Sometimes Black Sons Have White Mothers

Five things I wish people understood about white parents of black children.

Sometimes black sons have white mothers. I want to tweet those words every time a racially charged situation overtakes my Twitter feed and the many black writers I follow begin passionately advocating on behalf of black mothers. I never do, of course, because it would be foolishness on so many levels. Nonetheless, here are five things I wish people understood about white parents of black children.

1. We are not allies; we’re parents.

Our hearts bleed for our children and their pain just like any other parent. We would gladly trade places with our sons and daughters in their suffering, whether it be from racism, cross-community rejection, or disease. If we stand up or speak up, we do so out of the same kind of burning love that animates every devoted parent, even if we don’t have the inherited memory of generational pain informing that love. Ours is more like the hot passion of first love. For some of us, it grows into mature love as we grow in our racial understanding.

2. We’ve had to face our own racism in the process of parenting our children.

Even if our own parents weren’t overtly racist, most of us grew up in a racialized society without benefit of wise elders to teach us about these matters, and so it is the experiences of our children that force us to confront our own racist habits and beliefs. There are many steps along this journey, including educating ourselves and repenting of our own complicity.

3. We’ve been subject to racism ourselves.

For me, this kind of racism has been bidirectional. I have heard versions of the “betrayer of my race” charge for having procreated with a black man. I’ve also felt like the betrayer of a black code I knew nothing about at 19 regarding black men sleeping with white women. I’ve been treated with suspicion in my role as a parent to a black child. “Where did you get him?” I was asked in a grocery store aisle when my son was still an infant. These experiences have been blessedly rare. What has not been rare is listening to racist comments from white folks who did not know, momentarily forgot, or just didn’t care that I am the mother of a black child. I’ve been confronting that kind of racism for three decades.

4. It’s increasingly wrong to assume that white face equals white family.

When I read complaints about too many white faces at race-related protests, I get it. For many white folks, protesting with word and/or feet is a form of action that won’t extend beyond their own self-congratulations. But changing demographics are such that many people now belong to multi-racial families. Some are demanding change on behalf of their loved ones. Don’t assume the worst of them.

5. It hurts to be shut out.

This is nobody’s problem but our own, but it is worth stating. My son’s father denied paternity and chose not to know him. Early on, my attitude was “good riddance.” I know better now. Still, my family did its very best to raise a black child in the absence of family elders who may have been better equipped to help him navigate the minefields of a racialized society. Just as it hurts the biracial person to be marginalized by both black and white communities, it hurts parents like me to feel excluded because of the color of our skin.

This last point brings me full circle, because it is here that I can empathize in some small way with the black experience. Exclusion, however, is not state-sanctioned discrimination, harassment, mass incarceration, or murder. In light of those realities, hurt feelings are a worthless indulgence.

Image courtesy of the author.