I Was ‘Black While Mothering’ Today…


blackmother

By Jenn Jackson

My husband and I have three gorgeous children. Our oldest will be six next month. Our youngest just arrived last month. We were married in 2006 after dating for three years. We are college sweethearts. Next spring, we will celebrate our eighth wedding anniversary. And, if you did the math, that means that all of our children were born in wedlock. They were planned. They were and are wanted. They are the best things God has ever blessed us with. Ever.

But, everyday, living in Orange County, California, I am reminded that my story, though beautiful and non-unique, will never be what is expected or assumed of me. Every side eye I get, every judgmental stare shames me. Yes, shame works that way. It can be evoked even from people who have nothing to be ashamed of. Why? Well, because I’m black. It’s just that simple. Being black while (insert most things) can result in shame, personal harm, or even death. For me, it’s usually shame. And, sadly, it has become another one of those ‘things’ I have normalized.

jenn-m-jackson-wedding-day

From the picture above, you may notice that I am taller than my husband. At six feet four inches tall, I am taller than most people. He and I started as best friends and never thought of dating until our love smacked us each in our respective craniums. Me being taller than him has never been an issue mainly because he is the foinest thing I have ever seen on two legs. I like to think he thinks the same thing about me. But, beyond that, my husband is a brilliant, understated man. He endures my insane ways and manages to do it with a genuine smile. And, he is the absolute best father I could have ever wanted for my children. Everyday he tries to improve himself and our household. We each take our responsibility as parents incredibly seriously. Sometimes too seriously. But, our kids are worth it to us.

We both grew up without our fathers in the household. For different reasons and circumstances, we both struggled for years with having positive relationships with them. And, for me, I have had a long bumpy road with my parents. I am proud to say that, today, all is well for both of us.

But, because we haven’t had the picturesque life everyone hopes for, we have a deep desire to be the best parents possible to our children. We have an incredible appreciation for our mothers (and other single mothers out there) because they worked so hard to make us who we are today. Our parental tenets are our love letters to each other everyday.

So, one would think everything is perfect behind this picket fence? Right? It would be safe to assume that since we did everything the “right” or “conventional” way, we never deal with marginalization or judgment. Right? Wrong. We endure it everyday. Even simple daily chores are intimidating and even scary at times.

Orange County is predominantly white. It has the highest population of Republicans in the country. And, blacks are a tiny minority here. My husband grew up here, just about five minutes from where we bought our home. The city of Orange, in the northern part of the county, is right next to Anaheim – known for its hockey and baseball teams. It is fair to say we are a long way from Kansas (in some alternate universe where Kansas is a utopian society of hipster black folks like us). We knew all this when we chose to put our roots down here. We wanted our kids in good schools and safe neighborhoods. But, we never considered the racialized byproducts of that lifestyle. And, we never thought about what it would be like to be the only black family in our neighborhood.

What’s it like for my family at the local park? Well, the kids always have fun. I usually stroll up to a park filled with children. They are usually white and Asian. And, while all of the parents speak to one another, they rarely speak to me. After living here for almost six years and visiting the park over 100 times, I can count on one hand the number of times someone spoke with me jovially at the park. And, I can count on two hands the number of times other children did the same with my children.

Whenever I take the children to the park alone, without my husband, groups of women never return my glance or smile. Instead, they look at me once and return to their conversation. I have had people glance at my ring finger hoping to disprove their core thesis developed in their mind about me. When they see my gorgeous wedding set, I see the relief flow over their furrowed eyebrows and wrinkled foreheads. “Oh, so she isn’t one of the ‘them’, ” I imagine them reciting in their minds.

But, when I’m pregnant, I don’t wear my wedding set. It’s then that I become the welfare mom. I become the uneducated moocher sex-machine only good for procreation. The furrows and wrinkles don’t go away. Instead, they become scowls and whispers. I’ve even had an older white male shake his head at me in disapproval. Truthfully, we aren’t even in the nicest part of Orange County. That part is reserved for millionaires and would-be reality TV stars. So, the judgment seems a little obtuse. But, it permeates nonetheless.

