America’s Not Here for Us


“Mom-are we still slaves? Do people still hate us, African-Americans?”

Brennan asked me this last week while driving home. A few days before while shopping in HEB, he asked me questions about Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves, the Civil War, why “brown” people were slaves…the same questions he’s been asking me since he learned about all of this and Martin Luther King Jr in kindergarten this year. In the store, I answered them as best I could, bearing in mind to keep it age appropriate, yet honest. I don’t believe in glossing over or hiding history from my kids or relying on the public education system to tell one version of it.

However when he asked me in the car if we were still slaves, if people still hated us, I faltered. The only immediate response I had for him was “let’s talk about this later with Bertski, ok? I think we should talk about it together, alright?” He agreed and went back to watching Fantastic Four, going back to being the innocent 6-year-old boy I wish he could always be but know he’ll grow out of.

I faltered at answering his questions because they caught me between two parts of myself that both bear a particular responsibility. As his mother, I carry the responsibility of trying to keep him as innocent, carefree, and sheltered as possible while encouraging him to grow into who he is, be inclusive with others, and have some responsibility for how he carries himself and interacts with the world around him. I want him to enjoy the freedom that comes with being a child…yet teach him what he needs to know about the world around him in stages of understanding that aren’t marred by the ugliness that can come with increased knowledge about the world he lives in and life in general.

But as a woman of color raising an African-American son who has a Puerto-Rican stepfather and half-Puerto-Rican brother, I (and my husband) also bear the responsibility of teaching him about things like racism, white privilege, equality, how black and other brown men have been and still are perceived in American society, and really just about being a person of color PERIOD in the United States of America. I have to explain to him why “peach” people think he looks suspicious even though he might be doing the same exact thing they are-walking through a neighborhood, shopping in a store, hanging out with a group of his friends, wearing his favorite hoodie.

As a mother I have to worry about my child’s quality of life, his education, his growth as an individual, how he treats others, help him shape a worldview that is hopefully inclusive, healthy, well-rounded, educated, rooted in morality…I have to help him navigate the nuances of engaging with the world around him and the people in it, the ups and downs of life, and everything that comes with being a man. But as the mother of a brown boy in the United States of America in 2013, I also have to worry about how to keep him out of prison, where a disproportionate amount of black and brown males are sent to and reside these days, more so than their white counterparts. I have to worry about him walking down the street or driving in his car and being profiled simply because he is a black male. I have to teach him how to carry himself, talk and express who he is in a certain way so that he’s not viewed as “threatening,” “a thug” “a criminal”….”an animal” even.

I have to teach him how to work that much harder than his peers just so he can *maybe* stand a chance at having the same benefits they do. I have to teach him that he can be more than an athlete, a rapper, or some other occupation white people have deemed “ok” for brown people to succeed in. I have to teach him that even if he became the President of our United States, he’d still have to prove himself worthy, articulate, capable, and not some terrorist hell-bent on destroying the country. I have to basically teach him that when he’s done his very best, to dig deeper and push harder to do even better because our society (unfairly) demands he be more than just a human being like his white friends. I have to make him aware of how our society views him, but still encourage him to not let this societal perspective define him and who he wants to be as a man and a citizen of this country.

I have to teach him that because he is not “peach” others will deem him unworthy and dismiss him just by looking upon his face; that they will still feel they have the right to call him a nigger because “that’s how they were raised,” they “don’t mean any harm by it,” their black friend says “nigga” and Jay Z & Kanye have a song called “Niggas in Paris.”

I have to teach him that people will often not see him at first-they will see a preconceived, stereotyped version of him that has been engraved upon their consciousness by their culture, the media, and sadly, even those who “look like” him. I will have to encourage him to remember that although white folks have always been taught on some level that black & brown people are inherently, at their core, evil, bad, incapable of being good, lack value, and lack intelligence that he is NONE of those things. I will have to constantly remind him that no matter what is said, what laws are enacted, no matter how many jobs or promotions he’s denied, he DOES indeed have rights, he IS more than a stereotype and is not less than his boss, his friend, his classmate…

***********

I thought about all of this as I sat in the shower this morning, hot water mixing in with the tears streaming down my face, my heart heavy. I thought about his questions to me last week, and whispered, “Yes-yes we ARE still slaves and yes, people do still hate us, my son…even our own people are still oppressed with the self-hate fostered in us when we were just property.” In 2013, 40+ years after desegregation and Martin Luther King Jr’s speech on Washington’s monument, we. are. still. slaves. We are free, yes, and slavery is illegal…an amendment in the Constitution says so. But systematically? In people’s minds? In our OWN minds as people of color? No….we are far from free. No we are not free, and since Obama started his run for office back in 2007, the hate for the color of our skin and our culture has been getting louder, bolder, and more vile than I can remember hearing and experiencing growing up. Yes. We ARE still hated, still thought of as less than human.

