My ex-husband is Caribbean-American of African descent (from Barbados) so even though I am white, I know what it is like to raise two children of color. My almost twenty one year old son (he is my ex-husband’s child from a prior relationship, but since I raised him from the time he was five years old and he remained in my custody after the divorce, it is hard for me to call him a “step-son” – not to mention I dislike the term “step” child but that has to wait for another post) is chocolate brown in color and my eleven year old daughter’s skin color is what some might call cafe au lait.In raising my children, I have gained an intimate knowledge of how a parent’s worries differ based on their children’s skin color.
When my son was in the 6th grade, he and his peers began to take the subway by themselves to their middle school located on the other side of Brooklyn. All of the parents had concerns about their children’s safety would they get lost? Would they be molested? etc. Parents of boys of color had additional concerns, many of which are invisible to and/or unthinkable for parents of white boys would they be arrested for no reason? Would they be shot accidentally by a cop? When my son was in high school, like many other high school kids, he wore a bandana and baggy jeans.
Parents of white boys may have objected to their sons wearing bandanas and baggy jeans based on what they thought was appropriate attire for school.Parents of kids of color, however, had the additional concern of how wearing a bandana and baggy jeans would impact the impression police officers would get when seeing their son.When police officers see white boys dressed in bandanas and baggy jeans, they see what they consider to be typical teenagers. When they see tall brown-skinned young men wearing the same clothes, they see possible criminals and treat them accordingly.
Some white readers may wonder if I am exaggerating. I’m not. One night recently, I received a phone call at 11:20 pm from my son. He was calling from Central Booking in Queens, NY. A police officer had stopped him on the subway because he had walked in between two subway cars. When I was growing up, this was legal, although dangerous. It is now a violation of some kind of New York City Transit Department regulation.
Once the cops stopped him, they proceeded to check to see if he had any outstanding warrants issued against him.Well, it turns out that a few years ago, my son was issued a ticket for riding his bicycle on the sidewalk. This, like walking in between subway cars, was legal when I was a kid. In fact, my parents demanded that I ride on the sidewalk because they were afraid I might be hit by a car if I rode in the street. After my son received the ticket, he appeared in court on the date required. When he arrived, he was told that there was no record of his violation and that he could leave. But, apparently based on the record that was somehow then available to the police officer, a warrant had been issued for his arrest for his failure to appear in court.
As a result, my son was handcuffed and arrested in the same way as someone who had committed a violent crime.He ended up spending the night in jail, treated like a hardened criminal – all for having ridden his bicycle on the sidewalk 2 years ago.How many white parents consider it to be in the realm of possibility for their son to be handcuffed and arrested for riding their bike on the sidewalk and walking in between two subway cars?
Now, even if this did happen to a white boy, again the parents would have a different set of concerns. For a white parent, the main concern would be how to get their child out of jail as soon as possible. They would be able to have faith that the system would work that, as soon as the district attorney saw the child, he/she would dismiss the case and their child would be allowed to leave. Maybe there would be a fine, but there would be nothing else more serious than that.
For a parent of a young black man, there are additional concerns. Will police mistreat their son while he is in their custody? Will the district attorney move forward with the case? Will their son have a criminal record that would follow him forever? Did you know that a white man with a criminal records is more likely to get a job than a black man without a criminal record? Could a Jena 6 incident happen here in Brooklyn, New York? I think so.
The Quilt of Humanity ModelTM Approach: The Quilt of Humanity ModelTM illustrates the connections between skin color and experiences. The threads of color and the threads of personal experience are inextricably intertwined. Our skin color literally colors the experiences we have and are exposed to; we live in different worlds with different realities depending on our skin color.