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…

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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.)

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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?

Racial Profiling: It Happened To Me Today

Finally. I was at the school. I made my way to my usual spot on the concrete bench right outside the door Brennan runs out of every day yelling “Mommie!” “Hey Alex!”; his smile so big just below his glasses it always reminds me of what I looked like when I was his age. Quirky, eager to learn, boundless energy, big glasses-we’re pretty much twins he and I.

I looked over at Alex sleeping in the stroller and partially covered his face with his thick Thomas the Train blanket in an effort to shield him the cold wind blowing around us.

I turned off the Prince music blaring through my headphones, took them off, and placed then in the bottom of the stroller. I glanced at my phone noting the time-2:27. Close to the usual time I arrive every day.

I turned around and leaned my body back against the brick wall, taking in long deep breaths to recover from walking and pushing the stroller up the monster of a hill that leads to Brennan’s school at the top. I reached down to grab a juice box from the bottom of the stroller and heard boots scuffing the ground near me. I looked up and right into the eyes of a police officer, the same one I passed as I headed to my usual spot by the door. Considering recent events I didn’t have to wonder why he was sitting on his motorcycle watching the kids on the playground-he was there, just in case. “Extra security measures,” the email from the school had said. “We take the safety of our students and children very seriously,” the principal stressed in that email.

“Hi ma’am. Can I ask you why you’re sitting here?”

Huh?

“I’m waiting for my son.”

“You actually have a son who goes here?”

“Yes. Why do ask?”

“What grade is he in?”

“Kindergarten,” I said, wondering where this was going. Maybe this is one of those “extra security measures” the school mentioned. I used to be an Air Force cop-I know what it’s like to have to ask people questions when there’s a security threat.

“What’s his name?”

“Brennan. Brennan Mills.”

“And what’s your name?”

“A’Driane,” I said, noticing other parents walking by-the same parents I see every day-and catching their glances as they passed. “A’Driane Dudley.”

“You have ID on you?”

I reached down and grabbed my wallet out of the bottom of the stroller and handed over my ID.

“This says you’re from New Jersey-“

“Yea I know, I moved here back in August and that’s my old driver’s license-it’s expired and I don’t drive. I walk here every day to pick up my son.”

“Ok.” Hands my ID back to me. “This your son too?” he asked, tossing his head in the direction of the stroller. “Anything other than your purse underneath there?”

“Yes. His name is Alex. No. Nothing but juice boxes to drink on our walk home. I’m sorry, but can I ask what’s going on? Is there a memo I missed? Am I supposed to wait somewhere else now, until my son gets out? This is where I usually wait for him-his classroom is right there,” I said pointing to Brennan’s classroom that could be seen clearly through the locked doors. “They are dismissed through this door every day so that’s why I wait for him here,” I said, noticing that another parent had shown up on the patio area, waiting, like I was for her kindergartener.

“Well, ma’am we’re just checking out any and all suspicious activity we see around the school property, and approaching people-making sure they’re supposed to be here.”

Suspicious. I looked over at the mom standing at the base of the patio and felt my face grow hot, becoming very aware of what I was wearing: yoga pants, Bertski’s hooded Vans long sleeved shirt, my headwrap. No…no. This isn’t happening. Is it? There’s no way this is what I’m thinking it is. He’s going to approach other parents after me who are showing up too. This is just a security measure….isn’t it?

“Well alright ma’am. Thanks for your cooperation. Have a good day.” He turned to the other mom standing there, smiled, nodded his head, and said, “Hi-it’s a cold one, today, isn’t it?” More pleasantries exchanged. No ID checking. No interrogation. No asking what was in the Gucci purse hanging from her shoulder. Their laughter grated on my nerves and I stood up, angry as I watched him walk back to his motorcycle and start talking to the other officers in the suburban next to him.

I watched them and waited. Waited for them to walk to another patio down the sidewalk where there were parents gathering and make their presence known, ask questions. They didn’t. No one else was questioned.

Before I could hide the anger and embarrassment washing over my face, I heard the school doors opening and turned to see kindergarteners pouring out into the patio, their chatter loud, excited as they were escorted by older students to their parents waiting in the car line.

I fought back tears as I searched for his face and big smile. There he was. The only brown face in the sea of children, making his way toward me, with his usual greeting, “Mommie!” “Hey Alex!” and grabbing me around the waist. I grabbed his hand, released the brakes on the stroller, and walked as quickly as we could away from the school. From the police. Towards the road that would take us back home, where I wasn’t so “suspicious” looking.

I understand that what happened in Sandy Hook has everyone on high alert. I understand increased security at schools. But what I don’t understand is profiling a woman because her skin color and attire don’t look like they “fit” in a certain environment; one where others are white and their attire-whether it’s workout gear, corporate wear, or designer outfits-never arouses “suspicion.” I don’t understand why I was the only parent questioned during that time. I saw none being questioned when I arrived and none being approached after I was.

I’ve tried not to let the fact that Brennan is the only black kid in kindergarten at this school worry me. There are other minority families with children who attend, but our kids are a very small percentage of the overall white population at the school.

I’ve tried not to give into the “I’m a black woman in an affluent white neighborhood and I need to present myself in such a way that my race doesn’t matter. I’m a parent just like everyone else.” I made a conscious choice to believe that despite my concerns, no one would see our blended family any different than the others that are apart of the school community. For the most part, I believe that the majority of the other parents don’t give any thought to our races or what kind of clothes we’re wearing.

But there have been a few times when I’ve gotten “the look.” It’s usually from women but I’ve gotten it from a few men as well. The fake smile they throw my way when I look them directly in their eyes and say hello….or the silence that lets me know they are uncomfortable. I know what these things mean because I’ve experienced them most of my teenage and adult life. I’m not stupid. Not by any means. I don’t look for something that isn’t there. I don’t go around looking for an opportunity to pull out the race card.

No. I don’t do that. But when racism makes its presence known I know how to recognize it for what it is, no matter how subtle or indirect, and call a spade a spade.

What happened to me today was something that left me feeling violated. It was demeaning and it once again drove home the reality of what my sons will have to face and my responsibility to teach them how to handle themselves when it tries to undermine their value and right to be viewed just like everyone else-human beings. Young men who see differences in others and not let fear or prejudice dictate how they treat others.

Today I was racially profiled. Just like thousands of other American citizens with brown skin, long beards, turbans, and who wear hoodies. People who “look suspicious.” It shouldn’t happen. But unfortunately every day and especially after a horrific tragedy rocks our nation, we go back to these kinds of behaviors and call them “security measures.”

It’s not right. Things like this make me lose hope that my boys will live in a society that’s freer from the grip of racism than we currently are today.

I hope I’m wrong. Right now though? I see we still have a much longer way to go.