This Is Not Progress

A mother of a blond haired blue eyed little boy crowed to the world on her blog that we are doing something right because

Her little boy said that that his mom said he could be anything he wanted to be and so he said he wanted to be African-American.

Posted with tags like “progress” and “lessons learned”.

She also refers to her son as “innocent and sweet”.

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I didn’t comment on her post, which already had 3 five star votes, and 5 likes and 2 co-signing comments.

Because I didn’t want to ask her the questions I’m going to ask here. I don’t want to out her blog or her post either, that’s why no links.

*

She never said how old her son is. Never went any further on what exactly he meant by wanting to be African-American. Maybe she didn’t ask. I want to know. Was it like wanting to be a Firefighter or a more like a costume sort of thing “I want to be (fill in the blank) for Halloween”? Was he identifying with someone Black he’d seen on TV and wanted to be like them?

I will admit to going through a bad patch right now, which is another reason I didn’t say anything on her post, maybe this is just hitting me the wrong way: but I was and still am bothered by the whole thing. Which is why I’m writing about it. Maybe after I’m done I can get some sleep.

*

Is her son near the same age as the kid in the picture below? Will she tell her son a little bit about what its really like to be an African-American male? Has she even thought about that?

school-to-prison-pipeline

Does she understand that little Black boys don’t get to be seen as “innocent and sweet” in this country? Does she understand that she gets to not have this kind of experience:

“My aunt is one of those moms — white as me, but mom to a black man who was once young, a young black man who was stopped for jogging in his own neighborhood, a young black man for whom she would tremble a little whenever he went into the city.

Like every other parent of a young black man, my aunt knew that my cousin could be frisked, arrested, and even killed for little but his youth, gender, and skin.

White privilege is never being frightened for my son’s life, simply because of the color of his skin.” (source)

*

This is not progress.

I am pretty sure she has taught her son to not be prejudiced, has worked hard to make sure he doesn’t end up like this little girl. Maybe she has taught him all about being colorblind too. I dunno. Like I said, there wasn’t much to go on in the post.

But it felt like tada! Look what my son said! Yay! And we’re all good now. Sort of like how I felt when people started to bandy about the words “Post Racial” in juxtaposition with America’s first Black president. Tada! Look what we did! Yay! It’s all good. I have that same icky feeling, that I just can’t put my finger on.

Her son won’t ever have to show his papers. She won’t ever have to sit her son down and explain to him about THIS. A stranger won’t slap her son and call him racial slurs. She is operating and living in that bubble of white privilege and its not about race, racism or really any of that. It is about her being so excited about some sort of milestone achieved that is essentially meaningless on any notion of progress or even equality.

*

I suppose a lot of that depends on what her son meant, and I suppose we’ll never know. I’m guessing if she’d asked him, she would have put his response in the post as well. It probably never even occurred to her to ask what with all the “lessons learned” and “progress” happening at the time.

Kids want to “be” stuff they find interesting and cool. Jobs like Firefighter, Teacher, Doctor. They want to be a Princess or Batman or an Airplane or a Dinosaur. Or their favorite character from their favorite book, movie or television show.

Maybe that is part of the funny icky feeling. “African-American” isn’t a cool job or an interesting persona like a super-hero or a daughter of a queen. Or a character in a book, movie or television show. Or a thing or an animal.

I can sort of appreciate (I really can’t tho) this mom teaching her child that African-Americans are so special and so awesome that her son ends up wanting to be that special and awesome thing.

But that is just othering and emphasizing the differentness and exoticizing no matter how positive the framing. The default is still white, the norm, and everything else, is, well, everything else.

