Obama's The President But Folks Are Still Scared Of My Black Son

Yesterday afternoon I met up with an old friend from high school, someone I hadn't seen in 20 years. We met up at a little coffee shop/cafe that has an indoor play area for kids. The genius behind it is that while the adults sip chai lattes and catch up with each other, the kids crawl through tunnels and slither down slides.

So, in theory, everybody is happy, right?

Yeah, everybody's happy until you're my eight year-old son emerging from the environs of the play area to tell me that the mother of the little white girl he was playing with was 1) staring at him, "All mean and crazy," and 2) came over and snatched her daughter away.

My son wanted to know why the mom did that.

I looked over at this other mom, who I saw looking back at us like she thought we were gonna pull out knives or something. I know the "I'm scared of those Negroes" look on someone's face when I see it. And this mom definitely had it. I swear, I wanted to jump up and yell, "BOO!" just to see if she'd scream.

I mean, really, it's 2009 and if folks can't even pretend in public that they're not suspicious of or afraid of black people, well, there's no hope for America's future.

At first I told my son that maybe the mom just had "issues" or was having a bad day.

But my son replied, "I think she was scared of me because of, you know, the color of my skin. I don't think she likes black kids. I think she thought I was going to do something bad to her daughter."

The sarcastic part of me wanted to answer, "She's just afraid her little blond darling will see how devastatingly handsome you are, and then she'll be grow up, hooked on black men FOREVER... bwahahahaha!" But I figured that wouldn't be helpful.

So I told him he was right and that's how racists think because they're confused, which is too bad because there is nothing wrong with him. I also told him that when racists die they have to answer to God for their behavior. And I might've said they burn in hell, too.

He nodded his head and said it was too bad that the little girl was going to miss out on playing with him, "Because I'm a nice boy. I wouldn't hurt anybody."

He is a very nice boy. No doubt about that. He's also eight and it scares me that he's getting closer to the age where some folks will stop saying, "Oh you're such a cutie!" and instead they'll clutch their purse and look scared when he walks by. Instead the cops will want to sit him on the curb and interrogate him because he fits the description.

It's hard to tell your kid, yes some people are going to not like you because of your skin color. When you get older, they're also going to deny you housing, employment and promotions at work. And you may fall in love with a girl whose parents don't want you to marry her because you're the wrong color, even if you end up working for NASA like you want to.

I can keep telling him to always do his best and work hard no matter what. And I can tell him, "Barack Obama faced racism and look where he is now! President of the United States!"

But somehow being able to say, "Look, there's President Obama throwing out the 1st pitch at the All-Star Game," doesn't magically make it all better. It doesn't evaporate the day-to-day racism he faces. Because the bottom line is that Obama may be the President, but there are still plenty of Americans scared of my black son.


Karina in T.O said…
Dammit, it pisses me off that people are so closed minded. It's bad enough adults to this to each other, but to a little kid???
......Honestly, it's inexusiable.
Jessica said…
Well, that's just tragic. Your son sounds sooooooooo sweet and I would be honored to have my little half Colombian half whatever we "white" folks are (cuz I'm sure I have no idea what all my heritage is) 8 year old boy play with your son.

Love reading your blog - I'm hooked. :-)
It hurts my heart that we have to educate our children in this way.
Liz Dwyer said…
The thing is that that children don't get a full "escape from racism" pass. They never have...which is why someone like Emmett Till could be murdered when my mom was a girl.

Thanks, he is VERY sweet, even when he's being a little mischievous as it seems all eight year-old boys are! But I don't like this stuff happening to him. I want it to stop. And I feel sorry for the little girl, too, because she's being taught racist behaviors.

Me too. More of these sorts of experiences have happened lately, and more in the Midwest. Not that they don't happen in LA because they do, but they've been more frequent here. You know what I mean... and I wonder what my boys would be like if they'd grown up here.
Jameil said…
I know you can't fight every battle but I know it took some SERIOUS restraint to keep from punching that lady out!! Or at least giving her a piece of your mind. Wow! Kudos to you for that. Dead @ "And I might've said they burn in hell, too." I know that's right! Hate in your heart doesn't nothing but turn your soul into a place of sadness and fear.
Oh that's so sad. I think you handled it beautifully. I also think some of the push back will be from those that are observing a lot of dysfunctional behavior by other blacks that has officially gone unchecked by the collective. It's not as if we can wear a name tag or have a stamp on our heads that say we're not behaving in ways that in opposition to basic society so we're ok. Fair-minded people understand the difference but we also see how unfair people can be and how they react.
Ann Harrison said…
Wonderful post.

