As a White Mother of Black Sons
by Kate Riffle Roper
As a white mother of two black children, three white children, who all have a white father, I have something to say.
Racism exists. It is real. And it is everywhere, all the time.
When I brought my boys home they were the cutest, sweetest babies ever. Wherever we went, people greeted us with charm and enthusiasm. Well, not all people and not everywhere. But, to me, they were the “wacko” exceptions. I thought to myself, “Get over it.”
Now my boys look like teenagers. Black teenagers. They are 13. Let me ask you these questions. Do store personnel follow your children when they are picking out Gatorade? They didn’t follow my white kids. Do coffee shop employees interrogate your children about the credit card they are using to pay while you are in the bathroom? They didn’t interrogate my white kids. When your kids trick-or-treat with their friends, do they get asked who they are with and where they live, door after door? My white kids didn’t get asked. Do your kids get pulled out of the TSA line time and again for additional screening? My white kids didn’t. Do your kids get treated one way when they are standing alone but get treated a completely different way when you walk up? I mean a completely different way. My white kids didn’t. Do shoe sales people ask if your kids’ feet are clean before sizing them for shoes? No one asked me that with my white kids. Do complete strangers ask to touch your child’s hair? Or ask about their penis size? Or ask if they are “from druggies”? No one did this with my white kids.
Did you tell your kids not to fight back because they will seen as aggressive if they stand up for themselves? Have you had to honestly discuss with your husband whether you should take your children to the police station to introduce them to the officers so they would know your children are legitimate members of your community? Have you had to talk to your children about EXACTLY what to say and not to say to an officer? Have you had to tell your children that the objective of any encounter with police, or security in any form, is to stay alive? It never occurred to me to have these conversations with my white children. In fact, it never occurred to me for myself either.
There is no question my boys have been cloaked in my protection when they were small. What I did not realize until now is that the cloak I was offering them was identification with my whiteness. As they grow independent, they step out from my cloak and lose that protection. The world sees “them” differently. It is sweet when they are adopted little black boys so graciously taken in by this nice white family. But when they are real people? Well, it is not the same. And they still look like little boys. What happens to them when they look like the strong, proud black men I am raising?
The reason why the phrase All Lives Matter is offensive to black people is because it isn’t true. Right now, in America, my black children are treated differently than my white children. So when you say All Lives Matter as a response to the phrase Black Lives Matter you are completely dismissing the near daily experience of racism for those with pigment in their skin, curl in their hair and broadness of their nose.
I am writing this so all can see the reality I have witnessed and experienced; because, frankly, I didn’t believe it was true until I saw it up close, directed at two souls I love, over and over again. So, please, use this as a pair of glasses to see the racism that surrounds you. Then we can actually make progress toward all lives being valued and cherished.
This was published first on Kate Riffle Roper’s Facebook page on July 19, 2016.
Leave a Reply