color, racism. My parents who were born in the south but grew up in the North and the West did a poor job of preparing me for the harsh realities of the isms. I was sheltered and protected. I believe my parents thought that because we moved out of Inglewood into Pasadena, enrolled me in private schools, exposed me to those upper-class activities that they did not participate in, I would be spared or safe from racism, sexism, etc. Otis Graham, author of Our Kind of People wrote a column about how privileged status does not protect our children from being called a N—- https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/11/06/i-taught-my-black-kids-that-their-elite-upbringing-would-protect-them-from-discrimination-i-was-wrong/

Since February 2012, so may incidents of racial injustice and violence have occurred that I have honestly lost track. All I know is that I am trying to remain calm, not panic, and talk to our son in ways that make sense. My husband and I have different approaches, which is o.k. I think. There are different ways to expose our children, talk to them, and prepare them as best we can for their futures. Our differing approaches collided when our nephew was elected president of his high school student body and social media erupted in racial slurs and threats of death. For the first time since our son had been born I was called to action. I participated in a rally, but our son did not go. Our nephew was on the front page of the paper and on the nightly local news almost daily. Our son is learning to read and pictures speak volumes. I felt we could not hide or sugar-coat the truth. We have responded simply or used religion or sports analogies to help.

The simplest response possible: “He won and some people were not happy, they are sore losers, and they said mean things.” And our son would say “Are they going to get in trouble? Did they apologize?” The truth was that no, those kids did not truly get into trouble and we were not sure they had apologized. So another type of conversation was had. We turned to religion: “Sometimes people do or say mean things and they do not apologize. God knows our hearts and will always protect us.” God is still a vague being/concept to our son, but he kind of got it.  IN other situations, we have turned to sports (his favorite activity): “You know how in a game there is a referee that monitors the players and when a player creates a super bad foul the player gets kicked out of the game and then later he has to pay a fee?” “Yes.” “In life there are referees who patrol our world and kick people out and make them pay fees.”

But then the news images of police, protestors, shot boys that look like him become too much to ignore. Even if we were not watching the news in his presence, he sees the front page of the newspaper as we bring it into the house, the news has a preview on t.v. as we are turning to his kid’s channel, our gatherings are a mix of adults and children and he over-hears our conversations. We cannot and will not live in a bubble under the guise of shielding him. So the real challenge is how to navigate this harsh reality without burdening his 5 year old mind, soul, and heart.

He is obsessed with playing “jail.” He also loves soccer, football, play dough, and coloring. But inevitably whatever he is building with Legos turns into a jail. His soccer players end up in jail because they cause d a foul or his play dough creation is a jail. Even his beloved TMNT are in jail! My social worker antenna is buzzing!!!! So I ask “Why is everyone always in jail?” “Because they’re bad.” “What did they do?” “They were fighting.” “Oh” I say weakly, wondering if I should continue the questioning, which I do not but instead say “I think you’ve played jail long enough, let’s read….”

Our son is very intuitive, he is smart and savvy. He listens to everything people say. He is not naïve. At the same time, we do not want to give him more information than he needs at this age. We also do not want him to be shocked (which he will be) when a classmate or a classmate’s parent says something racially cruel or he doesn’t get invited to the party because the parent doesn’t like black people, etc., etc. I also do not want to be a helicopter parent, but I can easily see how trying to protect your child from injustice based on his race or biological sex or religion or ability…could lead a parent to helicopter…patrolling the books in the library, the holidays celebrated at school, etc.

I am too often overwhelmed by that state of our country and our world. I feel paralyzed and fearful. Then I remember that I need to model what our son should be (my husband does too) and I just make sure our son hears and sees me engaged in social justice. I also remember that I have gotten through it with minimal protection and I have grown stronger, more passionate, braver.

I also just hope and pray that there are parents of every race, ethnicity, nationality, religion, and orientation out there who are just as concerned as I am and are having age-appropriate conversations with their children about the same issues and about how to be an ally. I just hope and pray that there is better police academy screening and training. I just hope that the post-modernists, whom I do not always understand or agree with, are right and we reach a post-label-identity society…where we are all equal and treated as such.

Do you talk to your child about difference? Vulnerablitiy? Racism? Sexism? Current events? How do you do it?

Some of my favorite articles on related topics:

  1. To The White Parent of My Black Son’s Friends – http://www.amusingmaralee.com/2015/12/to-the-white-parents-of-my-black-sons-friends/#sthash.mZuLFa7R.dpuf
  2. Respect what black America is feeling – http://www.salon.com/2015/04/29/dear_white_facebook_friends_i_need_you_to_respect_what_black_america_is_feeling_right_now/
  3. Five recovery steps from a form helicopter parent http://ww2.kqed.org/mindshift/2016/01/05/overparenting-5-recovery-steps-from-a-former-stanford-dean/
  4. What it’s like to be the only black kid in class http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/this-is-what-its-like-to-be-the-only-black-kid-in-class_568a847be4b014efe0dae77d

 

