Sisi is having a tough summer. Thanks to the video of the two "young ladies" in their "altercation" with a Seattle police officer over a jaywalking ticket, we had a long conversation about what to do if you're arrested (Ask one of your friends--there are always friends-- to tape the whole thing, don't fight it and let them take you in, honey. Your mom's a lawyer.)
We had a conversation about why it was a bad idea to station herself on the school grounds with a bunch of friends and why it's always going to be better to congregate in smaller groups at someone's house or doing a specific activity than just "hanging out."
And today, we had the conversation about why it's bad to walk home from the pool with just your bikini top and towel on (no cover up, no t-shirt)- no matter how comfortable it was or the fact that "everybody else" is doing it.
In each of these conversations, Kevin and I both talked with her about what we perceive as the nuances of each event. And in every case, he brought up the differences in how young black people are perceived than how young white ones are.
In the first incident, his comments were that while she might be stopped unfairly-- possibly for racial reasons-- escalating the encounter or getting angry would only make it much worse. Instead, he counselled-- and I completely agree--the smart thing is to respect the officer's authority (even if he or she is dead wrong) and fight through other channels.
As for hanging out at the school, Sisi and a cluster of her black friends--girls and boys-- had taken to doing this until I told her I didn't like it and that she wouldn't be allowed to go over to the school unless she had business inside it. When the "but Mom, why?" started, I explained that it didn't look good for a bunch kids to be loitering in front of the closed school building. "Someone's going to notice a bunch of black kids in front of the school, get nervous and call the cops," I told her. "I know you're not doing anything, but that's not how it's perceived. I know it's not fair, but it's true and I don't want you to get in any trouble. Your friends are welcome to come over here and hang out on the back deck," I concluded, trying not to be a complete kill-joy. After all, we live right behind the school and I'm usually here to chaperone-- oh, right. That's the problem--at least to her mind!
She might have concluded that I was over-sensitive, bougie and ridiculously over-protective. Perhaps she does think that. But if I'm over-sensitive, bougie and over-protective, there are two of us in this household who feel the same way.
Finally, I was livid when she walked in an hour late, wearing just her bikini top and a towel. The pool is half a mile a way, the neighborhood is pretty safe and it was still light out. Still, walking the streets that naked doesn't strike me as a good idea-- especially when I know how this society hyper-sexualizes the bodies of young black women. (If you need a primer on this, check out Erykah Badu's video here or the work of scholars Layli Phillips and DP Stevens paper "Freaks, Gold Diggers and Dykes" here
Kevin approached this one a little differently, but firmly. He told her: "I'm telling you, as a man, you do NOT want that kind of attention. There are men out there who dressing like that as an invitation. They are not good guys who stop when you tell them to or let you call your mother to come get you. Don't ever do that again."
I know Sisi find all of this terribly unfair-- because it is unfair. I wish we lived in a world where everyone was treated equally regardless of race or gender-- but we don't. You don't have to be black to know that doing certain activities with black skin creates a different perception than being white and doing the exact same thing. Fair? No. Reality, yes. You don't have to be female to know that being female carries with it concerns that males rarely think about. Fair? No. Reality, yes. And while I'd like to believe that the world can change, that someday there will be greater racial and gender equality I'm certain that I won't see it my life time. Sisi might not see it in hers, either.
One of the most common things I've heard in writing about interracial relationships is that the white parent can't possibly "teach a kid what it means to be black." I disagree. Being a partner to another culture means quickly learning a sensitivity to the differences--especially where the children are concerned. No one wants their kids to suffer, and certainly not from parental ignorance. We learn as parents and partners because it's essential to the success of our families and our relationships. It's like saying a father can't teach a girl how to be a woman, or a mother can't teach a boy to be a man. Not so, as many single parents have proven.
Race doesn't drive the quality of parenthood; commitment does. If race alone was the only factor that mattered, every same race family would have perfect kids. But of course the factors that create successful children are far more varied than simple skin shade. We are still very much a work in progress here, but so far, from the sensitivity he's shown I'd say the white guy I married could raise a black girl quite well. Still, it's a little strange to hear him say "You have to understand that because you're a black girl, you might be treated/perceived differently."
It's an acknowledgement that while our family might be "post racial" the rest of our society isn't.