The more I think about the events that transpired yesterday, the more I am coming to understand some underlying tensions, fears and concerns.
Raising teenage children can be scary in and of itself. The hormones, the independence seeking, the seemingly irrational thoughts and behaviors, the emotions, the growing, the stretching, the coming into one’s own identity.
Will they make good decisions? Should I let her go on a date? Are they choosing good friends? Should I allow them to watch this movie? Listen to this music? Are they developing character that will sustain them? Are they loved and accepted? Are they bullied? When I should I step in versus let him figure it out on his own?
Raising minority teenagers, I am sadly learning, is even scarier. (Perhaps I will think otherwise at a later point in time. I dunno.) I am gaining a worldly understanding in a sad reality that I wish did not exist. A reality that is rooted in hate and continues to perpetuate because not everyone starts from the same place in life and many are quick to make snap face judgments without digging deeper to work at healing systemic ills in our society.
When I started off my post yesterday with the idea that no, not everyone is given the same the chance at success, there were many factors running in my mind. One factor I didn’t overtly mention is the sad reality that kids are judged by the external appearances. Their skin color. Their race and ethnicity. These judgments could be made overtly or more subtly, but they are there.
I wish this wasn’t true. I wish I could affirm that we are in a post race world, but my experience thus far tells me otherwise.
When I stepped in to defend a neighborhood teen yesterday, a mixed-race 15yo boy, I was definitely in the moment, seeking to stop an adult from inappropriately attacking him. He is a boy I desperately want to see succeed in life, despite the mountain of odds stacked against him. Many of you know about our family’s relationship with this boy and know we authentically care about his well being.
And yet, I was also imagining this same scenario playing out with one of my own two teenagers. My heart saddened and my resolution to protect and prepare my own children solidified as I imagined either one of them being accosted, humiliated and shamed simply because they have been seen associating with “bad” kids; simply because the have the same skin color as the person of interest; simply someone (hearsay) told someone, who told someone else, that they were guilty.
I imagined the fear many, many moms deal with every day as they send their minority children out into a world that does not always welcome them with open arms. I imagined the various ways these parents prepare their child. Some good, some well intentioned, some purely fear based that continue to perpetuate problems.
My heart began to break. How will I prepare will children?
When searching for a reason to laugh yesterday, I remembered a funny incident that occurred when one of my Littles started preschool. I understood the school’s “nut free” policy and dutifully upheld that rule as I understand the seriousness of nut allergies. Then, one day, I was told l that I could not pack (nut free) soy butter sandwiches in my child’s lunch because, and I quote, soy butter looks too much like peanut butter.
Now, I understand the purpose of protecting the safety of children. I understand that at first glance, soy butter looks a whole lot like peanut butter. I understand that a teacher many not be able to tell the difference at face value.
And yet I didn’t understand at all. The soy butter was not packaged in a facility on an equipment that was shared with nuts. Soy butter is not nut butter. Soy butter was not an allergen and posed no health risk to the children.
But it was banned anyway because it resembled peanut butter. I obliged to dutifully label my sandwiches every single day to remind the teachers that the sandwich was safe.
The same think happened when that angry man verbally assulted a teenager for simply looking like he was part of the guilty party. Maybe at one time the metaphorical soy and nuts were produced in the same facility. Yet, that was no longer the case yesterday.
Should I send my child out with a sign, a label, that says he is soy and not nut? Will the world judge him because he looks as if he could have been processed in a facility that processes harmful allergens?
What is the answer to this dilemma? Should this face-value-judgement scare me as much as it does?
When your child rides his bike to the grocery store or walks to school alone, are you worried that the color of his skin will illicit harm upon him? Are you worried that others are judging your teens, your children, before they get to know them?
I wish these things didn’t scare me. I wish I felt more safety and security for my teenagers. I am thankful that we live in one of the most diverse areas in our country. I couldn’t imagine how difficult this would be elsewhere.
Even still, I do not yet have peace in my mama heart.
I welcome any wisdom or ideas from those who have gone before…