As a mother of a black son, every day I am more and more aware of his plight in this world and it breaks my heart. I was 19 when I gave birth to my son. I had a 2 year old daughter and I wanted another girl. I didn’t want a son. I already knew the struggle of being a black female. I knew how to prepare my daughter for this world, but preparing a son? To think, even now, that God would entrust me with such a mission. I don’t think this world understands or could ever comprehend what it is to nurture, teach, correct, love and protect a black son; especially from the perspective of a black woman, the most disregarded and unprotected people on this planet. For most of us the love of our son, is our first experience with unconditional love and acceptance from a male. No wonder we are known to bend more in lenience with our sons than daughters. In most cases, we see our daughters as ourselves and our sons as a God given opportunity to create for the world something we never had. We are not just raising sons. We are raising the correction of our own fathers, our brothers, our spouses, and even old lovers. Everything that they lacked in character, we want to instill in our sons. Even so, we cannot allow our love for our sons to cause us to spoil them or withold correction or to position them in a role in our home (especially single mothers) that is not appropriate. Our sons are not the men of the house or stand-ins for their absent fathers.
The Black Female Experience vs. The Black Male Experience
My husband and I have tried to raise well mannered and respectful children. We haven’t been perfect parents, no one is. Each child has their own personality and natural bent and as parents we work with that to mold shape and teach them. Like his Dad, my son has always been a natural leader and he has the gift of influence. He has always been well liked and looked up to, even by kids older than him. Yet he has also struggled under the demand of the responsibility that comes along with being a leader and person of great influence; so, these characteristics work to his advantage and disadvantage. We had many struggles with his elementary school experience. He attended the same elementary school as I had when I was a child. In our district, the population was and is primarily Caucasian. I found out that my son’s experience as a black male would be very different than mine and my daughter’s. For one, boys in general were treated differently than the girls. They were reprimanded at every turn for the slightest infractions. And what I came to realize is that whenever there was trouble with a group of boys involved, somehow my son was the one who caught the teacher’s eye. I went and sat in his class and actually watched this happen right before my own eyes. It could be that the entire classroom was disengaged and not on task, but my child would be the first corrected. Or a couple of boys, horse playing and trying to get my son involved, and as soon as he does now the teacher notices and they all get into trouble.
Fighting to Balance the Bias
The type of parent that I am, I have a rule that I never belittle what a teacher or administrator tells me about my child. I always respect the school’s consequences as well as hold my child accountable with consequences at home. What I also do is read the teacher and the environment for myself. I listen to everything my son tells me about how he feels and I let him know how I expect him to handle himself in the circumstances and why. Then I take that information and go and observe and ask questions for myself. Every time I do this I find the truth in what my son describes and I handle the administration accordingly. Meaning, I guard my child from their biases, while still holding him accountable. We have to teach our sons respect for all authority, while also working behind the scenes as their advocates.
I began to have conversations with my son about being a young black boy. I told him he had to understand that he could not do the same things as his peers and expect the same response. I explained to him that even though he was only 9 or 10 years old at that time, the world was ready to label him. He would not be given the benefit of doubt for his actions, ever. If it could be seen as negative in any light, then he could just go ahead and expect that it would be. I explained that he would have to always be aware of his environment and how people perceive him. I was relieved when he graduated from elementary school with no labels of add, adhd, odd, or simply as a “bad kid.”I looked forward to him going into a middle school with more diversity, as far as students and teachers. I felt he had a better chance of being understood.
The middle school years came with more bumps and bruises. Again, I know what it’s like being a black teenage girl, but I was unprepared for what I would face parenting a black teenage boy. My son shot up to over 6 feet tall and adopted a perpetual teenage look of disgust and indifference. I’m hoping the look will soften just a little, in high school. He plays basketball and is pretty well known. He still carries the leadership and influence which weighs on him even more as a teenager. He’s often picked out as an example and he struggles even more with how others see him. I still have to explain to him how his demeanor and body language can be off putting and intimidating to those who don’t know him. He doesn’t feel that he should have to bend based on his environment. How do you teach a young black male these things? W