As my heart weighed heavy with this answer, the thought that came next was “I’m brown. I am a woman. America’s not here for me. I have brown sons, a brown husband. America’s not here for them either.”

Somehow, in 2013, America is still not here for people of color. For men of color. And for women of color? Well…“For some folks being black and being a woman makes us less of both.” -A Letter to Rachel Jeanteal (Note: You WANT to read this….and this.)

**********

America isn’t here for me and my family because our skin is brown and we are a mixed multi-cultural family. Response to Cheerios latest commercial is just ONE of the recent events to reinforce this belief for me. Add SCOTUS’ gutting of the Voting Rights Act, the defense of Paula Deen’s use of racist language, her blind eye to discrimination and harassment in her own establishments, and the reaction to the George Zimmerman trial to the equation and that’s what it all adds up to, doesn’t it?

So my question is this: Who IS America here for?

I’ll give you a hint: It’s not you, citizen. Not unless you are white, straight, rich, Christian, AND male, the 2013 America is not for you and is barely better than what it was in the past.

If you are poor….

If you are gay….

If you have a mental illness…

If you are an atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or any faith other than “The Bible is the innerant and literal Word of God” Christian…

AMERICA. IS. NOT. FOR. YOU.

White, male dominated America doesn’t care about you as a human being if you’re brown or gay, and doesn’t care about your rights and freedoms to make your own choices about your body and reproductive health if you’re a woman-even a white woman.

America only stands for life…ONE kind of life. One that is privileged, entitled, elitist, and democratic only in theory.

FUCK THAT.

You want to stand for life, America? You want to stand for life American Church?

Stand and fight for the millions of children living outside of the womb who are hungry, homeless, abused, in foster care, neglected, and living below the poverty line.

You want to stand for life? Stand for the kids in Chicago, Philly, D.C. and even in rural areas where our public schools are failing and having funding ripped from them.

You want to stand for life? Then fund schools. Fund innovation and technology. Fund the arts. Supply food deserts. Fund your local food bank. Stop taking money from schools in the inner cities to build $400 million prisons. (I’m looking at you Philadelphia)

You want to stand for life? Get real about who can purchase a gun, what kind, how many, and how much ammunition they can have. Get real about gun safety and gun control. Care about violence in urban areas just as much as you do in the suburbs where you live comfortably encased in your “hard-earned” privilege.

You want to stand for life? Volunteer at a Veteran’s home, clinic, hospital or service organization. Spend some time giving back to those who sacrificed their time and lives so you can make your “stand” for life.

Want to stand for life? Man a suicide hotline.

Want to stand for life? Stop enforcing your way of life on others and allow them the same benefits and rights you enjoy. Church? We aren’t a theocratic nation-people can marry, love, and believe who and what they want.

Want to stand for life? Support SNAP benefits and your local food bank. Feed and clothe the homeless, whether you think they deserve it or not.

So you stand for life? Do you stand & vote for deep cuts to food and other welfare programs?

Want to make a stand for life, Church? Stop demanding hungry people sit through your tired ass, patronizing sermons to get the bags of food you offer every week. (I’m looking at you Black Church)

Want to make a stand for life, Church? Be just as mission-minded here in our country as you are in others.

Want to make a stand for life, Church? Be inclusive. Extend your outreach and support to those with mental illness. Stop the sexual and emotional abuse happening in your congregations and institutions.

Hear me: if you stand for the unborn who you claim are more worthy than the women impregnated with them and than those who are already living? If you’re an apologist for racist behavior, attitudes, beliefs, and ideals? If you aren’t here for my rights as a woman and mother of color? If you aren’t here for my mixed family who works just as hard as your privileged ass despite the systematic racism we encounter in various ways every fucking day?