The weirdest thing about our trips to the park (which is a three minute walk from our front door) is the reaction to my children from the other kids. And, maybe I shouldn’t say children. My oldest son is extremely gregarious and people – of all races – are drawn to him. My daughter, on the other hand, is a very tall two year-old who doesn’t have a complete command of the English language yet (as would be expected of her cohort). She is playful, smart, and sweet. And, though she is taller than most two year-olds, we relegate her to the same structure as other kids her age.

Usually, when we arrive, the structure is just busting with 2 to 5 year-olds. On the slides, the stairs, they’re everywhere. But, within about ten minutes of my daughter climbing on, the structure seems to clear out. The eyes from other parents and children are impossible to miss. Its like they are all wondering, “Is she going to play here? Where does she live?” Sometimes I just want to scream, “We are from here too. We live right there. Look, you can see our house. It has four bedrooms. We have two cars. We have good jobs and 401ks. I went to USC for goodness sake!” But, I never say that. I just try to have tunnel vision, staring at my kids to keep the eyes out of my line of sight.

Click here to read the rest of this story on WaterCoolerConvos.com.

Ladies, what are your thoughts? Have you ever experienced unwanted scrutiny or rejection while out with your children?

Leila

About Leila

Leila is the founding editor of Baby and Blog. She splits her time between editing hair and culture site, Black Girl with Long Hair, whipping up butters at BGLH Marketplace, and writing here. She adores her husband and two kids, her parents and her friends. But she hates Chicago weather although she is slowly coming to peace with it...


  • LibraryLady

    I encourage you to just keep on keeping on and stay positive. I understand how you feel. I grew up in a predominantly White area, and have experienced White students being in awe around smart Black students and Black students that lived in nice homes. They didn’t know that existed, because all they knew of Black culture was what they saw on TV. They didn’t have first hand experience. You can’t really blame them, to a degree. Not the children.

    It kind of reminds me of when I was around six or seven, I met a new girl in my neighborhood who was mixed with Black and White. She was outside with her mother who was White, and I was just in awe that her mother was a different color than her. I asked, “That’s your mother?” “Really?” I had never seen a mixed couple before, and I was intrigued. Well, her mother got an attitude with me, and I can’t remember what she said, I just remember the attitude in her face and her responding for her daughter with snippy words. But, I couldn’t help that I was a kid, and it was my first time seeing that, and I was processing that new information out loud. But, for that mother, I’m sure she was exasperated by other people’s perceptions of her being in an interracial marriage with a biracial child.

    As I think back to that, it makes me think of White people who haven’t really experienced being around Black people. They might be in awe of witnessing something different than what they thought was the norm. That doesn’t make them racist or anything, it just might be something new that they haven’t seen before. I can accept that with children, but with adults, there really isn’t much of an excuse.

    And, I totally relate with the wedding ring. When I’m out with my children, I make sure to have it on, because honestly I do feel self-conscious about people thinking I have these four kids out of wedlock. My husband is like, “Why do you care what complete strangers think?” And, I don’t have a real answer for that, except that I don’t want people to think that I had all these kids out of wedlock. End of story. That might be wrong thinking, but it’s how I feel.

    Thumb up Thumb down 0

  • Baby and Blog

    This is an interesting piece. I’m here in Chicago, and Midwesterners tend to be really friendly and down to earth (for the most part), so I haven’t experienced rejection or snobbiness from other white/Asian moms.

    What does worry me though are stereotypes related to my son. I’ve had well-meaning white parents talk “slang” with him. Or call him a flirt when he’s just being friendly. I want him to be around people who see him for who he is, instead of seeing that he’s a black kid with a fro, and filling in the blanks with stereotypes. But, as I mentioned, these parents aren’t being malicious or mean when they do this. Just acting according to habit, I guess.

    I live in an upper-middle class majority white neighborhood here in Chicago, and hubby and I are actually planning to move to a working class black/Mexican neighborhood in a couple months. We were becoming concerned that Noah is always the only black kid in the room, and wanted him to be around more children of color. We’ll see how it goes…

    Thumb up Thumb down 0

  • jinc

    The name of the game is alienation. To make you feel so insignificant and out of place that you leave the path /feel uncomfortable and out of place.

    You pay your taxes like everyone there. You have every right to the resources in your community. Your kids belong in that park… don’t let your worries cloud the fun they’re supposed to be having.

    I worry that they will pick up on your paranoia (so to speak) and they’ll carry the same through their lives. Your babies deserve to feel free and unafraid wherever they go.

