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.