I watched the news with profound sadness this weekend. It seems that the world my kids are striking out in will not be the better place I hoped for when they were born. Angry white faces lit by torches seized a campus, a town, and threatened peaceful gatherings, like a church full of people supporting a prominent black speaker. And we know what came next: A white nationalist slammed his car into protesters, killing one and injuring so many others who were marching against the disgusting hatred on display in a scene that we dreamed we wouldn’t see again. Meanwhile, two Virginia State Troopers were killed in a helicopter crash as they attempted to monitor the ugly situation.
The hate speech these fear-mongers shouted, coupled with the assault rifles they carried, sent a message to every black person in America. And as we all know by now, our president, in his initial response, did not specifically call out these horrible people. He continues to insist that both sides were to blame.
It was also a scene I had to discuss with my six biracial kids and white husband. And frankly, it was all too much for my heart to take. I spent much of my weekend upset over the information, speaking with my family and wondering what this country would throw at black people next.
What I couldn’t do was spend a moment wondering about my white friends and their kids.
I say this because every time there is a racially motivated event in the United States recently, I, a black mother, am called upon to help white parents. I’m asked to help them explain racism to their kids. And here’s the thing: I need to care for myself and my own kids, to help them process it. Think of it this way: A woman has lost someone close to her and is in mourning. After the burial, she goes home and spends her time consoling others, making sure they are okay, telling them she will be just fine. She’s helping others with their grief over her loss.
The black community is that grieving woman right now and we are hurting, mourning and trying to self-care to heal. We are trying to get through the day knowing that we live in a world that supports the people who hate us more than it does our need to be treated as human equals.
I need a break. I can’t swoop in and make white parents feel better this time. The events from this weekend have been traumatic enough. Not just because my children now see in full color the hatred from people who want them killed, wiped off the face of the earth, but because our president’s vagueness and refusal to specifically condemn the white supremacists behind the events said more than a tweet ever could. How do I explain to my kids that the leader of our nation does not support black people? I don’t know.
The black community warned the public. We can expect no support from him in the days to come, a future that is already filling with more hate-filled protests.
So many black people are engaging in self-care this week, and your black friend may be one of them. Even if the black person seems fine, shows up to work, to play dates, to the back-to-school gathering, and attempts small talk, she may not be okay to talk about politics. Please, understand that the black mom you see at the park might not want your questions about how to talk about this with your kids. She is already so tired of worrying about her kids being unjustly accused and penalized more than their white peers — her sons the “thugs” and her daughters “fast” girls with the “attitude.”
You see, I, a black mother, put on a mask when I’m out in the world among my white peers. This mask may make it seem like I’m okay. But it’s a mask I wear to seem less hostile, less intimidating, less aggressive, less mean. It’s a mask that I wear often, and I don’t think I’m the only one, so don’t mistake it for acceptance of the vitriol being spouted this weekend.
In situations like this, when a person of color does the heavy lifting, things go bad fast. I’ve seen it happen. I was in an online parenting group at the time Tamir Rice was killed. The news hit the Internet and the story brought home just how fragile life is for black men and boys. A member of the group was a black woman with twin boys, and she posted about how the boys were making her think about the murder and how dangerous it may be in the world after Tamir Rice’s death.
She asked for support but instead got questions about the incident, and pushback with “all lives matter,” “We need to reserve judgment until we hear all the details,” “there has to be more to the story.” She took the comments in stride and explained how the case affected her personally. The responses got more heated, asking her to explain how an officer was supposed to respond to a scary “I-heard-he-was-big-too” boy with a real-looking gun. The black mom responds to their pushback, stating that all she wanted was support, a shoulder to cry on.
She didn’t get that, though, and she left the group. The moms in the group didn’t understand why she was so insensitive.
Instead of turning to black people for the heavy lifting after Charlottesville, try a few things to help your black friends, such as listening without responding with a personal anecdote, question, or comment about yourself. Support the friend in the way they ask. Offer to have her kids over so mom can get a bit of rest. Go over with wine and time on your hands to listen. Be that shoulder the mom in that mommy group was seeking.
One white friend of mine sent me a simple message that said, “I am here. What do you need?” I told her that I didn’t want to talk about the events of the day, and she shifted to a lighter topic to take my mind off things. It was only a few minutes of gossip, but just what I needed.
You can also share their posts on social media. Black voices have been offering ways to fight racism for quite some time, ways to teach children how to fight racism from an early age. Now more than ever, we need the help of white voices to amplify that message. Read up on the situation, and share what you find. If you still have questions about how to talk to your own kid, ask Google, after you comfort your black friend. Since Ferguson, the topic “how white parents can talk to their kids about racism” has generated several good articles written by people of color. Read and support their work.
And most important: Please give your black friends the space they so desperately need to take care of themselves and their children. Despite how you feel, her needs right now are much more important than yours.
Jonita Davis is a freelance writer based in Indiana. Find her on Twitter @surviteensntots.
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