Well then, I’m not here for you. Or your God, or your so-called God-blessed America.

I’m here for a much different country. Maybe I believe in a different God and perhaps I AM living in the wrong “democratic” nation. Guess I should take my black ass back to where I came from, huh?

About these ads

44 thoughts on “America’s Not Here for Us

  1. I hope that you can express what you need to prepare your son for what is ahead without painting such a negative picture. I agree, anyone would have to be blind to think that racism is a thing of the past. I was shocked when I started reading comment threads about this Zimmerman case. I think that racism still exists on both sides. I think that both black and white parents need to instill in their children that everyone should be equal without putting so much negative emphasis on what happened in the past and what is happening in the present. You son can be anything he wants to be. That is the important emphasis. The rest of it will slowly resolve itself eventually. I hope once we teach our own kids to not profile and let go of stereotypes without emphasizing so strongly the negative biases either race has, we can one day get past this. I think that instilling in our children from a young age that those things are not important and that our children can make a difference by focusing on what each child can achieve.

    • I hear you. I do. And I don’t want to paint “such a negative picture” for him, but guess what? The way things are right now, I’m feeling less and less like I have a choice-that’s how it feels and sadly how it IS for mothers of boys of color-we don’t have the luxury other mothers do of just painting a more ideal picture for their kids. My negative emphasis isn’t really so much on the past, honestly. It’s on WHAT’S HAPPENING IN OUR CURRENT DIALOGUE ON RACE and what’s occurring right now. That’s what I’m trying to convey here-that’s what has me disheartened about raising a man of color in 2013….YEARS after such a negative past-IT’S STILL EXTREMELY NEGATIVE. And will continue to be as long as people try to trivialize or downplay or even play the “it’s on all sides” game. Yes, my son can be anything he wants to be…but he still has to work harder and endure things that his white peers won’t have to. I’m not here for glossing over these issues-I can’t.

      • It is sad when the TRUTH is so negative. You have to prepare your son the best way possible because his color will be an issue. His manhood will be an issue. It is so much worse for our sons and the Trayvon Martin murder and the Stand your ground defense is clear evidence of that.
        I, for many years, naively,believed we had turned a corner in race but in 2008 I realized that the corner was one of hate. I questioned many things and many people the last five years. Everyday there seems to be a shocking revelation of race that floors me, EVERYDAY. The internet is the worse…the biggest and whitest hoods come out via comments etc. It is sad that in 2013 that we are still fighting for simple respect in a country we helped build. Love this commentary and as usual you knocked it out the park with simple honesty

      • I, in no way am meaning to trivialize this. I can’t put myself in your shoes. I can only relate indirectly. My gender, sexual orientation, economic status, mental health are the issues that I face and they do not compare. But, as an example, as a woman, I know that if it weren’t for the brave women of the turn of the 19th century, we would still be slaves to men to be abused mentally, physically, sexually, and verbally. I also know that in 2013, this is in no way completely turned around. Unfortunately, there are many women still in the same situation. But, as I raised my daughter, I emphasized to her that regardless of how society or men discriminated against her, no matter whether she got paid as well as a man in the same job position, to know that her work was just as good as his. She still could do anything that she wanted no matter what. Even if she had to work a little harder, the point was to validate herself and not let men do it for her.
        What I am saying is there are many African-American males who are much more than just athletes and rappers. There are Black professors, Lawyers, journalists, accountants, Physicians, surgeons, and I could go on. I believe that those black men and women that have become successful in those fields were encouraged by their parents about what they could do instead of emphasizing what they can’t do. Or passing on the hurts of 2013 to them. I hope you don’t take this as disrespect, but I want it to end as well. When I read those comments about the trial, I was sickened to my stomach, my mind and emotions were floored. Even though I was not completely naïve of what is going on, it still shocked me. I was raised just outside of Detroit until the age of 19 then lived in Florida. Now, due to finances, I have had to live in Kentucky. I can go days without seeing even one person of color. Black, Hispanic or Indian ect not seen around here. I am sure that there are even facets of the KKK still in operation around here, so I know there is still much ignorance here. It isn’t fair at all. So please don’t take me wrong.