    Personally I enjoy it when people take me for a country bumpkin or something other than what I am professionally and personally . cracks me up.

    And no, you don’t owe anybody an explanation by the jewellery you wear or outfits you don. Afterall, what have they done to deserve the right to know you? An eloquent, educated, strong mommy – regardless of skin colour. Those things alone are plenty to be proud of.

    Thumb up Thumb down 0

  • tristan

    I am sorry I don’t care how nice the neighborhood, no town is worth my childrens self esteem or yours for that matter. I would move. There are so many nice ethnically mixed neighborhoods in California. It is just going to get worse when they have to go to school.

    Thumb up Thumb down 0

    • jinc

      But Tristan, if your work, gym or college had difficult /racist types, would you quit your job? Unsubscribe from the gym? Drop out of your course?

      The solution is not to run and hide,but to recognise the game for what it is.

      Designed to manipulate us “back to where we came from” (wherever that apparently is) through intimidation, abuse, discrimination etc… when where we choose to be is here, and when we want to be there is now – not when anybody else sees fit

      Thumb up Thumb down 0

  • http://Dreamschooled.wordpress.com Kyja

    I’m on the side of go where your people are, too. To me that doesn’t mean exclusion from the valuable white people stuff, it means valuing what is in a community that works for people like me. Good schools are not so good when they regard your child as a problem to be solved or a sidenote and beautiful parks are not so good when they are not places for kids to have unbridled fun! That said, I live in Asheville, NC so I haven’t exactly followed my own advice. By the way, any of y’all wanna move here? 😉

    Thumb up Thumb down 0

  • Jody

    I saw your post and it resonated with me as a bi-racial woman (I’m a Japanese & Polish Canadian). Any visible minority person who looks different from the majority of people around them can feel isolated & especially if others seem to be judging you or even shunning you. I don’t know if this would work for you but, from my experience, maybe you could reach out to them, start up a casual conversation, let people get to know the friendly, spirited, educated, person that you are. Try to break through those walls and maybe they will open up too. It is ridiculous that people should treat you in any way less than respectfully but maybe somehow you can enlighten them and welcome them into the 21st century of a globalized world with your own kindness. You shouldn’t have to go out of your way to do this, but if you’re planning on staying in your neighbourhood, then it might be worth a try. Befriend them…take the first step…there’s got to be some open, nice people amongst the judgers and gossipers. If not, bring your friends and hang out with friendly people who appreciate your company. 🙂

    Thumb up Thumb down 0

  • Joanne Cohoon

    It’s like your playground is controlled by a gang of horrid people. The people you described do not deserve your friendship.

    Thumb up Thumb down 0

  • Alana

    My family moved to Orange County (Westminster) from Western New York two years ago, and I loved the diversity compared to my 99.8% white farm town. However, I noticed exactly what you said, very few black people. My desire is for my children to have friends from all races, cultures, religions, etc; I would definitely talk to you at the park, and my kids would play with your kids, but how do I approach developing a deeper relationship without going to the opposite spectrum of racism and saying ‘I want you to have black friends.’ ? It is a touchy subject, but if we can’t talk openly about it, it won’t ever change. I very much appreciate your writing, and revelation, and as a white mom I am sorry for the behavior of those who want to and do judge you. Please don’t lose hope that there are still neighbors who just see people as people.

    Thumb up Thumb down 0

    • http://www.danettejoywalker.com Danette

      Alana,
      Simply say HELLO. Not to oversimplify things, but diversity is important to me too (as a Black woman married to and Argentine man with biracial children) and I am just social by nature. When I look around at all of my friends, black, white, asian, white south african, brazilian, russian and japanese (these are good friends), I realize that it all started with one word….HELLO! 😉

