I’ve been fretting lately…fretting about Hope and her Blackness or rather her racial development.
Did you know that moving from the initial stage (pre-encounter stage) of racial identity development to the second stage (encounter stage) is usually precipitated by a negative encounter around race for people of color?
In lay terms, we all are getting along peachy keen until some dingbat says/does something racist, pointing out that the brown or black kid is different and that difference is bad.
For me, this happened when I was little, before I even started kindergarten. It’s a moment that I have long likened to eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
The evil is knowing that people hate me because of my skin color and might go so far as to hurt and/or kill me. The good is having this knowledge and avoiding the naiveté that might get you killed. Racial identity is built on this foundation. If you are privileged not to have to this experience then your identity as a racialized person is stunted, and your privilege is allowed to bloom, so says the research.
I know that there have been events in Hope’s life that meet the criteria that would push a regular kid to the next stage of racial development, but given all that she’s endured it doesn’t seem to have registered. So much of her development in general was negatively affected. The racial piece, well, maybe it just didn’t register when she was just trying to survive.
I get all that. I really do. That said, racial identity development then is recognized as just another area that has to catch up.
When Hope first moved in 2.5 years ago, I remember being a bit put off because all the posters of pop stars were white, with very, very few exceptions—Selena Gomez, the Black girl in 5th Harmony and Bruno Mars. Turns out there aren’t really any teeny bopper pop stars of color these days. Hope’s not really into Beyonce or Rihanna so…yeah, white kids on the wall it is.
We dealt a little while with colorism and issues around Hope wishing she had lighter brown skin. Ughhhhh, she still vocalizes this when we go shopping for tinted moisturizers (#damnmakeup).
Then I noticed she only liked white or Hispanic boys; there aren’t many Black kids in the band and only like one or two boys and ok, they aren’t her type. So there aren’t many kids of color in her social circles here; they heavily populated her circles back home, but it’s like she left it all behind.
Recently, I realized during a social outing that she deliberately avoids kids of color; she doesn’t even want to associate with them. Same with my efforts to have us “friend date” other families with kids of color. She wants nothing to do with it.
I know she struggled with my version of Blackness; I was really different than the Black folk she had previously experienced. She even told me one time that in some ways it was like I wasn’t really Black. I struggled with that, and I don’t know if it’s my perceived unicorn status or what, but she is ok with me and my bougie, upwardly mobile, educated black folk. But she doesn’t seem interested in accepting the black diaspora.
And maybe it’s too much for me to expect from her at this point. She is still healing from all her trauma, embracing Blackness as an identity is probably not even on her subconscious list of things with which to grapple.
It doesn’t stop my fretting though, as I watch my beloved Hope cloak herself in social Whiteness. Even if I hope it never happens, I know that something will happen, something that will hurt her. I hope that her friends will be wonderful allies. They are good kids, but they aren’t forced to think about the things I think about, the dangers that our color expose us to, they don’t have to think about it unless they choose to.
From a parenting perspective it’s odd; I am glad that she’s bridging some of her social challenges, but I feel some kind of way about her not having any brown or black friends and her refusal to pursue any of those kinds of relationships. I’d love to see a mix of folks in her life who love her and support her. I want her to have safe spaces—sure her White friends can offer that, but I fret that having no friends of color limits her safe spaces if and when something goes down.
Add to this, my abject horror in thinking about police brutality, microaggressions, the resurgence of laws codifying acceptable discrimination and a nation’s willingness to increasingly accept racist discourse.
Actually, describing my emotion as worry is an understatement. I am afraid. I’m also aware that all of this has a huge impact on my own well-being. I think the current political environment has exacerbated my emotion around Hope’s racial identity development. It’s complicated. I also know that this process is a natural one; it is not something I can control. I can’t control when, where or how it might happen.
I can only be there for my daughter. That’s it.
But it doesn’t feel like enough. Hugging her tight and soothing her over what might feel like an enormously painful betrayal, just doesn’t feel like enough. Teaching her how to move past it doesn’t feel like enough. Nurturing her healing doesn’t feel like enough.
I wish I could make it all go away. I wish I could make racism all go away. I wish I could make the need for this kind of identity development vanish. I just wish I could protect her from every other thing that might make her path hard; she’s suffered enough. I just want to keep her safe.
But I can’t, not from everything.
I know that, but it still breaks my heart.