Our Lives Matter: Summer ecclectic blog post #2

familyMy son and I have the sweetest night time rituals. I hope that we can engage in these rituals for a long time to come, but I know that soon he will feel embarrassed by snuggling with me, and maybe he won’t tell me what was good and not so good about his day, and maybe he will get to a stage that he won’t even say “good night” to us before slipping into his room. He’ll probably also want the door closed and all the lights turned off. But for now I cherish our rituals.  Since the shooting of Trayvon Martin I’ve prolonged our rituals, I hold him tighter, and each night I am reminded what a miracle our boy is. He came late in our lives and after many challenges and losses (see other blog posts). He is the most precious person I do not own or control.  At 4 he is wise beyond is small self. He’s aware of skin color, hair texture, and facial features across races and nationalities. Without prompting he is aware that skin color matters. I did not expect to have to talk to him about his body language, clothing choices, tone of voice, etc until he was a teenager, but it’s happened now. Our son has taught me that children can be savvy and wise beyond their years; that it’s never to early to begin life lessons, and of course our son reminds me daily that HIS LIFE MATTERS.

In a similar fashion my husband’s life, the life of our son’s father matters. Our marriage is a work in progress! I think we do pretty good for two later in life getting married people. He has all the qualities I do not and then some and likewise, I balance and complete him. He was born outside of the U.S. and often tells me all kinds of stories about how he learned about the American system, especially the legal system and how to deal with police.  As if coming to a new country is not enough of a learning experience but as a man of color you also need to learn how to interact with the police in a specific way. Even though he is a smart adult with a calm demeanor I worry for him. HIS LIFE MATTERS.

Women are the fruit of the world. We bring forth new life. We heal. We bring peace. We nurture. WE MATTER. So finally, but not least of all the life of the mother of our son and the wife to my husband (ME) matters. No space for a history lesson on the abuse and exploitation of women of African decent all over the world, but suffice it to say that my life matters.  My son is learning love, respect, adoration, and care from his dad and I am appreciative of that. And they both show me that MY LIFE MATTERS.

I am no CJ scholar. I am a social work professor who is all about social justice. I am a woman of color living in America. I am a mom and wife to men of color. I teach all my students (CJ students included) why race matters AND why ALL lives matter AND how learning about others, developing acceptance and respect helps us in that process. No individual is perfect, but there is still a lot of teaching & learning that needs to be done with police systems across the country.  I often feel as if I am living in my grandparent’s generation. How much changes yet stays the same. I am originally from Pasadena and am a contemporary of Rodney King (may he rest in peace).  The issue of inappropriate policing, police brutality, etc is not just a passing hot topic it is a systemic problem that needs to be addressed and changed NOW. WE MATTER.

THE BRUTALITY AND DISRESPECT MUST STOP. WE MUST VALUE ALL OF OUR LIVES.

Tell me how your city or town rates on cultural competency within the police force?  Does specific diversity training exist? Is there training to deal with people who face mental health challenges? What do you see in your community?

Our police does a pretty good job. The hiring is getting more divers and I know they are actively involved in our community in positive ways. They also have learned and continue to learn about specific immigrants groups which make up the majority of our city: http://lowellpoliceacademy.com/

In 9 years my son will be a black teenager

My mind is racing, my heart is pacing, I can’t sleep. I keep checking in on our 4 year old as if he’s going somewhere. I keep hugging him and he keeps squirming. I keep whispering our love to him. Keep kissing his face. I keep praying and crying. We can’t control the outside world. We can arm him with info. But what info? I’m not yet prepared to tell him the crazy truth about his identity, which he’s begun to be so proud of “Mommy! He looks brown like me!” and smiles broadly. Makes your heart race and soar. He could be over-prepared or under-prepared. A million conversations bounce in my head “Son, if you’re in trouble look for a police officer.” “Son, keep your hands visible or a police officer may think you have a gun” “Son hands visible or not…”  Justice. Peace. I don’t anticipate him being “in the wrong place at the wrong time” or “hanging out with the wrong folks”…but what does all that mean??? And really? Trayvon and Michael were teens. Doing what we might typically label as “teenage mischief”…or not…my head hurts! My son. My nephew. My brother. I flash back to college and Rodney King…that was 20 years ago! I never said I was Trayvon, I always said “I am Trayvon’s mother” and Now “I am Michael’s mother.” Hugging my boy some more. Summoning enough energy to turn disbelief and sadness mixed with some anger into justice, peace…God have mercy. My privilege just got questionable.family I’m not surprised. I’m disappointed. I’m sad. I’m quite frankly scared. Our son is 4, since his birth I’ve lost count but over a dozen similar incidents each year, most non-publicized. I’m sick. Fear will not paralyze us. Breathing. In 9 years society will make many changes and I fear that our perceptions of each other based on race and ethnicity may not change (the pessimist in me). The optimist says if all the like-minded folks work (harder than we have been since the nation began lol) change will come…9 years is around the corner and tonight I am Michael Brown’s mom and I feel her pain.