Living While Black

I have rarely shied away from giving voice to what it’s like to be a Black parent concerned for the health and safety of her Black child.

No reason to stop speaking up now.

I love the skin I’m in. I hope everyone does. Saying that shouldn’t imply that I think my skin or experience is better than anyone else’s; it’s just, I like the skin I’m in.  I love Hope and her skin too.

Being Black is a critical part of my identity. I live and breathe this skin. I walk around in it. I see out of it. It shapes how people perceive me, probably more than most folks would care to admit.

It hasn’t been, nor is it always pleasant to wear this skin. It has a tough legacy, especially in the US, that I end up dragging around with me. It shapes my world view.

Sometimes people haven’t treated me very well because of this skin.

Class and education haven’t completely protected me from ill treatment in this skin.

Folks make assumptions about me in this skin.

If I exceed the expectations of my skin, I’m characterized as “so articulate,” “such a surprise” and “so different than other Black folk.”

Yeah, people have actually said that ish to me and expected to me to take it as a compliment.

In spite of other people’s stupidity, I’ve never hated my skin.

I love who I am, my history, my browness.

This all has come in handy, this sense of self, when figuring out ways to help Hope learn to love herself.  Seriously, if I didn’t have a good sense of self and love myself, this adoption journey was *not* have been the move.

But now, not only am I saddled with teaching Hope self-love, I shoulder the burden of keeping her safe. Sure there’s the safe that’s just from self-harm, there’s the safe from strangers, there’s the safe from kitchen appliances and all that, but honestly, folks would not believe how much I generally fear for her safety when it comes to law enforcement and well, just generally…folks who don’t look like us.

That’s hard to admit. It doesn’t sound very nice, does it? Some folks would say it’s racist. Prejudiced maybe, but not racist (there’s no power/superiority element, thus an inability to be racist by definition).

It’s not that I don’t like folks who don’t look like us, but I actually worry that folks who don’t look like us—a really sad euphemism for White folks I admit—might perceive her behavior in ways that could easily become dangerous for her.

Last week, Hope and I were in a car accident. We were sitting at a stop light and a woman rammed into us from behind…twice.  Yeah, she hit us twice.

As I gathered my wits about me, Hope lost her ish. It was her first car accident.  She was scared, very scared.  She reverted back to her 5 year old self, and Hope’s 5 year old self is…the worst. Seriously, I loathe these emotional outbursts because you can’t reason with an upset too big, school aged toddler.

I motioned for the lady to pull over and began to navigate my car off the main road.  The other driver cut me off.  Yep, she’d just hit us twice and then cut me off while trying to pull over.  I really became worried about what would happen next.

I rolled down my window and the driver, a White woman, rolled down hers and she screeched that she had hit me because she had fallen asleep.

Hope screeched and yelled and cried and screeched some more at the lady, calling her dumb, scary, a bad, bad person for hitting our car and hurting us. She was inconsolable.  (Secretly I was calling this woman everything but a child of God inside my head, so there was a part of me who enjoyed Hope dressing her down.)

But, the look on the woman’s face changed everything. I can’t even describe it. Suddenly, I felt like we were the ones under the microscope, we were the ones somehow making her uncomfortable, never mind that my back and shoulder were already beginning to hurt from where the seatbelt kept me from hitting my steering wheel.

I said nothing. I only reached out and put my hand over Hope’s mouth.

I motioned for the lady to pull into the nearby parking lot.

When we were stable, I told Hope not to say another word. I implored her to stay in the car and just  be quiet.

I didn’t do this because she wouldn’t add anything to the conversation. I said it because the non-verbal reaction of the other driver let me know that anymore from Hope and she might feel…uncomfortable, threatened.

Discomfort for people who don’t look like us, has repeatedly been shown to be hazardous to the health of people who do look like us.

I could not risk it.  Hope’s safety was paramount.

When the driver stepped out of her car, still proclaiming she had fallen asleep along with a litany of other excuses, her eyes were glassy, her breath…well, let’s say that it didn’t smell sleepy.

I’m pretty sure she’d been drinking.

But I chose not to call the police.

Yes, I know she would’ve been ticketed for hitting us from behind.

Yes, I suspected that she was impaired and that, at a minimum, she should’ve been subjected to field sobriety test.

Yes, she could’ve harmed someone else by getting back on the road.

Yes, there was no legal record.

Yes, I have mixed feelings about possibly letting an impaired driver back on the road with nothing to stop her and no real, lasting consequences.

Yeah, maybe I contributed to another set of social ills.

But, my daughter is safe. I’m safe.  We didn’t make the local or national news. There doesn’t need to be a march with calls for a proper investigation into what happened to us. There are no rubber bracelets with our names on them. Our names did not become hashtags.

