Note: I am a single mother of biracial children. I have to teach my daughters how to move in the world is Black, as woman, and not die myself while doing it.
I had The Talk with my daughters, 12 and 13 1/2, while doing 70 mph going down I-70 going to my best friend’s house to see their best friends. I had done all I could to bury the nastiness of the world from them. I tried to keep just how mean the world could be from them, why it can be to them, and what they could do about it.
My daughters are in middle school. And really? Honestly? It was almost too late…I should have had it earlier. This is what it is like to be Black and a parent in a nation that is decidedly anti-Black. You are constantly playing Chess–never checkers. White families can do that, not us.
When I made the decisions to get my daughters cell phones, my mother protested and I screamed internally. I have been her child almost 40 years, and when I was 13–my father suggested I get a pager. My mother said no. Now, 27 years later, her granddaughter have cellphones. And she protested. The only thing that I could manage to tell her was, “The world is crazy, Mama.”
The world is crazy, Mama.
I had already had told my daughters not touch things in the store (“People may think you’re stealing!”), what to do if you get lost in the store (“Don’t go to store security/police, go to someone that works at the store and give them your Mom’s name.), and the emergency contact list (“What is your grandmother’s name/number? What is your aunt’s name/number?”). But when I had to tell them what to do when stopped by the police? I screamed. I howled. When I realized that my youngest daughter is the same as Tamir Rice. When I realized that in September my oldest will be as old as Emmitt Till will ever be, and one year younger than Jordan Edwards–I fought the air!
I felt helpless–for all I did, am doing, to raise my daughters to be ‘respectable Black girls’—a police officer with a God complex can take that way. And never be accounted for. As I sped to my best friend’s house, the safety of her house, husband, and daughters who are best friends with my daughters, I fought tears.
I had to tell them: “Even though your father is White, your mother is Black. And because your mother is Black you will always be seen as little, Black girls.” And then I thought of the 4 little girls, the young women in Birmingham–whom would be the same age as their maternal grandmother, 71.
Again we went over what to do if they were stopped: Don’t go to the car. Make sure they see your hands. Do what you are asked. Ask if you can call you mother. “If you can’t get me, what do you do?” “Call grandma.” My heart, my heart in two places, shattered. All I can do, all I do, is give them what they need to survive. What more could I do? Being Black in this nation comes with the Unwritten: in order to survive, you have to know exactly what can kill you, and who may try to.
We got to their best friends’ house, safe and sound. I collapsed on her table and almost scream-cried. The world I had constructed for my daughters, the last peace that I tried to give them, was gone. The world was in my house…again. But this time, I was Mama. Like my mothers before me, I had to learn how to put down a wolf or a dog–and know the difference. The only thing I found that works, if make my daughters into the wolves…and give them a pack that will protect them above all else.