For almost two years my family has lived in a semi-rural city that, according to the most recent demographics, is 59% white, 22% Hispanic, and 11% Black. While these numbers are more or less a reflection of the state of Texas as a whole, I often find myself driving around the city asking, “Where are these 13,000 or so black people that are supposed to live here?” Quite frequently my family and I are the only or one of few black families in the spaces we occupy. My oldest son is the only black kid on his basketball and baseball teams. My youngest is the only black kid in his class and one of maybe two in the whole daycare. The only place we are not the minority in number are the few black churches we visit when I have a free Sunday (If you are new to this blog, I’m a United Methodist campus pastor).
I recently posted on Facebook about a conversation my 11 year-old son and I had about the lack of Black history he’s learned in school, especially considering its Black History Month. Apparently, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is the only black person worthy of making it into the school curriculum. He knows how important it is to me that he learns HIS history so we talk about US quite often. We read books, watch movies and documentaries, and listen to interviews about black culture and black life. He also knows that as a black pastor in a predominately white Christian denomination that I care about equality and proper representation when in white space. And although most of his current acquaintances are white, I can see he is struggling to reconcile his current privilege with the historical and current injustices black people endure.
Our recent conversation, coupled with some recent personal encounters, has driven me to wonder if white people who consider themselves allies understand the implications of raising children in a country where white supremacy systematically governs and white fragility socially affects how black children respond to white children? If you are not as intentional about teaching your children the ugly history of white supremacy as I am about teaching my children how can the scales ever truly be balanced? And because of this, our kids can’t really be friends. This is not hyperbole or extreme rhetoric. This is real.
Our children have legal rights to share space together: to learn, to play, and to explore. However, what our children are learning, how they are supposed to play, and what they can explore benefit white children far more than blacks. Our children are in the same class but the curriculum is more beneficial to your child than mine because the representation, the accuracy of the historical facts, and the current implications are missing. Our children are playing in the same sandboxes, on the same teams, in the same clubs, but in instances of disagreement and conflict, black children are more likely to be ostracized and disciplined more harshly than whites. In every space black children occupy in small numbers their actions are amplified, for good and bad, because of this disparity. Often, “good black children” are classified in terms of exemplary productivity and performance, while “bad black children” classified in terms of behavior, which is really an inappropriate assessment of social docility or the lack thereof. In most cases where children of color are the minority, their actions have greater implications and the grace afforded to blacks is in short supply.
And white children can see this in the same ways black children feel and experience it. The detriment is this: if white children, who are being taught to love, play, and befriend black children do not see them properly represented in their education and judged differently in terms of discipline and social engagement, how long will it be before they too begin to engage their peers from their dominant position in society? Or worse, because they share these spaces with seeming equality, begin to disregard any notions of disparity when blacks bring them to their attention?
And because of this, our kids can’t really be friends.
Let me be quite frank with white people: being black in white spaces is often exhausting. If you don’t believe me, ask your black friend. Our passions are mistaken for anger, our issues are considered complaints, and our culture is constantly under interrogation. We really don’t want to explain why Cardi B and Beyonce (who you absolutely love, btw (side eye)) can be both sexually liberating and culturally inspirational for black women! The double-consciousness of WEB DuBois is always present the mind of black folk because white people have not done the easy but intentional work of learning all of history and how we work together to correct the racial evils of the past and present.
So how do you think my kid feels when your kids want to constantly touch his hair, tell him he looks like some random famous kid (without fail Kid President), gets upset when he doesn’t want (or can’t) ‘whip and nae nae’, and subjects him to every other thing they learned about black culture on YouTube and Disney?
And perhaps, just perhaps, these things wouldn’t happen if you were willing to teach your child the truth about race and white supremacy in this country. Perhaps if you watched ROOTS or other movies and documentaries with your child they would see the detriment of slavery and how it affects blacks today. Perhaps if you would introduce your children to books about great achievements of blacks have done to make this country great they wouldn’t have to rely on their teachers and legislators to make Black history relevant in school. And maybe, just maybe, if you and your family were the minority in black spaces more frequently than sporting events and confirmations church visits, you children could see the beauty of my child’s history, heritage, and being in a new light. Then when they become adults, like you and I, being in their presence wont be as exhausting but refreshing. They won’t have to defend Black Lives Matter, or why a black person kneeling for injustice is a righteous action. They won’t have to be the spokesperson for black people at every social gathering or have to prove their worth by their academic accolades or eloquent speech or whatever other standard set by white supremacy.
They could simply just be friends!