Mommy, I BlackMy 3-Year Old Declared His Blackness, So I Wrote Him A Letter
It’s the first day of Black History Month and I thought I’d start it with a letter I wrote to Sesame recently.
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I try to reserve these letters for birthdays or other special occasions, but the other day you walked in the living room and said “I Black! Mommy, you Black. And Daddy, you Black too.” I’m not sure what prompted this revelation because up until now you’ve just said you’re brown. I hope you mentioned it because we’ve been reading books about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the Greensboro sit-ins, and the Underground Railroad recently. I hope you didn’t make this declaration because someone else brought it to your attention in a bad way. Based on the pride in your voice when you said it, I think it’s safe to assume that it’s the former.
I’ll admit that my heart swelled with pride when you so matter of factly declared your blackness. It made me proud of the job I’m doing as your mother. I hope you didn’t notice the wary glance I gave your dad after your declaration. Like I said my heart was full of pride in that moment, but my brain started to worry, so instead of probing you too much I saved it for this letter. A letter you can read when you’re 13 or the time is right.
Sesame, I’m not sure if you noticed, but mommy and daddy work really hard to make sure you’re exposed to Black history beyond slavery or what they’ll likely teach you in school. You may have noticed that one section of your bookshelf is only for this purpose. We also work hard to expose you to people who don’t look like you. It’s why we sent you to as diverse a preschool we could find that still worked with our educational views.
Your “diverse” preschool is also why I worry though. Do you remember mommy reading you the story of Ruby Bridges the summer before preschool started? I read it to you, so that just in case some of the kids didn’t want to play with you because you’re Black that you’d know you weren’t alone and that you are still important. You see not every one will like the fact that you’re Black. Heck, there will even be other Black people who will express disdain about our culture. It’s why mommy still tenses up whenever people express surprises at the range of your vocabulary and articulation. I know it won’t be long before someone comments about your peanut butter complexion and curly hair. They will do this in a tone that implies that your articulation, skin complexion, and hair texture make you a “safe” Black person.
Pretty soon people will assume you’re older than your white classmates. It won’t matter that you are all the same height. Mommy has already had to correct people for referring to you as a “little man.” You’re barely 4 years old and instead of seeing you as a big boy, like you want to be called, they see you as a man. You may overhear them asking about the “paws on you” in regards to your “large” hands and feet, and mention how you’re going to be a NBA or NFL player someday. They may hear you reciting the lyrics to Kanye West’s “Good Morning,” and assume that you want to be a rapper one day. If you’re eavesdropping, you will hear mommy’s heavy sigh as I tell them that actually you want to be a dentist someday and you’re a fan of Adele too.
You may be accused of being overly aggressive when you roughhouse like your white peers. You may wonder why mommy and daddy won’t let you play with toy guns outside like your friends. You may even find yourself one day being detained while walking down a neighborhood street because you “fit a description.” Mommy and daddy will have to talk to you about studies that explain that white female teachers are often afraid of Black boys as young as eight. We will have to share with you the tragic death of Tamar Rice, a black boy who was playing with a toy gun in a park and ended up dead at the hands of law enforcement. We will have to share with you the reality of Trayvon Martin, a Black teenager killed by a neighborhood watchman because he wore a hoodie and looked suspicious.
By the time these things happen, I hope that unlike mommy you will not accept backhanded compliments, but instead call out the offense. When I tell you to wear a button-up instead of a hoodie to the store, I hope that you look at me and say “Mama, Imma let you finish, but they killed MLK in a suit.” When everyone else focuses on MLK Jr and Rosa Parks for their Black History Month presentations, I hope you cover Malcolm X and Claudette Colvin. I hope that that you will remind your classmates and teachers that even though Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant were really talented, Black people are so much more than athletes and entertainers. You will spout facts from 40 Million Dollar Slaves and write essays comparing and contrasting the slave market to professional sports and the music business.
More than anything, I hope when these things happen you remember the pride you had in your voice when you first discovered your blackness. I hope that we will have raised you to be so unapologetic in your blackness that none of it will matter. And if you do not remember or you are struggling to see the pride in being Black, I will hand you this letter. I will remind you of this moment because that’s what mothers do. It’s why I’m your mother…
Update: This post earned me a spot in the Atlanta Listen To Your Mother cast as well as a 2016 Voices of the Year Award from BlogHer. Even bigger than those things, it inspired me to dedicate myself to teaching my son about Black History all year long. Click the picture below and join me on that journey.