When I was in college I got pregnant with my daughter. I gave birth to her at the beginning of my senior year of undergrad. From that moment on my life totally changed. I was completely focused on her and doing everything I could to provide her with the healthiest, happiest life possible.
My daughter is half Black. Right away I knew that this was going to pose issues for her. That her experience coming into the world would not be like my experience as a blonde-haired, blue-eyed child. I knew immediately that things would be harder for her because she would have darker skin.
In the beginning of her life, I was immersed in higher education. I finished my undergrad degree when she was one. Then went back and completed two master’s degrees by the time she was six. I was really good about learning as much as I could about the Black culture and what it was like to be biracial in our society. I took extra classes like “The Black Family” and “African American Studies,” and I wrote papers on biracial identity development. To my core, I knew how important it was. I was on top of my awareness game and then, at some point, it all stopped.
College was a very helpful experience during this time in her life. However, classes don’t immerse us into someone else’s experience. It’s is a learning from the outside looking in. Which is definitely better than nothing. But as soon as I wasn’t in that learning environment, I began to get comfortable with not knowing. With being complacent, and with going with the flow of the White norm the system has put in place for us all.
Yes, I was still aware of certain things. When we moved to a new city it was important to look at the diversity of the city. There would be no small towns for us. Things like that have always been in my awareness, but on a deeper level, I went on autopilot. I wasn’t tuned into her racial identity development and what she was experiencing as a Black child in a mostly White environment.
Sure we would talk about her thoughts and feelings and we were very connected on a deep level, but race was not a normal topic of conversation. It wouldn’t be until recently that I would realize how hurtful and damaging this was for her.
Growing up Black in a White World
From the moment my amazing girl was born she would face questions and inquires about her skin color. What is she? Is she yours? How can she be yours? She doesn’t look like you. People have always felt that it was their right to inquire about her race.
As a White mother I can now see, looking back, how she has had to try and mold herself through her formative years to try and fit in with the majority around her. She went through a phase where she hated her curls and would demand that I take the hours required on a regular basis to straighten her hair. Now, looking back, I can see many signs of her trying to deny her skin color and the beauty of who she is.
From a very young age, our Black children who are being raised in a White environment know they are different. They know they look different and are treated differently. It is a huge injustice and disservice as a parent to ignore their experience, often in the name of “well I love them and I see them the same as everyone else”. You may love them, yes, with all of your heart and soul. And, your love cannot save them from what the world will present to them about who they are based on how they look.
The Big Wake Up
At some point along the way, I got lazy. I let go of my learning and awareness surrounding the importance of my daughter’s racial identity development. About 4 months ago the death of George Floyd rocked our country in a whole new way. It knocked us into a new and necessary civil rights movement and until this woke me up, I was functioning on snooze.
The first couple months after his death were very painful. It’s painful to open ourselves up to the reality of what is actually going on. Black people being killed at the hands of police. Racism still very alive in our country. The deep injustices occurring as a norm for Black people as a norm they have to accept in their lives. This reawakening rocked me to my core.
The most painful of it all was realizing that my lack of awareness and need to stay in my comfort zone had affected my daughter in a negative way. She is now almost 20 and able to articulate her thoughts and feelings in a powerful way. We’ve spent hours talking about her feelings growing up, what it was like for her, and what was missing for her in regard to her racial identity development.
I must say that she has had a lot of grace for me and has taught me a lot. Even though I considered myself a pretty “woke” person prior to all of this, I had to come to terms with the fact that there was SO much I had been missing. I’m writing this for you so you can hopefully learn from my mistakes with your own children, and also come together with us to help change the patterns of oppression moving forward.
Realizing We Have White Privilege
If you are the White parent of a Black child, it’s vital to realize that you have privilege. And that just because you are White, this same privilege is not given to your Black child. We also must realize that just because we have a Black child doesn’t make us anti-racist or Black ourselves. Many parents try to make their lack of knowing “ok” because they believe that just being a parent to their child makes them exempt from doing the work.
La Sha, a Contributor for Huffington Post says, “That parent needs to recognize that the needs of that black child are different emotionally, socially, mentally and physically. That parent needs to be committed to the Herculean task of making their home, with all the subconscious subtle hostilities learned through decades of an inevitable socialization of suspicion, a space where that black child feels free from the ever-looming burden of racism.” Read her entire article HERE.
Realizing that no matter what, our experience will always be different than our child’s because we are white is KEY. This is the first vital level of awareness.
Our Love is Not Enough
White parents raise Black children in a couple difference scenarios. Either the Black child is adopted, or is of mixed race. These are the most common. While the experiences are different, both situations have Black children being raised with White people. No matter how much they are loved, they cannot be saved by the racism and inequities that will be imparted on them by our society.