      Thumb up Thumb down 0

  • Nan, now a nanna

    I’m listening to tristin and jinc. Our children are being formed, they do not have the defenses that we as adults do. The work, and risk, of breaking down barriers belongs to the adults. It is important to watch carefully what the cost is in our children. I am moving into the next era — my six children are all young adults now. I am a white woman with twin adopted black daughters. I did the best I could to raise all my children in racially healthy ways, but then our children have to make the world work for themselves. My black daughters have noted that though I could teach, I did not/could not model for them how to respond to racial prejudice, and they have floundered. Jody had some interesting suggestions of how to reach out. I do not think most people are “horrid”, just lacking good opportunities to face their own judgmental attitudes and being invited, lovingly, to consider other people as first of all people, not “different”. Someone has to show them — do it if you can afford the energy it takes, and don’t if you can’t. I am hugely encouraged to hear this conversation and this blog. You all are so asking good questions and living courageously. Please don’t read that as because many of you are black, but because you are young! At 54, I sometimes feel sad for the lack of young women who are living today my values — choosing to have a large, loving family, breastfeeding, training, teaching, feeding their souls, minds, and little bodies, loving our husbands and God as best we can, messing up and keeping going. And now I look back and am SO grateful that I made the choices I did. My children are huge sources of love for each other. Let me also say, last year was our first empty nest year, and it was WONDERFUL! I had no idea, not a clue all those 31 years, that parenting was as difficult as it was, until the break came. Now I wish I had been more gentle and gracious with myself, so that is my wish for all you wonderful young, vivacious, courageous women!

    Thumb up Thumb down 0

  • Brande Richmond

    Wow. So its not just me. I tried talking to my husband about this but I don’t think he really understood me. We live in a predominately caucasian neighborhood in Wisconsin. I too always make sure that I’m wearing my ring and its visible when I go out because of the perceptions that people have. We have a one year old son but, the thing that makes it hardest(for me) is that we are also taking care of his goddaughter who’s 6 years old. Her bio-dad has never been apart of the picture so my husband is the only dad she knows and her mom is “getting herself together” whatever that is suppose to mean. Its especially hard for me because its not my intention to make her separate or different but I always seem to find myself explaining who she is so people are not thinking I was just some lucy goosey teenager who’s done nothing with her life but produce babies. Because of course she doesn’t look like us so when people see us they always just assume that my husband isn’t her father but that I’m the mother. I’m a stay at home mom and I don’t go out with the kids alone unless I absolutely have to(crazy, I know) but, I just cant stand the looks, the stares, and the assumptions. I know that ultimately what other people think shouldn’t bother me but it does. At the school we have her in she’s one of a handful of black students. When I take my son to reading groups and other activities at our local library we are the only black family there. The other moms are very unwelcoming and I know its because of the image of “black women” that most of the world has. I to want to just scream out “No I am not a welfare single mom from the hood! I am a woman married to the father of my child who works very hard to take care of his family, we live right across the street for Christ sakes!

    Thumb up Thumb down 0

  • http://www.danettejoywalker.com Danette

    I know that this can be extremely troubling, especially when children are involved, but I urge you to ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’. Strike up a conversation with those other mothers, BE with your daughter as she plays on the playground and kindly chat with the other children that are around “oh those are cute sparkly shoes” with a smile. You do not have to move, you do not have to feel uncomfortable, you just have to BE YOURSELF (which to me seems like a very caring, beautiful, friendly person). I always tell my children ‘you have the power, don’t let anyone change who you REALLY are’, which is not this. Go to the playground, enjoy your family, make some friends and keep on smiling!!!

    Thumb up Thumb down 0

  • Shani

    It’s like I could have written this… though my husband is white & I’m black & we live in a 99% non black town, I have had many of these moments at the park :-(. I’m not so sure it’s all about race, sometimes it’s culture. Sometimes its us (as black women) internalizing “stuff” that is not even about us at all.

    What I’ve come to observe is that some (white) people held to the standards that I was held to (old school black people standards) are just plain rude. My (white) husband does & says stuff all the time that I think is just rude and inappropriate, but when he was coming up these were not red flags. I get all bent out of shape and then I go to his family gatherings & his aunt & grandparents do & say the same things! I DO get on him because it would be bad to have my son repeating this when we are with my family. They were not meant to be offensive. The offense is a learned social cue. I keep my heart peeled for these things so as not to have a “moment” about it.

    I’m very careful not to internalize these experiences as some sort of personal rejection, and honestly I take this cue from my technically bi-racial son, who I think of as “black” (like me) 😉

    When he was learning to crawl, then walk and every other task he’s mastered until now, he failed a lot and he hurt himself and he cried… But when he did NOT do was give up. He did not turn tail and sit in the corner and refuse to walk because he kept failing. What if our children gave up the first time they fell and had us carry them forever out of fear? My son doesn’t internalize. He keeps it moving, and to be a good example, so do I…

    Also at these park things, lots of time they only speak if they know you.
    If a “new to the neighborhood white woman” walks in they give them a similar “weird-look-in-the-distance-past-their-head-eye-contact-avoidance-thing” too.