So well written. Just perfect.

(I love the sarcastic side of you ;-> )
Jessalyn said…
This just breaks my heart. Seriously, what the heck is wrong with people. There is absolutely no excuse for that.

I am taking notes of how you handled it for when the same thing unfortunately and inevitably happens to my kids. :-(

I love the sarcastic comment that came to your mind. You're a much better momma than I am. I may have uttered it. LOL
BlackLiterature said…
One more thing I didn't realize I'd have to worry about when I became a parent. Geeze I look at the world with completly different eyes now.
Anonymous said…
Unfortunately such types remain alive and well (in their sickness). It has to be so distressing to you as a mother to try to explain to a child that some adults are rotten human beings. After our incident in my own town last week, we know they're out there. Rednecks don't have to wear white sheets.
Mes Deux Cents said…

It's these incidents of micro-racism that do the real damage. If this was going to be the only time your son had to deal with this sort of thing, no biggie. But by the time he's 18 he'll be able to play a long list of these small incidents back in his mind.

The solution is having a loving mother who can put things in perspective, as you did.
Lili said…
My heart goes out to you, it's tough enough to deal with the day to day challenges of life but to try to help our kids we are forced to tell them some nasty truths..even though all we want to do is protect them from the same unpleasant truths. I would say - be frank - honest but positive. Tell them about the real world while giving them the tools to deal with the challenges they may face. Children are tougher, smarter and more resilient than we realise. Ultimately the best thing you can do is to help your kids become as prepared as possible for a life without you or their Dad.
Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart said…
I think you handled it beautifully... I find that a compassionate approach helps my child understand from a spiritual perspective, and helps him not choose personalization or victimization or hate but rather becomes an opportunity to build compassion, understanding and love... something like "wow, I feel so sorry that that woman has chosen a closed minded path for she and her child, think of all of the beautiful things in life they will miss out on! Let's take this experience as reminder to ourselves to make sure our hearts are always open to new things. Maybe they have something in their experience that makes them act like that... hmmm... I think I'm going to say a little prayer for them..." - sounds idealized but it works for me and my son!
Lili said…
Oh and doesn't the whole "post racial" world chatter make you laugh? It sure makes me laugh...
1969 said…
They DO burn in hell. Hmpmh.
smh said…
Incidents of this kind of stupidity seem to be on the rise. I swear it is like folks are losing their ever loving mind presuming they even had one. You can not reason with ignorance and fear.

You handled that beautifully and hopefully your son's generate will have more sense than far too many adults because of it.
Liz Dwyer said…
It made me mad, but it also made me feel exhausted. Burnt out. Like, okay, when will this crap go away? (I know, not anytime soon.) You know how in the Bible there's that quote, "Vengeance is mine saith the Lord."? -- My mom said she's always telling God, "Hey I know vengeance is yours, but I have a few tips for you!" -- I feel that way.

I often don't think it matters whether or not I'm being associated with the dysfunctional behavior some black folks exhibit. People just see color and a whole host of images and prejudices boils to the surface.

Ah, the sarcasm hides the misery I feel over writing about this in the first place. (But being able to write about it is better than just letting my sadness and anger simmer inside me.)

Ugh, I have been saying all sorts of out-the-box things lately, so for a second there I thought I did say it out loud. But, whew, I didn't.

Me either. I didn't even think about all this. I was more worried about being able to change a diaper properly.

It is distressing, and it's the sort of thing that makes me feel like the terrible things of this world can chip away at my boy's confidence and spirit if I'm not hyper vigilant about it. And yeah, no white sheets or hoods to be found.

YES! I agree. It's the dozens and dozens of incidents like this. Stuff that other people say isn't racism. I'm supposed to believe it's just individuals being jerks. But I don't believe that.

My boys are definitely tougher and smarter than I was at the same ages. Definitely. And the post-racial thing is ridiculous. It's the furthest thing from the truth.

Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart,
As far as handling it, a friend suggested that I should've had my son say something to the woman, maybe told her that he was a nice boy and wouldn't hurt her daughter. I'm wondering if that would've worked or backfired. Not really sure yet. I agree about the spiritual perspective though, and the compassion. Absolutely agree with that. So important to be forgiving, even if it's hard to do so.

I really think they do. Absolutely think so.

