I am a mother. My husband and I are raising two little Black boys. Little Black boys that will become Black men. We see our boys in the entirety of their humanness; their strengths and weaknesses, their pains and their joys. However, I know that when society looks at them they are two things: Black and Male. Unfortunately, those two things combined can be dangerous. So, I must say with love and requesting empathy: Society, I need you to see my little Black boys.
There are countless studies showing Black and Brown boys and girls are perceived as less innocent and more adult than white kids. Even now people comment on how my oldest, Little Bear, looks older than three. When he is with his peers, who are varied in their racial profile, he is around the same height/weight and has about the same behavior as everyone else. Someone has even told me that their conversations with him are ‘adult like.’ Although flattered, I trust they remember that they are dealing with a child and act accordingly.
Little Bear is persistent, stubborn and believes he can argue his way out of (or into) anything. At an age where all children are still learning their emotions while moving into independence, he is a small body of big, passionate emotions. We have had our more than a few trials at daycare because of this. During one particularly challenging week, I shared with my coworkers, thru teary eyes, my fear for my son if he argues with the wrong person; the wrong principal, the wrong police officer or a trigger-happy neighbor. What happens if they see his passion and stubbornness as threatening anger?
I have seen adults look at Little Bear as a problem to be dealt with. They watched him walk in the door and looked at him as though to say, “What trouble will he cause me today?” I have seen the positive difference in his behavior and overall happiness when he is in places that see him as a child instead of a problem. People that understand he has big emotions that he didn’t know how to handle, he craves attention and needs positive reinforcement. But I know there will not always be adults that have the time and patience to SEE him. There will not always be an adult around that understands that my stubborn, passionate, articulate Black boy is just that. He’s not a threat. He’s not angry.
No matter what we teach our boys to say, how much we coach them on how to behave, or how fiercely we protect them when we are around there is an undeniable feeling that none of it matters. I was unprepared for the worry and frustration that comes with being a mother to Black and Brown children. No matter how much my white friends, colleagues, and associates may sympathize, they will never have to deal with the exhaustion that comes with carrying such a burden.
I yearn for the day that these concerns are not a part of my parenting experience. When I know that my children are seen as people before they are seen as just Black and male. A few weeks ago, while driving over a particularly distressing bridge I groaned and Little Bear asked me what was wrong. I told him I didn’t like bridges, not wanting to explain further because I didn’t want my fear to become his. Then he said to me, with a calm and wisdom beyond his years, “It’s okay, Mommy. We have to cross the bridge to get over the water, it’s not going to fall.” That is the Black boy I need you to see. The intuitive, sweet and loving little boy that we are raising to be an intuitive, sweet and loving man.
Yolanda Jenkins is a wife, mother of 2, and an introverted leader. She can sometimes be found sharing the good, the bad and the ugly on IG @thislibralife.