Because It Matters

I went to bed really heavy hearted last night. Confused, sad, angry, overwhelmed.

I went to bed thinking about my sweet Wyatt. He is strong. He is stubborn. He is a little bit defiant. He avoids eye contact and runs like the wind when he’s in trouble. He likes control. His brain is in constant flight or fight mode.

We work on respect and obeying. Kind hands is something I say one trillion times a day. I ask for eye contact repeatedly. We set boundaries and we have rules, and Wyatt hates it, and he lets us know it. But we keep doing it anyways. I pray that one day we can channel the stubbornness into passion for good.

But who knows, really? I stole a pack a gum from the grocery store when I was little. A friend and I broke into a neighbors house in elementary school. I have lied and cheated and made mistakes. I have hung out with people who most definitely influenced my decisions. My language is not always the best. I can kind of be a jerk sometimes just to prove a point.

But I’m white and my son is black. And I think there is a difference.

And so when I watched that video of the kids at the pool in Texas my heart just felt hurt and confused. I read all sides of the story, and I get both sides. There were a lot of actions that were wrong on both the kids and the cops side. I watched the video more than once. I read through hundreds of comments. But the thing I kept thinking over and over and over again was: “If those kids had been white (and acted THE SAME EXACT WAY), would that have been handled differently?” My heart says yes. My gut says yes. My husband says yes. (And I in no way think all cops are racist so let’s not go there.)

I sit here watching my sweet buddy play with his cars and I just wonder. I wonder what this world will be like in ten years when he’s old enough to go places without us. When he’s old enough to fall for peer pressure. When he’s old enough to make friends that we may not necessarily care for or want for him. When he’s trying to figure out who he is and where he fits in this world. When he’s old enough to make mistakes that matter. When he no longer is associated with his white parents and is just viewed as another black kid.

And I just want to hold him forever. Because this world is so confusing.

A couple of months ago Dustin and I sat at a table with several people of color and we talked about race. Dustin and I really just listened as they talked about race, because what do we know? Exactly nothing. And so we listened. That was it. We didn’t ask questions. We didn’t accuse them of playing the race card. We didn’t deny their experiences. We didn’t make their experiences about something different. We just listened as they told their stories.

A Hispanic man talked about how he can’t buy things off of Craigslist, because no one will return his calls or answer his emails. Because he is Hispanic. So his wife, who is white, does the buying on Craigslist for their family. He shared how he can’t return items to stores, because no store will ever accept his return. It doesn’t matter that the box hasn’t been opened, they won’t take it. Because he is Hispanic. So his wife, who is white, returns things to stores for their family.

A Black man told us about a time he went over to a girls house, whose family didn’t know he was Black, and the minute he walked through the door the attitude in the house shifted. There was all of a sudden tension, because he was Black.

A white mom of a Black son shared about a time her son was playing in the pool with a group of white kids. They were all doing the exact same thing. The lifeguard asked her son to get out of the pool. Everyone else got to stay.

A bi-racial woman, not much older than me, shared her story with us. Saying that she learned early on that being Black was not safe. She learned that through watching her brother get the crap beat out of him because of his skin color. And so for a really long time she denied she was Black.

A Black man shared his experiences with being pulled over by the cops. If he is with white people, it’s fine. If he is with Black people, it’s not fine.

A white dad of a Black son shared that he is scared for the day his son gets pulled over by the cops. He said with tears in his eyes that it will be in that moment that he will want his skin color to be different than what it is. That it hurts his heart to feel that way because he loves his son’s skin color.

A Black man shared that one time he was at a park having his quiet time in his car. He was literally sitting, reading his Bible, and praying. A white woman with a white child pulled up to the park and saw him. The police showed up a few minutes later questioning what he was doing.

And with story after story after story, my heart got heavier and heavier and heavier. Because this is real. I didn’t personally cause their pain. I didn’t say the words or do the things to them. It’s not my fault that those experiences happened. And they weren’t blaming me. They weren’t blaming ANYONE. They were just telling stories. They were just sharing truths. And we were just listening.

The last few years I have been learning the art of listening. I like to talk. I like to run my mouth, really. I like to form opinions and I like to tell you them. I like to think I know things, when I really really don’t. But when we decided to adopt a child, who would be Black, I stopped talking and I started listening. Because I’m white, and I know nothing about being anything other than white. And that’s not a bad thing. I don’t feel bad for being white. I didn’t really have a choice in the matter. But I did have a choice to acknowledge that I would be a white woman raising a Black son, and I believe there is a difference in growing up Black and growing up white. And so Dustin and I started listening more to people of color. We craved their stories and their experiences and their wisdom. We wanted to know what it was like to be Black. We wanted to know the good, the bad, the ugly. We wanted to know the truth. And so we started asking our Black friends things we hadn’t before. We started reading books that we never would have read before. We sought out articles and blog posts. All in trying to soak up and learn so that we could parent our child better. And so for the last few years we’ve just listened, and we’ve done little to no talking.

What we have learned through all the listening is that racism is not dead. Discrimination still very much exists. The color of your skin matters. And I get so confused when people who are not of color say that it doesn’t. Because what do we know about being a person of color? I don’t know anything. And so how can I claim something to be true when it’s not mine to claim in the first place? I have no idea what it is like to not be white. I will never pretend that I know anything about being a person of color. I know what it’s like to all of a sudden have a Black son. I know what it’s like to all of a sudden view the world very differently. I know what it’s like to watch the news and all of a sudden feel fear. For my son. Because of his skin color.

Wyatt can’t for the life of him do thumbs up. It’s hilarious to us. Instead he makes guns with his hands and shoots them in the air in our direction. One day he was wearing a hoodie, happened to have the hood up, and he shot us the guns. We laughed because, duh. Someone saw it and looked at me and said: “He can’t be doing that now, can he?” And the truth is he can’t. Because it matters.

Racial issues, to me, are kind of like social justice issues: overwhelming. People don’t know where to start, and so they often don’t start at all. Dustin and I started here:

How To Be Black, Baratunde Thurston

The Autobiography Of Malcom X, Alex Haley

Who’s Afraid Of Post-Blackness?, Toure

The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander


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