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Learning and trying to be kind and living my life as fully as I can stand it.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

On parenting and privilege

In Medford, Massachusetts last month I sat on the grass with three of my college roommates surrounded by our husbands and fathers and kids laughing and talking about marriage and parenthood and drinking and life. We were dying, making faces and cracking up about stupid shit and real shit. Feeling so good to be together. At one point my friend made an almost offhand comment about her teenage son and some random conversation or experience he had at the mostly-white private school he attended. Part of the story was her telling him Oh you can't do that or act like that or be that because you are a brown-skinned boy. It didn't stop the conversation for long. I don't remember many of the details but none of it involved guns or violence or acting out--it was something small and insignificant and everyday she was talking about, some regular kid behavior. The straight-forward, accepted, acknowledge reality for everyone in that circle but me was that at some point they would or had begun teaching their brown-skinned sons how to try to keep themselves safe in a world where they are never safe. Of note, not that it should matter, his brown-skinned older sister so far has a full ride to Bryn Mar but doesn't want to go because it's all women. His mother has a Masters in Education. His father works in local politics.

Yesterday after the murder of Alton Stirling in Baton Rouge one of my friends posted the story of the first time he experienced racism. This is what Antoine Kinch wrote:

Racism has a lasting effect. It's not easily solved, fixed or "gotten over". After the first time you experience something racist it breaks you down. I remember for me it was when I was about 11 years old. In Jericho, Long Island my friends and I were playing basketball at a park (J-3) and some white kids were yelling "Nigger, nigger, nigger" from their window.
We rang the doorbell. Told the lady that answered what happened and she started yelling at her kids and made them apologize to us. Maybe she even spanked them. We knew they learned the word from somewhere. But that night I came home and told my mom and I cried. Why did they treat us like that? We were just kids playing basketball in the park.
And here I am at 38 with a 16 year old of my own and I still remember the trauma that I felt that day. It stays with you and comes back like an open wound whenever you hear news like that of ‪#‎AltonSterling‬. To quote President Obama when speaking of ‪#‎TrayvonMartin‬: "It could have been me".

My friend Geri Charles wrote this:
Growing up in Somerville, MA getting spat on and called the N word on my way to and from school was a daily occurrence... Riding public transportation was the scariest of it all... My concern for today is not the N word but those who hold power in government, schools and in the judicial system that enacts polices to keep us locked up, uneducated, poor, and disenfranchised.

My friend Kevin Small wrote this:
 I just turned 14 and was 3 weeks into my stay at my new, boarding high school. Several new friends all black and latino from NYC, and I were ballin' at the gym. Some white students joined us. My friends and I started doing tricks, making goofy passes and, y'know, just having some fun. One of the white kids, grabbed the ball and growled, "we're not playing that nigger sh*t here!" I was stunned. I heard the word nigger all the time on the block or just around, but not like that. It felt like someone tossed a bucket of hot coals in my face. We stopped playing and left. It is said that there are no rites of passage for Americans, however, there are several for black Americans: Being called a nigger, getting harassed by a cop, making it to the age of 25... Black people are at a boiling point.

These are educated, strong, beautiful, connected, athletic, wise, intelligent people in their 30's. None of those details should matter but I know they do to many people. And these are stories about WORDS. Not physical threats. Not actual murder. Just stories about the hurtful, ugly, detestable things that children said to them when they were children. Just. I sat in Peets in tears, sick to my stomach, confused and raw to find myself out in public where life was going on as usual as I read about these stories forever burned into people's life story maps. If if feels that way to read it, two or three decades later, what does it feel like to live that? And that's just the first time. And these people are all alive to talk about it. Imaging any child being scared and stunned and thrown out of one world, the one we all like to think we lived in as innocent children and the world we all like to think and hope our own children live in for as long as possible, where you can live and play and learn into the real world where you are not just told but shown that it is not ok to be you. Not safe. Not just not safe but actively, violently, murderously dangerous. 

I am afraid to go protest in the streets when that happens because I am a mother of four small children and I don't want anything to happen to me. I can't even fathom taking them into that environment, putting them at risk. But maybe that's the realest, truest thing I or many of us can do right now--step into that fear, that risk of being hurt or killed by either the police who end up quieting the protest or by the angry, afraid, sick-to-death people who right now have nothing to do but stand there alone in their very real fear wondering what in the hell there is left to do to get something to happen to make something be different. To help them be safe. To help them feel like the rest of us, the ones who don't have to worry about any of it, give a shit about the fact that if you are brown or black skinned in this country you don't get to stay home and stay out of danger. Can I lend my privilege? My safety? Can I share it? Is it time to find a way to give it away? Would I if I could? Would any of us?

There are conversations that need to be had.
Books that need to be read.
Pages and people that need to be added to your Facebook feed.
Actions that need to be taken.
Creativity and bravery and conviction that needs to be found and used and shared.

One conversation: Ask your HR department what services and support they are offering to people of color who are suffering real PTSD as they try to show up to work in the wake of two black men being murdered by police within a 24 hour period? http://fortune.com/2016/07/07/police-shootings-black-employers/

Some books:
Justice in America: the separate realities of blacks and whites (Mark Peffley)
The New Jim Crow (Michelle Alexander)

Some Facebook pages:
Showing Up for Racial Justice
Southern Poverty Law Center

Some places to give money:

This post is rough and far from perfect. It never will be perfect and it could always be better. Please have this conversation with me, especially my friends and family who feel mad or threatened or disbelieving at anything that I have put down here. We can do better and we need to do better. If it were me on either of those videos being shot and killed by police, would you react differently? If so, why? Let's start there.

I wrote this because I know there are people I love, good-hearted, educated people, who do not see these stories on their news feeds. People who don't know what to do. People who do not believe that this is a real problem. Good people who know me and love me and try hard to make a difference in the world. We are the ones who need to work to change this.


  1. Powerful Meghan. Thank you for opening my eyes to some terrible sickening realities in this world that are just to ugly to ignore.

  2. A straight talking book from a dad to his 14 yr old Afro- Amer. son is "Between the World and Me". Is by Ta'Nahisi Coates. Prize-winning, revealing & chilling.A must read.
    Thanks for yr post Megan!