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Maybe its just me. Maybe I’m having a bad day/week or whatever. I suppose I can give that mom a few props for at least trying. Which is much more that a lot of people are not doing.
At the very least I think I can go to sleep now. My mind isn’t racing as fast, and I’ve gotten a few things off my chest. So there’s that. What do you think?
Post Racial Bliss Over? Time to Wake Up? Is this whole thing weird to you too? I remember it was “Be Like Mike” not “Be Mike”. Oh Wells.
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13 Responses to This Is Not Progress

  1. Thank you for your insightful post. Yes you are right, this mother is trying, and I agree with you she doesn’t have the full picture. She doesn’t even know that she is missing so many vital aspects that she could be teaching her children. She has no idea what it means to be a Black man in America, and she is living in her safe world were she thinks racism doesn’t exist. She thinks that she has done a good job raising a non-racist child, and she probably has progressed from the way she was raised. We have to start reeducating people, and White people in particular. This “colorblind” society we live in is still very lost and mislead, and we are trying so hard to eradicate racism, but we are not talking about race or racism in any meaningful way. If we continue to neglect the real conversations, we will not progress. We will stagnate, and we will stay right where we are.

    • Awake BW says:

      You are very welcome, Tigerlily! I went to sleep thinking ok this kid might end up being that well-intentioned white guy who makes a few faux pas, then seeks out more self-education and finally gets it right. Which is fine by me, he could be raised with an entirely different viewpoint and have no chance at all. Who knows? Maybe that mom will continue her own education to, as her son grows older and shares his experiences out in the world with her.

      I do agree, the real conversations need to happen. While I know of many Black anti-racist educators out there, I always point white people towards Tim Wise. I know that they can hear things from a white person, particularly a white male person, that for reasons we know too well, they can’t hear from us. I used to have a white education page on the first version of this blog, I am considering adding that to this space. Thank you for your thoughts!

  2. mzluvlii says:

    I couldn’t agree more! I was born and raised, and still reside in Newark, NJ. Have been here for 32 years out of 35. I know all too well about what it means to be Black. Although, I am not a male, I have 4 brothers. One in which are discriminated against constantly because one has dreads. It’s as if he is on the police radar religiously. Mind you, my brothers have NEVER been to jail or in any trouble their whole life and I am so happy about that. However, the thirst in racism is high from the Judges in our Superior courts to the police on harass patrole.
    Discrimination is at an all time high with our black brothers and that young Caucasion boy needs to be informed about that. I’m grateful that he was not raised to be prejudice! Thank GOD for his parents righteous teaching but, I wish he was able to really have 1 day to be Black and see what the truth is. Being African American is wonderful. I am proud to come from such a strong liniege of people. We are great thinkers and doers and are not easily broken. Perhaps, that is what he seeks in understanding about being Black becuase, no one and I mean no one can deal with how bad we tend to be discriminated against and still have the ability to smile, persevere and be great at all that we put our mind too. I hope that he has marveled at someone great, not rich nor NBA players but the average Joe Blow that is a leader, maybe a conquerer. Either way, I hope someone can really give him the real deal of what being African American actually means.

    • Awake BW says:

      Being African-American is amazing! We are wonderful people. I can only hope as that child grows up, he adds to his perception and comes to indeed see us as people. At the very least his mother has given him an open mind when it comes to Black people.

      It seems to me, as I keep thinking on it, that his mother was educating him in generals not specific people. I think she might have mentioned it on the post. But again, I don’t know – it really was very brief – two sentences if I remember it right.

      I think the key to any understanding between human beings is empathy. The way he is being raised, makes me think that as he grows older, there is a good chance for him to end up being able to empathize with African-Americans. I try to look towards the future in all things, and that is also another reason I felt I could not be the one to comment on her blog – I see potential for her son. And he will always be a part of her life, so maybe he will be the one to further his own education and in turn share it back with his mother and his family. That is my hope and my wish. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with me on this!

  3. jennynilsson says:

    well I think this is a very good piece of writing. Sometimes people try so hard not being racist/not hold any prejudices that they completely loose track and you pointed it put quite well. If I were you I’d consider commenting to her blog post with a link to this post. It’s good to make people think.

    • Awake BW says:

      Thank you jenny! I think that is a great idea to at least give her the link to this post. I’m still thinking on it tho. I struggle with a mental illness, so I never know where my reactions to things are coming from, so I try to be careful with my person to person interactions. All this feedback – including yours has been a HUGE help with that, so again my thanks!