      • I am sorry that you didn’t want my comment. Maybe you should disable them and only allow “likes”. I was merely concerned for the boy and his future. Good luck xx

      • Again-it’s unfortunate you keep missing the point and the message (and reality) my post conveys. Seriously. I don’t doubt your concern, I doubt your comprehension and ability to just LISTEN. Acknowledge. Not equalize. Or give advice. I didn’t ask for comfort or advice on how to raise my boy. I just asked to be heard. For my fears and concerns as a mother of color to be heard, acknowledged, and accepted.

      • I am sorry that I didn’t convey this. I was listening. In fact as I was reading your post, I was thinking that I might repost it. But it was just so negative that I decided not to. I’m sorry for trying to give advice. I can appreciate your concern. I was honestly trying to help.

      • What you view as negative is a truth for me and brown families in this country. It’s not your truth, but it is ours and YES-it is ugly. It IS negative. That’s the problem. We don’t have the luxury of being positive in this area when talking to our children about this, esp after yesterday’s not guilty verdict in the Trayvon Martin case. Can we tell our children to be all they can be and instill morals and ethics and teach them to be proud of who they are? To pursue their dreams & goals? YES. We can and I do. Every day. BUT-the frustration and hopelessness I’m feeling lies in recognizing that even doing that is not enough for my son because his personhood, manhood and very existence is STILL considered a threat to the majority in this country. I have to expose him to that reality and that truth and teach him how to carry on and handle himself and still strive to be who he is despite the societal, legal, and cultural oppression and hate for his skin color and masculinity. Period.

      • I know, you do have to prepare him. I am sorry if I offended you. I just think that all children absorb the attitudes and words of their parents, white, black, whatever and that is one of the things that keeps things from changing. I just spoke out of emotion and maybe that wasn’t my place on your blog. I really pray for the best for you and your son an all people who are discriminated and I also apologies for the fact that this country doesn’t value the life of everyone equally. That verdict has made it clear. xx

      • I hear you. I believe it does keep things from changing and that is also part of the hopelessness I feel about all of this. I never imagined in 2013 I’d have to do this. I always hoped that we’d be farther beyond this by now. It’s jarring to have to face that we aren’t and I just feel despair thinking that if this is still where we are, will it ever change? Ever? When?

        Thank you for hearing me out and for commenting. Seriously. Conversations like this are so important even when those involved disagree or see the same issue through different eyes.

  2. Whoa, momma. Your words are so powerful and much appreciated. I’m profoundly moved, and you have given me a lot to think more deeply about–as you typically do! Thanks for your honesty & bravery.

  3. Pingback: How I feel in someone else’s words | Baby steps

  4. There is nothing I can say that will match what you just wrote above. I applaud you from my little corner of the country. The country that I haven’t been proud of since the day I was born, I mean that sincerely.

  5. I really appreciate and value the honesty and vulnerability you share. And, as you’ve said yourself in recent days, it just isn’t that simple. I can’t begin to understand your experience because it is uniquely yours.

    I do NOT condone the behavior in recent weeks of people using terms that make my skin crawl & justifying it because of when they happened to be born. And, I am white. With 3 white male children. And this is my unique experience. We live in a predominantly Hispanic and African American neighborhood, a place I intentionally chose to raise my kids so they would grow up around diverse thought, culture, language, and even skin tone. Much like I did, as a military brat. Most days it is a lovely place to live and yet, my kids experience racism every day.

    When my sons are the only white kids on the playground & I see and hear parents telling their children not to play with “those white kids,” when their children would NEVER have seen the difference nor cared. I’m watching these parents teach their kids NOT to play with mine because of the color of their skin. And my son comes crying to me, not understanding why they won’t play with him. It breaks my heart to watch him experience this. And I frankly want to punch those parents in the face for perpetuating hatred.

    So yes, I agree completely that racism still exists. And prejudice still pervades our social interactions with each other. But it happens to all of us. As parents, I think, all we can do is our best to take the high road. To teach our kids to do the same, despite the adversity they will all face in their lives.

    I would never pretend to know what you and your family has or will experience. But I wanted you to understand a little bit about mine. And I hope that someday you can see past the fact that my kids are white males and catch a glimpse of the amazing humans that I see.

    Thanks for letting me share my perspective.

