Last month, Angie Bergeson, (mom of a son; head of school, The IDEAL School of Manhattan), and Gina Parker-Collins(mom of a son; founder & independent school advisor, RIISE) embarked on a journey that we hope you will continue to join us on as we share our common goal for social justice and explore our different experiences in raising boys , one white, one black attending independent schools.
It all started with Trayvon and the verdict. It didn’t end there for Trayvon’s mother and countless others, nor did it end there for us. Not talking about it does not make it go away. We hope to bring attention, support, and change to how differently our society sees our boys.
Here’s the second leg of our journey, a co-blog – Fears For Our Sons
Fears For My Son – Angie Bergeson
There is no manual to parenting because each child and family is unique. We can only do our best to raise healthy, happy, and kind children. I always fear that I could do more, be better, know more about ways to be an effective and loving parent.
I recognize that while these fears are likely universal of all parents everywhere, there are fears held in the hearts of parents of black sons that I cannot begin to comprehend. Because my fears – and hopes and dreams- are based on my actions and interactions with my children from our white positionality. This difference is evidenced in the Trayvon Martin case and all the thousands of heart-wrenching hate crimes and race-related incidents that occur in this country each year that target and profile young black men. This does not even include all the micro- and macro- aggressions black boys face each and every day that take a toll on their emotional and physical well-being.
I don’t fear for my son in the same way at all and am deeply disturbed thinking about how it must feel sending a black boy out into this dangerous and often racist world! I do fear, however, that my white son may suffer effects of discrimination that do not allow him to actualize his own human potential. How do I articulate to my white son that for no reason whatsoever, he has a privilege that is not shared by all. And further, If he walks in a world that shows him he is privileged, what are the lasting emotional effects. If he has multicultural friends and he recognizes that they are more at risk of being profiled or targets of hate, how will that make him feel? Can I strike the right balance in showing my son that he needs to stand up when he sees injustice- but more specifically that he needs to stand up with his friends and not stand up for them. What does it mean to be a young white man who lives a life of purpose and principle?
I fear it will be impossible to raise him as a conscious young man without having him feel white shame and guilt. How do I help him understand his white privilege without shaming him? I fear he will internalize the aggressions he sees directed toward others and try to “prove” he is not that “white guy” by being uncomfortable with his whiteness, in his own skin. White man’s guilt can be difficult to understand. I fear that I will find it difficult to raise my son to be a “strong white man.” I can’t even verbalize those words without feeling like they promote white supremacy, rather than what a good white man should strive to be in this world. I fear that my guilt and inability to navigate these swirling emotions around these race-related mental loops will be carried over to his own emotional arena.
Doing the best we can, despite our fears! Parents can agree on this point regardless of differences. I do not pretend to know exactly what to say in ANY parental moment. However, as white parents we can break stereotypes when we see them in any context. We can also create a space for conversation in our homes and recognize that silence is dangerous. We have to be diligent in our efforts to help our sons grow into strong white men who are conscious of their positionality, are accountable for their actions and deeds, and are determined to change behaviors that contribute to, or support, oppression. While I have fears for my son, I am more hopeful for his future than fearful. Even though we have a long way to go as a society, we have made great strides. Many people are committed to continue this long march toward freedom and justice together. I want my son to do his part in that march. And, I want to do mine as his mother.
Fears For My Son – Gina Parker Collins
As I contemplate my fears for my son, they are not that he isn’t capable of achieving success, or continuing to be compassionate, or becoming a man of character. These are not my fears at all. Unfortunately, my fears hit me in very practical, probable, and universal ways. Without hesitation, I know my fears are shared by many black mothers and fathers. Here they are in narrative form:
He’s a lean machine, quite literally. I’m sure my son burns a fair amount of calories even when he’s sitting still. A matter of fact, it’s tough for him to sit still. This is the case for most boys. It’s improved with age, the busyness of him, this need to be in motion.
On the way to PoCC, I had the shear pleasure of hearing his Spanish teacher, Senora Dimino, recount with glee my son’s interaction with a song that rehearsed the days of the week in Spanish. The rhythm took hold – first a tapping of the foot, then a lifting of the knee, than a lifting of the shoulders, now he’s out of his seat, rockin’ it! Most of his classmates didn’t make an effort to go for it like he did. After a little prompting he resumed his seat. I could see the whole thing so vividly! I couldn’t stop smiling.
How he moves in space and time, and people’s interpretations of this is a fear I must confront and attack from three different directions…
I. Lacks self- control. Displays behavioral issues. All too often these labels find their way to boys of color, particularly black boys. I fear them. Thank goodness my son’s teacher recognized his cultural reference to the class instruction. This recognition was later edified for me by the the first PoCC workshop I attended – Elevating the Black Male, facilitated by Omékongo Dibinga- Director of UPstander International. He noted that race and culture have an enduring influence over teaching and learning. By the end of the session he clearly identified school/classroom behaviors, practices, and processes that sustain racial disparities for young black males, one of which was motion. During the presentation, I zeroed in on research shared below.
African American Cultural Patterns (Wade Boykin)
- preference for kinesthetic activities that emphasize
- movement, rhythm, music, and dance, which are
- considered central to psychological health
- a need to move, to be involved, to be physically active
- expresses self well non-verbally
Will my son encounter teachers that don’t understand or acknowledge these cultural patterns?
II. A natural born athlete, a great dancer. He is instantly socialized for his physical attributes, and taken advantage of for it. This is a fear. My son does run like the wind, loves basketball, he’s funny, and he’s a fairly good dancer with a killer smile. He is also smart, deeply thoughtful and caring, one heck of a negotiator, and loves to ride horses. I fear he will be encouraged to hyper-focus on sports and be the entertainer among his peers. I fear that these stereotypes will attempt to override other attributes that could land him on a debate team, or from creating a service learning app.
- Courtesy of UPstander International
III. Finally, my greatest fear of all is that something as simple as choosing a left over a right turn could get him suspended, put behind bars, or worse.
Our last co-blog entry was entitled Dreams for Our Sons.