The way YOU see your child is not the way our society sees your child. This is such an important realization to come to terms with. If you and your family are pulled over while the child is in the car you probably won’t experience much trouble because the obvious whiteness surrounding the child protects them, in a sense. Now, if your child gets pulled over alone will the experience be the same? No.
Just because you love them doesn’t mean that your love is going to prepare them for what they need to be prepared for when they experience the world. Your love will not save them from people’s comments, confusion about who they are and where they belong, racism, and police brutality. If you think your Black child isn’t experiencing racism, think again.
So What Are We to Do?
1. Talk openly with them.
I’ve heard White parents say that they can’t talk to their Black children about these issues because it’s too upsetting. They don’t want to hurt them. They don’t want to put these ideas into their heads. I’m sorry, but if you have a black child, they are already experiencing it and the ideas are already in their head. They need an outlet and a trusted person to talk to and sort through it. Avoiding it and trying to put them in a bubble is a disservice to them.
This is one of the biggest areas I messed up with my daughter. She craved open conversation on race as a child and I had no idea. I wanted to believe that these terrible injustices didn’t apply to her, yet she was living them every day. Open up the communication on race and everything for that matter. No subject, especially their skin color should be off-limits.
2. Prepare them for discrimination.
We cannot create an environment for them where we pretend discrimination and racism don’t exist. According to an article from NACAC, “Providing the child with information on how his or her racial identity might be degraded helps him or her develop better coping skills and methods of maintaining a positive identity. Feeling self-confident about his or her ability to cope with and appropriately respond to discrimination reinforces a child’s positive self-image and identity.” You can find the whole article about helping children develop a positive racial identity HERE.
3. Keep learning.
Don’t go into autopilot and press the snooze button. Teach your child what you are learning. Immerse yourself in as many research studies (credible of course), books, articles, and personal stories that you can. Find people who are actually living it to learn from. Educate yourself on racial identity development. Know the stages and what your child will be facing so you can guide the intentional conversation with them. HERE is a wonderful article on Biracial Identity Development and HERE is another that breaks down the different models of Cultural Identity Development. Finally, HERE is an article on Black Identity Development and how racism in our society affects the identity development of Black people. We can NEVER have enough information. Keep it coming and fill yourself with knowledge as much as you possibly can.
4. Get uncomfortable.
As White parents of Black children, we have to get uncomfortable and allow this to be a normal part of our existence. If we aren’t uncomfortable we don’t grow. If we don’t grow, our children don’t get the beautiful and valuable learning we could be passing on to them through our growth. Acknowledging the injustices of the world and those directly relating to our children at the hands of people who look like us is more than uncomfortable. It’s courageous and so necessary. Go there. You have to!
5. Get involved.
I can’t stress this one enough. My daughter and I have had some pretty beautiful experiences together in the past few months with this new awareness. We have talked for hours, looked for organizations we can volunteer for, and attended protests together. Taking action is crucial to not only showing your child you are with them, but helping to create bigger systemic change as well.
Are there organizations in your community you can get involved in? How can you become a part of social justice issues that are important to your child? If they are young, how can you help them get involved in making a difference at a young age? Taking action with my daughter and showing her I am with her in this way has been healing and also has created an even stronger bond within our relationship. Action can be balm to a wound through the act of actually tending to it.
6. Create a community.
This is one of the areas I really dropped the ball in when my daughter was younger. Her biological father was absent, her extended family moved far away and she didn’t have a Black community to be involved in, learn from, and be loved on by. Her interaction with other Black people was minimal. As a White person living in a predominately White community, it’s easy to just put our children into the majority and think they are okay that way. This is our own comfort and complete lack of awareness. Actively seek out community for your child with people who look like them. Find people to put into your circle who can also support their racial identity development.
6. Let them take the lead.
This is by far the most important. Our children are the experts on themselves and we need to be treating them as such. When it comes to their own thoughts and feelings on race and their own racial identity development, we need to let them lead us. As a white parent, we will never fully know what it’s like to be in their shoes, no matter how much we love them.
We must really listen to our children and hear their hearts, rather than us telling them what we think is best. Let your child guide you. Let them take the lead. Become a supporter and an advocate and remember, we will never be the expert on our child’s racial experience because we are white.
Be the Change
As I close this out I am wondering what to leave you with. The most important thing I think of is this…don’t make the same mistakes that I did. Don’t allow yourself to go into your “comfortable” white bubble and pretend that what is happening for our Black children in this world doesn’t exist. Allow yourself to go there. Feel the pain and open yourself to a new reality. This is how we begin to change the current systems that are in place.
By allowing ourselves to wake up in a whole new way, we engage in the fight against racism and create the change that our sweet babies so desperately need. We are in this together.
My daughter, Aubree Monares is also a writer for The We Spot. I thank her for allowing me to tell this part of our story. May she always know to her core that she is Wonder Woman. Learn more about her and find her writing HERE.