By JASMINE BANKS
March starts the roll toward “Birthday Season” in our home—when we have a born day celebration every month in our family up until November. My middle daughter is turning five and my youngest will be four. We love making a big deal about birthdays and we typically celebrate them in style. This year, however, a long dark shadow is cast over the birthday of my oldest child, Isaiah. His 2015 birthday and those in the years to come will be markedly different. That’s because Isaiah will begin preparing for manhood—at the ripe old age of eight.
I’m not insane; hear me out. My son is Black. Sure he is transracial and as family, we celebrate the diversity and nuance of our racial and ethnic identities, but to the world Isaiah is Black. And being Black and entering puberty can have devastating consequences for brown boys. Just last year, the American Psychological Association published their findings on the dehumanization of Blacks, highlighting something minorities and allies already know: “Black boys as young as 10 may not be viewed in the same light of childhood innocence as their white peers.” In other words, when we should be celebrating Isaiah’s last years of baby fat melting off and anticipating hormonal acne, instead we’re facing the anxiety of the discrimination and racism he’ll face due to the color of his skin.
You see, Black and Brown boys (and girls) in the United States do not enjoy the benefit of the doubt and embrace afforded to other groups. When Isaiah interacts with his peers, he likely will be judged based on the color of his skin rather than the content of his character, and assumptions will fly: when he is little boy boisterous, he will be pegged as loud and unruly; when he is playing to win, he will be pegged as aggressive; when he is assertive, he’ll be considered combative. He will be all of these things and none of these things, all at once.
I’ve participated in the emotional acrobatics that many mothers to Black and Brown children participate in. I’ve even reasoned, “Well… he has light skin; maybe it won’t be that bad.” But history shows that it can and will be that bad; brown, after all, is still brown, and the lighter hue doesn’t change the perception of those who stand at the ready to judge kids who don’t look like them. And so I worry: I insist he go above and beyond to be respectful and kind and teach him the importance of treating others well, hoping that this will make a difference. I’m loathe to admit I’ve wanted to lean into respectability politics. “If I can just raise him well, it won’t be bad.” Often when we feel powerless, we will attempt whatever irrational mental gymnastics to counteract our reality. But our reality is this: it doesn’t matter to whom he was born, how much money he has, how well he behaves, or how smart he is. My child will still be treated like a suspicious man.I want to worry about motherhood issues that have nothing to do with race. Click To Tweet
This growing anxiety isn’t fair. I want to worry about motherhood issues that have nothing to do with race. I want to fight with him about putting away his shoes and tell him, “No, you cannot play your Gameboy, do you homework!” Society demands my child wholesale hand over his innocence with every passing year and robs me of motherhood moments I treasure—that I have a right to.
As each birthday we celebrate inches closer to age 10, I struggle to determine how to best prepare my son for a coming of age that is coming too soon. Can my Black son have his innocence back?
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.