Solo Mama Re: My daughter with brown skin, the police are not our biggest enemies, and racism does exist. There is probably something in this post to piss you off besides having the longest title ever

I really appreciate the responses and thoughtful comments and reachouts from several people who read my last post. My only concern is that I’m not quite sure my message came across.

My message, which was probably tampered in my usual gentle way on these matters, was fueled by outrage. I asked a trusted friend to go back and read it and she said she only saw some anger come through once.

It’s outrage about children growing up in our society that think the color of their skin is less than, embarassing, not beautiful, not celebrated, not valued. Truthfully, long before I had children, I didn’t even dream that I would have a child who was ashamed of their own skin. It wasn’t even on my radar that a child would feel less than beautiful about being brown or black.

The second layer of outrage that was even more well hidden…two things – I am terrified that people will not see that the police are not the biggest issue here AND I’m even more terrified that thousands of people will go back in their houses, close their doors and say “racism doesn’t exist.” THIS IS OUR OPPORTUNITY TO MAKE REAL CHANGE if we can see through the media and our own biases.

Recent (and past which in a maddening way didn’t seem to blip on mainstream radar-especially where women of color are concerned) events involving some members of law enforcement and people of color are horrific and outraging and we need to take drastic and thoughtful measures for change. But my facebook feed and the media tell me to beg for your careful thought around the idea that the police are the biggest enemies of black and brown people.

The police did not look after my child and prefer little white girls to her when she was little and make her feel alienated. The police do not misdiagnose black people in some healthcare facilities because they are looking at symptoms through the lens of certain health conditions that are more prevalent in Black people. The police are just a fraction of employers who may be looking at resumes and curriculum vitae and setting those aside with “ethnic” sounding names. The police are not making the laws of our land that disenfranchise people based on privilege, money and power. The police are not responsible for the unbalanced tax bases that support community schools that allow some communities to flourish educationally and others (like my neighborhood school) to barely scrape by with poor attendance rates and poor test scores. The police do not prescribe lower doses of or different kinds of medicine based on some notion that people of color don’t feel as much pain as white people (this is a real thing with research behind it). The police do not open up liquor stores, check cashing stores, convenience stores, pawn shops and other “fabulous” businesses in lower income communities to leech off of these communities, which often impact communities of color. My community was really lucky to see a Dunkin Donuts go in. It’s like a little orange and pink slice of heaven sandwiched between 3 knockoffs of Payday Loans, about 5 drive-up liquor stores, 3 tire shops and the local post office.

Racism is a SYSTEMIC, deeply rooted SOCIETAL issue that goes so far beyond where we are resting our attention at the moment.

Oh. Keep reading. Here goes part 2.

Racism exists. If I earned a dollar every time I heard a person (who is not Black) say “racism doesn’t exist,” “I didn’t own slaves, don’t blame me” “(Black) people (of color) need to get over this,” “Well, I experience reverse racism (ie Black people being “racist” against Whites),” or “everyone experiences that, not just Black people,” etc., then I wouldn’t be working because I would be a millionaire. And for every time I hear one of these statements, I also hear explicitly racist comments made: “you’re not like other Black people I know,” “you act whiter than me,” “you don’t like rap music?” “how do you get your hair like that?” or making assumptions that everyone with a Hispanic surname is from Mexico and undocumented or that everyone who has an accent from anywhere doesn’t speak good English.

I’m mad, and I’m sorry, my anger extends far beyond the police. And yours should too.

Solo Mama: My Daughter Doesn’t Like Her Brown Skin

This is not an easy read, nor was it easy to write. I debated about posting it because it’s really not my story to tell. The only way I can share it with peace of mind is to purely tell it from a mother’s point of view, what I observe and experience. It seems like the right time to share it.

My daughter has disliked her brown skin and her black hair since about the time she could start talking. The light-skinned blond haired girls in her class got more attention. When she came home from daycare and told me she wanted “lello hair” and “white skin.” I would observe her following her white girls around in class and wanting to be friends with them, dismissing little girls with brown skin. My beautiful tiny little daughter.

My daughter is half Vietnamese, but no one places her as that. She doesn’t want to know anything about Vietnamese culture, I’ve tried. The closest she gets to Vietnamese culture is loving pho.

She asked me one time why I had to pick a dad for her that has brown skin.