    The way I was raised is when someone says Hi, (even someone you don’t know) you say hi back. It’s considered impolite not to “speak”. That being said, every moment that I have to say hi when I walk into any park and I can make natural eye contact I say hi, I do it. My 2yo son will go up in anyones face and not stop until they say hi 🙂

    *Most* people say hi back. When they don’t I chalk it up to piss poor manners, not racism. Sometimes people & children just stare at him, like he’s a social anomaly… I take it as anomaly for being polite, having manners and a gorgeous engaging smile, not for being “black” and “here in my neighborhood”. Who wouldn’t want to stare at him…he’s beautiful… they should say hi though… 🙂

    When the piss poor mannered children do that weird stare while I’m helping him on the jungle gym, and they don’t say hi back, I’ll tell my son straight up in front of them “…. ok. This is when the other person would say “hi”… maybe they are very young and don’t know how to say hi yet. Good job for being so polite, honey!” Fist bump… and I keep it moving.

    Once I actually left the park, but not without explaining to my son that “we have to leave and go to another park or we can come back later with (XYZ friends of ours). The people in the park right now don’t say hi “… in the same voice I always speak to him at the park and just loud enough for the nearest one to hear… and to be rightfully embarrassed.

    I don’t want him thinking that level of rudeness is normal/copyable behavior or them influencing him to be rude.

    My eavesdropping on the parents shallow ridiculous conversations (that they were rude enough to be having over my head) was driving me nuts. I couldn’t take one more moment of it, or them micromanaging their child’s play at the park telling them all what they can’t do because they will fall and get hurt, and all the tantrums and coddling of that equally awful behavior and the unending diet of sugary snacks sending the poor kids into blood sugar crashes. I didn’t want my son getting any ideas.

    Have you considered joining a moms group? Up here where I live in NoCal, there is a group called Las Madres. You could also surf Meetupdotcom and or Big Tent for groups. HMN or Holistic Moms Network is my favorite of all the mom groups, and since I liked these women the most and most of these moms had older children, I even voluteered to host playdates throughout the summer.

    It took almost 2 years, but at this point we have so many playdates with moms that I’ve vetted and I personally like, and have similar childrearing philosophies I’m not trying to play that game… the one of desperately trying to be friends with idiots or feeling like an outsider on my block.

    We have in park playdates and Mom’s nights out… Sometimes people are silly at these events too, but usually if you can go enough times you’ll meet 1 other mom who you can kick it with and you can go to the park with them and their children. Eventually you grow because there are other moms out there like you (outsiders for whatever reason) and these ladies can become your friends. Collecting the moms I liked from all the meetups I invite them all over for another playdate that I host and out of this we made another group.

    I steal other cool members all the time that I click with and we have a blast!

    I’m the only black mom, but we have the UN at our playdates.

    There are good people/mom/kids out there, and it’s up to us to make/build our community wherever we go. This will show our children how to make/choose build community when they go to school and (hopefully) avoid all of that sitting in the corner, feeling sorry for themselves, licking their wounds about how those people rejected me sort of thing that bullies target. Just my two cents….

    Thumb up Thumb down 0

  • August

    I live in a predominately white area in GA. and was raised in a mostly white city in Il. I guess I have never really internalized what I may and may not see from other races. I think its a plus because I don’t let it get to me. Now if something really is in my face and blatant I assert myself quick. I think you need to get some guts and start doing that. If not you may really start raising scrubs as kids. I mean they do pick up on things even if you try to have a straight face. I would start stepping up and confronting things, people and situations. You’ll eventually not be uncomfortable with it and will probably get good at it… and for the record I have 2 kids 16 and 6 months, never been married, own my own house and just have 1 car…So What. Its my life and whoever has something to say about Kick Rocks!
    One more thing, I’m not the hardest person out there, in actuality I’m pretty sensitive, but you have got to get some thicker skin or you are going to continue to suffer in silence and I’m not sure how healthy that would be for you, your kids or your marriage.
    That’s my 2 cents. See ya.

    Thumb up Thumb down 0

HOT TOPICS