  4. jennynilsson says:

    Definitely do not think it’s about you! Who wouldn’t be offended by such nonsense? I think you are doing this woman a favour if you tell your view – and you were able to explain it very well. I believe everyone needs to stop sometimes and look into our own prejudices. (Heres my own: http://swedenmiddleeast.wordpress.com/2013/05/25/two-white-women-buying-a-table-from-an-iraqi-family/)

  5. Jane says:

    I am the blogger in question that wrote about my oh-so-innocent son’s comment. (Ducking from the arrows and tomatoes) I so appreciate the dialogue that has been opened by my post and yours but am so sorry my post caused you to lose sleep. It shouldn’t. And I appreciate the thoughtful perspective you’ve provided and the comments from your readers. This IS progress. And you are correct. My son and I will never know what it is like to be a black man in America. But that doesn’t mean we don’t witness racism, projected on the ones we love. Our family is a mixed race family. The trauma I have witnessed my daughter go through in her short, 20 year old lifetime is heart wrenching. But she has come through it all a strong, independent young woman, of whom I am very proud. She paved the way for her non-white other brother (who is 10 years old) and the life he is leading is a touch easier than it was for her 10 years ago. I was born in Detroit almost 50 years ago. My parents tell stories of laying on top of me as a baby during the race riots. I remember the brouhaha over busing to curb desegregation. My own father lamented that he was sure he’d never see a black man elected president in his lifetime for fear of assassination. I’m happy to say, my father was able to witness what he never thought he would. My father was a man who was raised by a man who used the “N” word. A word that was tossed around freely some 70 years ago. A word that brings horror now.

    You were right about my 8 year old son admiring black people. He once told me he wanted to be Bill Cosby and I realized later it was because he wanted to be a comedian on TV. He admires and respects Barack Obama. He wrote about Martin Luther King (we live near Atlanta) and has pestered me to visit the Martin Luther King Jr. Center. (It’s on our summer bucket list) But he also has a poster of Michael Phelps in his room and he sings along to Coldplay and Mumford and Sons and entertains us with his dance to Psy’s Gangnam Style.

    My son’s comment was, indeed, naive. And perhaps my crowing to the world of my son’s comment was also naive. But I respectfully stand by the tag of progress. It may not be the amount of progress we would like. But the world is a better place than it was when I was born in (what seemed like at the time for my parents) a war-torn Detroit. My parents struggled to raise me to appreciate the individual, not the color of skin. I am trying to do that with my children, too, of all colors. And hopefully, it will be that much easier for them to do the same with their children.

    • Awake BW says:

      Jane! I’m so glad you commented here. The only inappropriate thing would be if we stopped talking about this. As I mentioned in my post and in comments, you are ahead of the game in many respects, you are putting forth effort, that in reality, so many in your same position don’t even bother, or ever feel the need.

      I wrote a post a little while back wondering about why we blog. I’m still working on figuring that out. But what I do feel is that it fills a need for us to reach out to others which is such a human thing. I’m glad that you have come through what you experienced with feelings you have about African-Americans and American race relations too. It could have gone sideways. I’m glad that you didn’t take my post or me reaching out to you the wrong way. I’m not used to people interested in engaging in dialogue on this issue. Maybe that was the real reason for my hesitation.

      I want to thank you for sharing your life, your experiences and for filling in some of the blanks. And I want to also let you know, that the losing sleep thing is more on me, than it is on you despite what I wrote. Not to mention I have medication if my mind races too much! You are a courageous mom, I do know that. I don’t take it lightly that you are raising an open minded kid – that is always and forever such a good thing.

      Thank you for coming here and speaking, and feel free to pick my brain, grab resources and info from me anytime. The journey your family has taken is an American journey and us touching each others lives – even if only in cyberspace – is no small thing.

      • jennynilsson says:

        I’m not American and I’m no expert, but considering all the hate pages I stumble over on internet, I think what I read here is something quite unique. I think it’s excellent that ABW wrote her blog post and excellent that Jane answered, shedding more light on her blog post. Only by dialogue we can progress, thank you both!

  6. Jane says:

    Oops. I didn’t realize you wouldn’t have the opportunity to moderate my comment before it posted. Feel free to delete it if you find it inappropriate. I won’t be offended.

  7. April says:

    Excellent and thought-provoking post by ABW and response from Jane. Thanks.

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