Before my daughter was born, an Indian woman I worked shared a card with me that her young daughter had given her a card on Mother’s Day. Inside, her little daughter had written “Why do you have to be brown? I don’t want to be brown” in her childlike awkward handwriting. Imagine getting that message in your Mother’s Day card. I couldn’t at the time.

It was hard going places with my daughter when she was younger. She would pull close to me when we were around brown and black people and she would whisper “I don’t like their color.” Anger would bubble up inside of me. How could someone I was raising not like brown people? How could she not like her brown skin? Where did she learn that? They say racism is learned. Who taught her to not like her own brown skin?

She doesn’t seem to be so focused these days on her skin color but she still says she is ugly and she hates it when I tell her she’s beautiful. I realize lots of girls might say this no matter how much you tell them different but I can’t shake the fact that this all started with her skin color. I show her pictures of friends with brown skin and say “isn’t she beautiful? Look at how beautiful her black hair is!” and she agrees now when I ask her and it seems genuine.

My daughter never talked about how she wishes her eyes were different, or her smile, or her body. She always wished for different skin. Some children with brown skin wish their skin was white and think they are not beautiful or handsome because of their color.

Reflecting on this story and sharing it is hard because it is deeply personal. I know I’m not the only mother who has a child with brown skin who can tell this story. It’s important to make our stories more widely known, and to repeat them until we find it in ourselves to create and live by a new narrative.

Solo Mama: If You Have Recently Awoken, Please Stay Awake

I’ve been writing posts in advance so I have content to publish regularly. My post for this week was supposed to be about mental health and pandemic environments, but it felt weird to let it post this week.

Everything that has happened over the past couple of weeks, the awakening that started when George Floyd was killed…so many people finally tuning in suddenly realizing how out of whack things are, even though they’ve been out of whack long before any of our lives began. People wearing t-shirts saying “Black Lives Matter” and studying up on white privilege. I’ve been waiting for these past couple of weeks for most of my life. For all this to matter and to finally hit peoples’ radars on a large scale.

I hope this lasts. Personally. Please see the depths of this. It’s not about police brutality. It is about a very broken way of life and a broken society. There are at least two reasons we should not place policing at the focus of all this.

First, when things go wrong, we look for someone to blame so we don’t have to look at ourselves and take accountability for how we have contributed to the issue – oppression, racism, privilege, opportunity (or lack of), etc., and what we can do differently at the most basic level as an individual.

The second reason, from a justice perspective, is that if we only pay attention to the front of the system, then we miss the accumulation of disparity – like a giant snowball of injustice – that occurs once people get past that first gate. Did you know that there are 5 black people for every 1 white person under some type of supervision in our justice system? There are 3 Latinx/Hispanic people for every 1 white person (and that is severely undercounted due to our poor ethnicity data capture in our justice system). People of color are less likely to make bail during the pretrial period. They are less likely to retain adequate defense. More likely to take poor plea deals. More likely to be sentenced more severely than white people accused of the same crime with the same criminal history (sometimes even less of a criminal history than their white counterparts). They are less likely to be diverted to programs the prevent further involvement in the system. Less likely to be sentenced to a treatment court that focus more on treatment of substances or mental health rather than incarceration. More likely to have their probation or parole revoked due to technical violations (as opposed to new crimes).

In our current system, this means that even if a populationally proportionate amount of people of color to white people enter our justice system, they still will experience disparate treatment at every stage of the process.

That’s just one aspect of our society. Looks for stats in every segment of our society, private or public sectors. Look for underrepresentation of people of color in our corporate executive leadership, the number of people who fall out of hiring pools because they have “black” sounding names, look at health indicators (look at who COVID 19 is hitting in disproportionate numbers), morbidity and mortality rates, high school graduation rates…

Oh – there is also intersectionality to consider. What is intersectionality? Think of these as layers of a person’s characteristics that either cause them to be more or less advantaged in society. Race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, gender expression are all examples of characteristics that, when layered on top of each other, can make life easier or harder for an individual in certain circles. Google KimberlĂ© Crenshaw to learn more about intersectionality. She coined the term more than 30 years ago.

Finishing with my beginning thought. I hope Black Lives Matter is not a trend. I hope people stay grounded and don’t fall into an “us versus them” mentality in regards to any group of people (which seems to be the trend on all issues over the past couple of years).

Finally, I hope people stay awake, stay curious and stay introspective.