Mothers. We’re all different, but still we share. We share in the daily blunders of raising a child. We share in the pain of bringing a human into this painful, beautiful world. We do not share, however, the ease of mothering white.
On a couple of flights, I read Between the World and Me by Ta Nehisi Coates. Read it. Black, white, whoever you are – read it. Coates scribes a letter to his fifteen-year-old son describing his own life as a black child and young adult and how the black body is oppressed. It reads overwhelmingly honest and in some parts– bitter. Somehow he manages to tell the truth without making a white middle-class mother feel as if any of this is her fault. He writes to educate.
Coates advises his son, “You have been cast into a race in which the wind is always at your face and the hounds are always at your heels. And to varying degrees this is true of all life. The difference is that you do not have the privilege of living in ignorance of this essential fact.”
White women on the other hand, do. We don’t understand the obstacles that black children face, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try or at least acknowledge it. After reading, I couldn’t help but think about my own ease I have in mothering. To mother white means we simply have less to worry about.
I have very little in common with Coates and his son. I am a young white mother. I am the daughter of two first-generation Greek immigrants who worked to give all four of their kids a cushy life. And it was just that– cushy.
Now, as a mother of two, I find I will have to teach my children much less than Coates. If you are white, your parenting life is easier. Period.
–I won’t have to tell my son to change out of his baggy sweatpants.
–I won’t have to warn my son that white women may be afraid of him while walking on the sidewalk.
–Lectures about the police won’t go beyond “respect authority” and “do as you’re told.”
–Once my kids enter their diverse middle and high schools, they will likely be given favor.
–If my kids are well-spoken, their peers won’t call them a sell-out.
–If they get into a prestigious university, no one will question if it was due to the color of their skin.
–When they’re shopping, they won’t feel the clerk’s eyes burning their skin.
When I taught at a college, I had a black young man named Ben in my classroom. He was the valedictorian of his class and he had never heard of parenthetical citations. He was bright and charismatic. You could tell he was frustrated because he was aware his previous education was sub-par. He had to work much harder to catch up to his peers. He did. Ben wore a dress shirt and bow tie every single day. Five years later, now a mother, I wonder about that bow tie. Did his mother encourage him to wear it because she knew it would impress his teachers?
During my undergrad, I fell in love with African American Literature and history. I devoured Malcolm X, WEB DuBois, Richard Wright, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes and other greats. When I became a teacher, I loved teaching it. Learning about the struggle and triumph was addicting. But you know what? All of this means nothing. Regardless of how much I read, I will never understand any of it. I endured none of it. My kids won’t endure it either.
As a mother, I must understand that yes indeed, my children are privileged. Their lives are inherently easier.
I don’t feel awkward admitting this. I simply recognize it.
Those of us who aren’t mothering minority children, we need to at the very least acknowledge these mothers. Yes, they are sharing in our daily struggles all mothers share, but they have more at stake here. Their lessons will run deeper than ours. Their children will almost always have to work harder than ours.
Mothering white is a privilege, one we need to speak about and ignore how uncomfortable it may make us feel.