It is incontestable that parenting is one of the hardest jobs on earth! And I can attest to this personally because I am a father of two wonderful black angels, as such I doff my hat to all parents and most importantly my imitable parents! No doubt parenting is tough, that’s just the conclusion of the matter, but it’s also true that parenting is harder in some places than others. For instance, when I was growing up in Nigeria my parents had a different set of worries. They were mainly worried, like all parents in our community, about my upkeep and ensured that I amounted to someone in life but they were never worried over my safety simply because of my skin color. We definitely never had “the talk”.
My parents did a heck of a job raising my siblings and I, but as a black man now living in America and being a father of a black boy, heavy burdens have been placed on me which my parents never had to deal with. I can still remember the avalanche of excitement coupled with profound sadness the moment my son was born just a few short years ago. I was excited to have a son but became sad, almost immediately, knowing fully well that America has not only created a violent society for black men but America is the violence consuming black men!
I am fully aware of the doctrine of white supremacy and its venoms. I have been marginalized on the basis of my skin color, such as being denied job opportunities, earning less pay than my white counterparts, not being able to access the same economic and wealth building opportunities, and even being mistaken for a criminal all because I am black – crime in the U.S. is not defined by action but skin color. We won’t even get into the many, many barriers that I have encountered because I am a black man who also happens to be an immigrant with a non-Anglo Saxon name.
My wife and I know that we are the first point of entry into how our children see or experience the world at large. Over the years, we have taken great care to instill in to them our values and beliefs, as well as our joys and pains. Yet the question I ask myself every day remains – Do I want to share the pain of racism with my beloved children? I love my children so much that I don’t want to bring them into the space of pain inflicted upon me by a racist society. On the other hand, I don’t want them to be ignorant of pangs of racism and go out into the world unaware and ignorant of the devices of white supremacy – this is my dilemma! While love compels me to protect them as much as I can, love also demands that I tell them what they are up against.
My wife and I are constantly reinforcing our children’s self-worth and value. We affirm their beauty and creativity. We praise them for their intelligence and inquisitiveness. We provide them as many opportunities to learn and expand their knowledge and try not to silence them when they ask too many questions. How do we share with them the reality that the society in which they live is threatening, suspicious, and dangerous simply because they are black?
My intelligent daughter is academically sound and really passionate about schooling, something that we have encouraged. How do I tell my daughter that in spite of years of rigorous study, that the promise of decency and dignity through education is not guaranteed because she’s black?
How do I explain the mystery of the state of Minnesota, where we currently live to my children? Minnesota is one of the most progressive states in America, a state that elected the first Muslim to U.S. Congress –Rep. Keith Ellison – that voted no to the voter ID amendment, and opened up employment opportunities to ex-felons by banning the box on applications, yet Minnesota is the second-worst state in the U.S. for Blacks to live. We can conclude and say with a charismatic tone that Minnesota is ‘nice’ for white people, but is extremely bad if you are black.
How do I explain to my children that they must be careful and cautious about every action they take in a society where wearing a hoodie, blasting rap music, or failing to use a turn signal could be a death sentence? How do I communicate this very real reality without them losing hope in a future where these things do not exist?
This is my dilemma! Yet, in spite of the arduous, complex task before me, I remain committed to not only preparing the future for my children, but dedicated to preparing them for the future.
No doubt sharing with my children the insufferable pain of racism will surely cause them pain. But I would rather have them suffer the pain of learning in preparation for the future than create a sense of false hope in them about the wonderfulness of the American society.
I refuse to bear the pain of regret for not adequately equipping them for tomorrow! It is my prayer that they will constructively utilize the energy derived from the pain and let it serve as a positive force of learning and undoing race-based oppression in this society. It is also my prayer that they won’t have to experience my kind of dilemma with their children!