Nothing in my life as a White woman had prepared me for what it actually felt like to be the object of racism…
48 year old White woman
11 year Benicia resident
Almost ten years ago a little boy who would expand my heart exponentially entered my life. After several years of researching and contemplating adoption, my husband and I found ourselves in a central African country meeting our two year old son for the first time. Holding his little body close that night as I rocked him to sleep, my only feeling was an overwhelming love. But my head also knew that there would be significant challenges for our son growing up in the U.S. as a Black boy, particularly with White parents.
Back home we dove into all those fun things you do with curious and fun loving preschoolers. Our son had big brown sparkling eyes and an infectious laugh that literally made people stop in their tracks to listen. On a warm, sunny day I took him, our 9 year old bio son and a 9 year old Black friend to a lake for some summer kayaking. The kids were chatting excitedly as I got everything ready off to the side of a wide boat ramp. Suddenly, there was a man yelling at me from a truck and before I could comprehend what was happening, he was backing his boat directly toward the children despite a huge open area on the ramp. I grabbed the kids and we moved out of the way, but I was shaken and, quite frankly, confused as to why this man would act with what can only be described as hatred. The look on his face was unmistakable.
The thing was that, as much as I had sought to educate myself on the issues that Black Americans face every day, nothing in my life as a White woman had prepared me for what it actually felt like to be the object of racism. It was a defining moment of my life and I realized that day that, as much as I want to empathize with Black Americans, even my own son, I will never be able to fully understand.
That was the first incident, but there have been others. That same summer I sat at the edge of the community pool watching my little one frolic in the kiddie fountains with some other children. To this day playing in the water is his favorite thing to do and I was content to just sit and watch my happy 2 year old discover a new joy with the sun on my face. I was shocked when suddenly a White female lifeguard grabbed him roughly by the collar of his life jacket and nearly lifted him from the fountains. I was immediately on my feet, telling her to put my son down. A surprised and embarrassed look came over her. She had just targeted the one Black child in the pool for doing something that drew the natural curiosity of all of the children there. And she didn’t realize that his mother was right there supervising. Of course not. Our skin colors don’t match. That lifeguard was just one of many people who have made assumptions based on the colors of our skin over the years.
Although these two specific incidents didn’t happen in Benicia they taught me that, even at the tender age of an innocent preschooler, having Black skin makes a real difference in how people see and treat my child. I fear for my now 11 year old who is beginning to look like a teen. The other day, I watched him walking down the sidewalk with his hoodie up to counteract the stiff Benicia breeze. He was walking back from playing with his remote control boat in the water and my heart sank when I realized the large, gray controller in his hands could look like a gun. That thought would have never crossed my mind about my White son, but when you are the parent of a Black child there are realities that you can’t hide from.
I’ve shared my personal stories with friends and other parents throughout the years because I think it’s important to talk about the racism that’s a part of our social fabric. I fervently want my son to be able to feel nothing but pride in his beautiful Black body.