Parenting In the Time of Ferguson
WORDS: Satya Nelms
Three mothers reflect on the unique challenges of raising children of color today.
Raising a child is no easy task. As a parent you are constantly worried about the endless number of variables your child is faced with each day. When they are infants, every sniffle is a cause for concern and as they get older, you worry about skinned knees, hurt feelings, exposing them to the proper influences, their education… the list goes on and on. These are worries that parents accept as part of the job description, but for as long as there have been children of color in this country, the parents of those children have had a whole other host of concerns to bear on top of the usual parental woes.
Iris Jacob, a 30-year-old consultant from Washington, D.C., shares her fears as a mother of a 3-year-old little girl with another daughter on the way.
“Every day I get scared for their safety,” she says. “I think about what the world has in store for little black girls, how they are treated, and how they’re valued. I know what it has been like for me to grow up in this country as a black woman. Not only balancing the police state and the persecution from white supremacy, but the added sexualizing and disregard for black women. Our thoughts, concerns, health, hearts, bodies, our full selves are completely ignored by the majority of our society. Laws, education, the medical industry, the prison-industrial complex pay no attention to our unique experiences.
"We are living in a time when mothers of black children have to worry about their kids walking home from a convenience store in their own neighborhood. They have to worry about their children sitting in a car with friends, listening to music. They have to worry that even with both hands raised above their heads, showing no imminent threat, their children will still be shot and killed right in front of their own homes.
"How do you raise your child with that knowledge? What kinds of lessons do you impart to them in light of this reality?"
Lina Ragin, 31-year-old educator from Bronx, NY and mother of a son and a daughter ages 4 and 8 respectively, thinks it is imperative children of color know their rights.
“I think the lesson that will be most instrumental is knowing their rights as a citizen of this country,” Ragin says. “I think too many children of color do not know pertinent information when dealing with the authority figures in this country and what their own rights as citizens are.
"There is a heightened awareness of self that many children of color have, and some would argue must have, growing up in our society. That awareness means knowing that the color of their skin, the clothes they choose to wear, and the way that they speak may deem them threatening to those around them."
Makeda Redmond, 33-year-old full-time graduate student from Media, PA, tempers those messages by reinforcing positive messages with both of her boys, who are 7 and 15 years old.
“I want them to know black is beautiful and don't ever forget it,” says Redmond. "I want them to always have confidence in themselves no matter the situation. I want them to be aware that everyone is not accepting and will treat you differently based on skin color, but that has nothing to do with them as a person."
It’s a delicate balance that parents must strike: being honest with their children about the existence of racism both systemic and individual, while making sure that their child is not afraid to be who they are. It’s being realistic about the dangers they face, while making sure they have the space to grow.
How do you strike the balance with your children? What lessons do you teach them? Tell us your stories in the comments section.