I think these sorts of incidents never really left. They just weren't blogged about or written about. Maybe that's the real Obama effect -- maybe people are really gathering the courage to speak out about the reality that racism happens daily in this country.
nick said…
Post-racial world, ha ha. The virus of racism is alive and well. Unfortunately he'll have to deal with thousands more mindless arseholes like her and somehow rise above it. I just hope it doesn't dent his confidence and he doesn't grow up bitter and cynical about other people.
Liz, so sorry to hear your son had to deal with things like this in 2009.

I agree that it's these small moments that can chip away at you.

I'm glad you had a serious talk with your son about it instead of just pushing it under the rug.
Remnants of U said…
Wow, I hate that he had to experience that at 8 years old.
I can't remember exactly what age I had to have that sort of discussion with my now grown son. But your little man seems wise beyond his years.
Lisa Blah Blah said…
I think it was Zora Neale Hurston who said whenever she encountered racism she was simply astounded that anyone would want to deprive themselves of the pleasure of her company. I am simply astounded that this woman would give a flip about who her kid plays with at a coffee shop, particularly when your son is such a sweet and handsome boy.

I'm sorry. This post hurt my heart. Come back to LA. Silverlake, with all its craziness, misses you. :-)
phoenixlike said…
It is sad that in this day and age people are still so closed minded about things like that and are passing it down. *smh*

Thank goodness for parents like you handling it with grace and honesty so your son knows, the problem is definitely not with him but with these senseless people.
Rosita said…
Delurking to say how sorry I am that your son had to go through this. And how scared I am that I will be facing this very soon with my own three boys (the oldest is 4 1/2) I hope will be able to handle such situation with as much wisdom as you did.
Liz Dwyer said…
I've been thinking a lot about how to build assertiveness and confidence in them. I believe a lot of it comes from ensuring they have a really clear idea of who they are regardless of someone else's insanity. But gosh, this is hard.

I already wonder how much it's affected my boys, particularly my eldest. Yeah, this is 2009, better than it used to be but still a long way to go.

I hate it, too. He is pretty wise for his age. He has such an old soul and he reads people and situations VERY well. Very very well.

Oh, I am missing Silver Lake where all anybody cares about is whether your outfit is fashionable enough. I talked to a guy today from Eagle Rock who's lived out here for 8 years and he said he misses that sort of LA shallowness. He said it's better than the sort of racism he sees. Not that it doesn't happen in LA, but it is MUCH more overt here.

I'll bet there are parents out there that think if there kid did something different that this sort of thing wouldn't happen to them. I can't imagine it but I bet it happens.

Thanks for delurking. I totally wish this wouldn't happen to anybody. I have no doubt that if it does happen to your kids, you will handle it just fine because really, what choice do we have as parents?
Lotus Flower said…
That sounds like something a soccer mom would do in 1990. Not 2009. This lady is out of excuses.
It was wrong then, and it's certainly wrong now.
Shiona said…
Sad but true. I wish I could say I wouldn't have noticed it but I am becoming hyper sensitive to it being from this town.
Julia said…
You know what I love, though? I LOVE your son's response (too bad she's going to miss out on playing with a nice guy kind of thing). SUCH a healthy response that says so much about all the good work you've done as a parent.

I hate that this happened, but I can't imagine how either of you could have handled it better. And that's inspiring.
Liz Dwyer said…
I hope her daughter remembers the incident and recognizes, somehow, that her mom is so very wrong. I hope she unlearns this sort of behavior.

I'm sure you aren't hypersensitive. In fact, I think it's a myth that we can be "hypersensitive" to race. I've been accused before of being too aware or thinking too much about race. My reply is that I wouldn't have to think about it if it wasn't slapping me in the face!

That's very true. I worry SO much about my sons because I see all the statistics and I don't want them to be one. But I think so far my vigilance, and my husband's, is helping them become truly critical thinkers about race in our nation and how they can impact what happens in our nation. That is a really good thing.
Mimi (Mae) said…
Welcome to my world. It breaks my heart each time I see people treating my son (who will be 12 this Friday) like he is a threat.It pisses me off too, and when I address it (at his school, usually) I get labeled the "angry black mother". Seriously. The school counselor informed my son and a (white female) classmate that my son had anger issues "like his mom".

Now that he is older, he recognizes the mistreatment more and more and it upsets him. I use the "Barack Obama did it, so can you" line, and it helps, sometimes (or it at least helps me). I am trying to teach him to be critical but not jaded....but it is a mighty fine line....
j paul ghetto said…
little girls that are kept from forbidden fruit, take a bite at the first opportunity.

don't fret. one woman's pathos is another's playground.

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