  6. Pingback: Fill in the Blank | Learned Happiness

  7. I have to admit I am interested and care about what your American experience is and has been. But I am incredibly sad that you will tell your son that white people still hate you. I don’t believe that is true – and as a white (peach) person, you cannot speak for me, you can only speak to your own thoughts, heart, and experience. I try very hard to not hate anyone, and certainly not for their differences.

    I dislike the hip hop and thug culture which to be honest, scares many suburban born and bred white folks like me. It is full of anger and violence I cannot relate to. I think the thug culture is what tends to overshadow black culture to many people – when it certainly isn’t representative of all or even most – people of color. But it is loud and in your face, many times violent, and again, frightening. And those that perpetuate that type of culture – mean to frighten. Being tough is their thing but it takes away from the rest of black culture – in the eyes of many whites who did not grow up in a culture of diversity. So what you think is hate – more likely is fear.

    And being brutally honest I am tired of being blamed for hate I have nothing to do with and do not subscribe to, and I cannot apologize for being white any more than I would expect you do apologize for your ethnicity. And I am also tired of whites being so afraid to talk about the subject of race these days – tiptoeing around the subject for fear of offending someone or worse yet – being branded a racist. Well I am offended when someone says whites still hate blacks. Why is that okay?

    Please consider an America where a black president was elected by whites and blacks alike. American may not be the ideal – no place is – but much progress has been made. And I am afraid that teaching your son that I could hate him – or my family could hate him simply because he is black and we are white – is perpetuating an untruth. Yes I suppose there are whites who do hate blacks. But there are blacks who hate whites and hispanics who hate asians and asians who hate another race beyond that. There will always be hate in the world. But I would only ask that you teach your son that there are indeed cultural differences between us and sometimes we do not understand or relate to each other, but we rarely hate each other and especially do not hate because of what we look like. I try to take people on a case by case basis – and that includes all cultures and colors.

    Please try to look at people without looking through the prism of race. Prisms tend to fragment things and you never get the whole or true picture.

  8. I love you my friend. I wish you didn’t have to prepare your boys for this reality. I need to do better with my little girls. I want them to understand how much more we still have to do to ensure that all children are judged by the content of their character instead of the color of their skin to paraphrase Dr. King.

  9. Pingback: Facing my white privilege | Tranquila Mama

  10. Pingback: When White Women Talk About Race: A Case for Thoughtful Self-Censorship

  11. This is a beautifully written post. It’s extremely uncomfortable, and needs reading repeatedly because it’s time for me to be uncomfortable. White people being comfortable is a major part of the problem.

    I am so grateful and honored to know you. With every word that you write and link that you share, you help expand horizons that need it and shine light into the shadows that need exposing. I’m so sorry that society does this and that this is your reality, that you have to deal with this, because nobody should have to.

  12. Pingback: Inspired at BlogHer14 | The Life of Kylie

  13. This might be the most powerful post I have ever read. Thank you. But know that I am raising a 7 year old peach skin boy to love everyone and to be kind and befriend people of all colors, sizes, and backgrounds. I love your calls to action. And I hope that by the time our little ones have children, their outlook will be brighter.

  14. Pingback: Selfie with Kerry Washington, Met the Bloggess and More: My BlogHer 2014 Recap | Awesomely Luvvie

  15. Pingback: What I Learned About Race at BlogHer14

  16. Pingback: Ferguson, Missouri - VillageQ

  17. Pingback: Move on, but how? | Naptime Writing

  18. Pingback: Injustice Anywhere: Thinking of Michael Brown - Mombian

  19. Pingback: One Life, Many Feelings

  20. Pingback: Weekend Treats | Visible and Real

  21. Pingback: Söyleyecek sözüm var | Blogcu Anne

  22. I came to your post via Upworthy. It brought me to tears. When you wrote, “Not unless you are white, straight, rich, Christian, AND male, the 2013 America is not for you and is barely better than what it was in the past,” it was like your read my mind. Thank you for saying what needs to be said. Please continue saying it.

  23. Pingback: The “R” Word | All in My Head

  24. Pingback: Wishing Peace for Ferguson and Racial Justice Everywhere - Mombian

  25. Pingback: On Ferguson – The System Isn’t Broken, It Was Built This Way | The Belle Jar

  26. Pingback: Ten Ways a White Person Can Be Interrupted by the Ferguson Movement

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s