At a young 10 years old, my son Dre was called a nigger in school by a classmate. This is being a black mother in America.
Nothing will ever prepare you as a mom to receive your child after experiencing something like that. Thankfully my village was there and ready to catch me, because I was inevitably falling.
My initial reaction was rage, obviously. Hot lava tears are running down my face. I’m angry, frustrated, and feeling the most helpless I’ve ever felt in my 10 years of motherhood. I feel like I’ve failed. Like I was supposed to protect my kids from this crazy ugly world, and my mission is feeling far from accomplished right now. This is being a black mother in America.
I never thought when my phone rang that day, what I was about to hear would be our reality. The principal was calling to tell me Dre is fine but there was an incident at school today that involved him. He was in Spanish class when a student gets upset that Dre joins a group he wants to be in and calls him a nigger in front of the class. Dre is in shock and immediately asks a friend to go with him to the principals office to report the incident (a detail I’m very proud of because he was forced to advocate for himself in that moment and he did). Among a list of things the school got wrong, the principal said to me on the phone “I just thought we were past this”. Past what exactly?! Black and brown people being treated less than because of the color of their skin? White people using our skin color as a weapon of mass destruction at their leisure? Which part exactly did you think we were “past”? I made sure to let her know that comment was not only offensive, but it was also ignorant. As the principal of a school and an educator it is her duty to educate not only herself but her staff to what’s happening in the country right now. Now, my problem isn’t with this goofball kid, it’s with the administration and how poorly they’ve handled this entire situation.
I immediately call my husband Dre on the phone to tell him what’s happened. His first reaction is “we’re going up to the school first thing in the morning”. Thank god for his calm spirit. I just wanted to curse yell and fight, but he was my rock in that moment.
My next call is the one that changes everything. Remember that time I told y’all mom tribes were crucial, here’s why. I call my friend Channon. She knows everything. No seriously, like EVERYTHING. My nickname for her is Ask Channon. We treat her like Siri or Alexa and literally ask her every question we can think of. And she always has an answer. This time was no different. And it may have changed the entire course of how I was able to handle this in front of my child. Channon made it very clear to me that my reaction now would determine what type of imprint this would leave on Dre later on in life. That sounds real deep and profound on the surface but honestly I was scared to death of getting it wrong. How do I make sure I let Dre feel what he’s feeling without influence? How do I make this a teaching moment? What reaction let’s him know best that I’m ready and willing to advocate for him to the fullest extent? The short answer is…I have no clue. This is being a black mother in America.
All I know is, it’s my job to instill a very important lesson to him: When they go low, we go high (thanks to my forever First Lady). Unfortunately, Dre is already learning what it looks like to forgive someone who may not actually be sorry for what they did. At 10 he has to understand that forgiveness isn’t about the other person, it’s about our own ability to move on from a situation. At 10, he has to understand what it means to be a black man in America, and I quickly get a dose of what it means to raise one. I need him to get back to a sense of normalcy. I know he’s not ok yet, but he will be because Dre and I have already given him so many things that unknowingly prepared him for this moment. We’ve lived abroad. We’ve discussed race. We’ve printed out and read aloud self affirmations according to who and what God says he is. We made sure he is always able to articulate his emotions. And most importantly, we taught him to advocate for himself. A detail I didn’t come to know until later was Dre is the one who went to the principals office to report it. Not a teacher. Dre. My sweet baby boy. He knew something wasn’t right and instead of standing around and waiting for someone to do something about it he chose to handle it himself. And for all of those reasons, I know Dre will be ok. “He must be taught that in these Americas, he will often be seen as the enemy for believing in and expressing himself as a black boy.”
But he’ll ever be the same. He’s always had the heart of a lion. But now, he’s determined more than ever to stand on the right side of how people are treated. So, if this is what it took to push Dre into his purpose, so be it. Because life doesn’t come with a manual, it comes with a mom.