Yeah, it’s come to that.

I don’t expect people to make the leap like I did that living under the threat that my kid’s emotionally immature reaction to a car accident could lead to our untimely demise, but that’s where my head went in those moments.

In that moment none of the areas of my life where I have privilege trumped my or my daughter’s skin color. It is hard for me, even, to wrap my head around the fact that I would think that the word of an impaired White lady would be taken over my or my daughter’s word, but I did.

I was afraid. I was frightened by her facial expression in response to Hope’s outburst. I didn’t trust law enforcement to treat us with fairness and dignity.  And it’s just that simple. I didn’t trust them. I didn’t realize how badly that trust had been broken until that moment.

It’s crazy, right?

But it’s real.

Hope and I can pop some Motrin and the soreness will go away. But we’re here and we’re safe.

I bear some shame in my reaction, my lack of trust. I don’t dislike police; they have tough jobs, but living while Black seems like our engagements exist on a slippery slope. I’d prefer that they be flat and linear.

So, these are my fears these days. I have become so fearful that I might’ve let an impaired driver who rear-ended us twice (causing about $2K in damages), then cut us off while trying to pull over, go with just an insurance information exchange all because I saw her reaction to my child’s emotional reaction to us getting hit and that scared me worse than actually getting hit.

You follow that?

That’s living while Black.

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About AdoptiveBlackMom

I'm a single Black professional woman living in the DC area. I adopted tween a few years ago, and this blog chronicles our journey. Feel free to contact me at adoptiveblackmom@gmail.com, on Facebook at Adoptive Black Mom, and on Twitter @adoptiveblkmom. ©www.AdoptiveBlackMom.com, 2013-2016. All rights reserved. (Don't copy my ish without credit!) View all posts by AdoptiveBlackMom

15 responses to “Living While Black

  • Belladonna Took

    Shit. I do not know what to say, but I don’t want to just click down to the next post and say nothing. So … just … shit.

    I am so sorry. Right down to the deep, dark core of my heart, I am so, so sorry.

  • TAO

    I’m sorry that you have every reason to have that fear, have to live with it, daily. I’m sorry that white people (like me) are the cause because we can’t see different as anything other than bad. Hearing ‘I’m sorry’ likely doesn’t help either. Hope that made sense.

  • Beth

    I’m so glad you are both safe. And so sad that we live in a world where you have to think like that in order to BE safe.

  • Mel

    Ditto…I don’t want to say nothing, to leave your post unacknowledged….but words don’t come to me, either. What an incredible post. Really brought things home.

  • Valarie Johnson

    That is a tough call. It’s too bad you didn’t have a family member nearby who could come pick up Hope so you could talk to the police by yourself. Did anyone else stop and offer to be a witness? I actually pulled over when I saw a white man pull out and slam into an unsuspecting black female driver, and unfortunately my witness statement as a “white” person did lend more credence to the black woman’s statement. It seemed super obvious that she wasn’t at fault, but the police officer kept asking ME if she was speeding (nope), in her lane (yeah), etc. I was 19 at the time and had no idea that he might be doubting her story based on her race and gender, I just thought he was a weirdo.

  • TheChroniclesofaNonBellyMama

    The sad shit is, that I think about this all the time, and say to myself, “Thank the holy homeboy that my kids look white”, and then I shame myself for thinking that way, but as a parent, aside form feeding, clothing, and homing you kids, your number one priority is to make sure that your kids are safe and protected. Do I think that it’s ok to think like this?! Yes and No…No because, how fucked up is it that you had to walk away from an accident with $2k worth of damage because it was more important to have the opportunity to get “get out alive” (real talk!) all because of the color of your skin, but yes, because of the same damn reason and the media, and people of color getting killed every day. Do lighter complected people worry this much about it? Nope…my wife doesn’t, in all her read-haired, freckle faced glory…she hardly EVER thinks about this…she doesn’t understand why #alllivesmatter is a smack in the face. Granted, she is no racist, and she really sees the world bilnd to color, i swear to you, so her argument of “All lives Really DO matter, not just black ones, but alllllll ones!!!” It’s just sad that this is our lives as people of color…my sister, my mother, my brother, with their darker skin could all be next…it’s scary AF!

  • Race Issues In Adoption (Part Two): An Interview With AdoptiveBlackMom - Trauma Mama Drama

    […] Living While Black / Thoughts on Racial Identity Development / What Would They Say About Us / Black Exceptions / Traffic Stop Protocol / Thoughts on Hope and Tamir / Thoughts on Charleston / Thoughts on McKinney / A Sad Mystery […]

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