Dear black mother,
When I first stepped foot onto the high wire of motherhood, sweeping my arms around a chubby baby with almond eyes and chocolate skin, I knew I would need you. I knew you would have to teach me the best way to moisturize his skin and style his hair. I knew you would instruct me in forming his racial identity. I knew I would need to hear you tell me about what it feels like to be black in America.
But this? I didn't know this. Most of us white folks didn't, not before the age of social media and video cameras on smartphones.
Now, nearly 6 years into motherhood, I know it all too well. But once I didn't.
I didn't know that from the moment the doctor said "it's a boy!" your euphoric cries of joy were laced ever so faintly with fear of the future.
I didn't know that when your preschooler threw his flailing body on the tile of the grocery store, tantruming in the way that every child has since the beginning of time, passerbys would be more likely to see him as a troublemaker and you as an unfit parent.
I didn't know that when his limbs grew long and his back grew high, the way my son's are doing today, that you began to think about having The Talk. I didn't know your cognitive dissonance: how you wanted to preserve his innocence, wanted to support the many fair and level-headed police in your community, but knowing the consequences of not preparing him for the worst could be fatal.
I didn't know that was around the time he was forbidden to play with toy guns outside.
I didn't know that you had to sit him down and look at his innocent cheeks, still with a hint of baby fat on them, and tell him exactly what to do anytime he spoke with a police officer. Hands out, stand still, don't move a single muscle, say yes sir. I didn't know that you had to tell him he wouldn't get the benefit of the doubt.
I didn't know that when he was 13 you wouldn't let him leave the house with his hood pulled up, even if it was because he was shy, even if it made him feel safer.
I didn't know that when he got his license he would be more likely to be pulled over and more than twice as likely to have his car searched as his white peers.
I didn't know that when he experimented with marijuana the way so many teens do, he was up to 30% more likely to be arrested for possession than his peers of other ethnicities.
I didn't know that when he was shot people would use that arrest record to prove that he deserved to die.
Six years ago I didn't know that this was your reality, the background hum against which you lived out your motherhood, so steady and so constant that most days you didn't think twice about it. It was just always there. Just as it had been for your mother. And your grandmother? Well she couldn't even use the same bathroom as mine. It was not so long ago and roots, they go deep but we want to lop the top off the weeds and declare the soil new.
I didn't know, but now I do.
And now a few more people will know too.
*if you are interested in understanding this topic, I highly recommend you read this: Black Moms Tell White Moms About the Race Talk
*if you need proof that racial bias still exists in our society, I would urge you to read the empirical evidence compiled at the end of this post (the links are sadly defunct but you can copy and paste them into your search bar and it does the trick)