By their very definition, well-meaning people do not know when they are being offensive.
Many have uncomfortably asked, “How are YOU feeling about everything that is going on in
Florida Chicago New York City Ferguson, Missouri?”
Others have proclaimed, “With EVERYTHING that is going on nowadays, I just pray that I have girls.”
With time, practice and ninja-warrior discipline I have learned how not to take these inquiries or statements personally. The truth that I have been forced to accept is that most of these well-intentioned people simply recognize the challenges and angst that come with raising Black boys in America.
Implicit to these exchanges is the assumption that I view my children as so many others do. The Black Rhinos and Bengal Tigers of American society, it is with much frustration and some anger that I am compelled to acknowledge that my children are increasingly viewed as America’s most prominent endangered species.
The gravity of nurturing Black boys in a society where the odds are not stacked in their favor isn’t lost on me, no matter how much I wish that I could ignore it. The internal struggle that I am often forced to consider is whether I will allow my boys to learn about themselves organically (just as every child should have the opportunity to do) or whether I, too, will remind them with every year and day that passes that their very existence is an anomaly.
I have the luxury of still pondering this question though many parents of Black boys do not. With two children under the age of four, I have the luxury (at least for now) of allowing them to sit in the essence of that which is childhood innocence – absent of what comes with racial identity and the burden that comes with the mandate to be not average but exceptional (since being non-exceptional and criminality is so closely associated in America).
As a parent, I don’t want to raise Black Rhinos.
I just want to raise my children.
Yet, raising Black Rhinos is exactly what I must do.
Always aware of the looming moment when my husband and I will have to explain the enigma of their being, I have tried to be as intentional as possible in setting the foundation in which my two sons will come to see themselves.
As my oldest son turned two I began to teach him everything that his little mind could absorb about the world – the world that exists far beyond his sight. Instead of beginning his understanding of himself as a person in America, I wanted him to see himself in relation to where he exists in the world. For close to six months we spent our afternoons examining maps, globes and atlases; we spent hours singing songs about the continents and repeating rhymes about the oceans.
By the time he was three, he could confidently tell anyone that France is in Europe and that the Nile River flows through Africa. He could tell you that Nemo can be found in Australia and that Jesus lives happily in Brazil.
A small victory, I was grateful that his young mind recognized that America is but a beautiful conglomerate of rainbow-colored states in an otherwise much bigger world.
As he nears the ripe old age of four, he is completely over learning about geography though two large maps of the world remain on his walls. And while his interests will surely vacillate over the years, those reminders that the world is much larger than what he sees will be there for him every day.
Painstakingly, I still know that the day will come for my husband and I to explain the paradox of who he and his younger brother are in the framework of America. My prayer is that when that day comes he does not feel restricted by his caste in this country but will recognize the choice to look beyond it.
As with all endangered species, geography matters.
And if the environment which my children call home is not apt for them to thrive, my hope is that they will remember that America is but a small rainbow of colors nested within a vast blue map. Only in this context will they understand that who they can become is greater than how one place defines them and that their potential is more than what either of them could ever conceive.
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