Hey Creative Friends,
It’s been tough these past two weeks.
I’ve heard from many of you, checking on me, and wanting to know what you can do to learn, to help, to understand better, and basically just do more about the challenges that people of color (POC) face every day in America. Thank you.
During this difficult period, I haven’t written much on here or on social media because of the raw emotions I’ve been dealing with. Also the fact that whenever you talk about race you stand the chance of being accused of playing the race card has played a role in my not writing.
However, on here, I’ve always tried to be vulnerable with you about my creative journey. Today, I’ve decided to take that a step further and open up about race relations from my perspective.
You’ve seen me wear many hats – the artist, the teacher, the writer, the creative coach, the art exhibitions curator, the church volunteer, youth mentor, the encourager-in-chief… I can’t list them all.
Of all of these hats, the number one hat that I wear is “the mother”. I see being a mother as my number one job. I’ve got three kids, two of whom are boys.
As a person of color in America, you learn that the color of your skin matters. It matters in many ways, both positive and negative ways. However, the negatives tend to disproportionally outweigh the positives. The color of your skin makes a difference in how you’re perceived, how you’re treated and what opportunities you’re allowed to have.
As a person of color, you learn to work harder than the average person in order to simply stay where you are in life. Let alone, to get ahead. You learn to be conscious and guarded about what you say, how you say it, and how you behave so that you’re not perceived as a threat, which is usually the default. Because let’s face it – no one wants to be labeled the “Angry Black Woman”.
So when someone hurts you, you hide your hurt. When they treat you badly, you hide your anger. When you’re afraid for your life, you hide your fear. You learn all these things. You learn to do hard things and you find ways to survive life and navigate your way through it.
But then, you give birth to a child and you’re over the moon to hold this bundle of joy in your hands. Your heart is filled with love in ways you didn’t think possible. As the years go by and they grow up, and they begin to have a mind of their own, you come to the sad and fearful realization, that they too will have to learn to navigate this world that sees them as “other” just like you’ve had to do.
When the Hat Becomes Heavy to Wear
Parenting is hard for everyone.
However, when you have the added burden of having to find ways to have “The Conversation” with your child, it makes parenting harder. What is “The Conversation”? It’s the same conversation many black parents before me, have had to have with their kids. The conversation in which you have to sit your child down and tell them that because of the color of their skin, they have to learn special survival skills to live life in this country.
“The Conversation” is essentially a survival skills training session. It involves teaching my sons and daughter how to interact with the police if they get pulled over. I’ve got to teach them to know whom to call, what to say and what not to say. I’ve got to instill in them that no matter how they’re treated they have to comply with everything the police tells them to do, so they can come back home alive to Mom.
The worst thing is that, after all of that talk you know deep down in your heart that you can’t guarantee that if they complied, if they did everything the police asked them to do, they’ll even make it home alive.
This is a lot of burden for a human to carry every day of her life.
It is stressful, when simple life events like your child coming of age and getting their driver’s license means totally different things for you as a black mother. In addition to the folly that comes with being a teenager, you’ve got to also worry about the disadvantage at which their skin color puts them. Knowing that if they mess up like all teenagers do, your child may not get a second chance like other regular teenagers might. That is really hard.
I’ve cried a lot during these past several days of protests across America. It’s been very emotional for me. I’ve been traumatized by the image of the police officer’s knee on George Floyd’s neck. I’ve been heartbroken hearing a grown man cry out for his mom. For days, I couldn’t sleep. I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. I’ll sneak into my children’s rooms and peak in on them with a heavy heart.
It’s been tough. I’m exhausted.
I watched a professor from Harvard on television, explain the documented trauma, and the mental health problems, black communities experience after each instance of police brutality. He explained how mental health directly correlates to physical health and well-being. The cumulative result of that is crushing. As I listened to him, I knew he was speaking my truth.
My white friends have asked what they can do. Here are some suggestions.
What you Can Do:
- Speak on behalf of those whose voices don’t hold as much weight as yours because of the color of their skin. When you see something, say something. Don’t stay silent.
- Proximity makes a lot of difference. Get close to a person of color (POC) and really get to know them. You’ll be surprised that they have similar hopes and dreams just like you.
- Educate yourself on the topic. Have an open mind. Read books, watch movies and be willing to hear different perspectives with respect to race relations. Listen.
- Teach your children/grandchildren not to be color blind. Teach them to celebrate the different colors while recognizing that color has put many people at a disadvantage.
- Support POC businesses, follow them on social media, buy from them, take their classes, share their works, give them opportunities
- Research and donate to black causes that you believe in. Sign petitions. Take action. Do what you can.
- Use your economic power: The solution is not just being nice to people of color. It’s making sure our institutions and systems change. Demand that the arts and craft supplies companies you support, commit to diversity. Hold them accountable to featuring black instructors, having black ambassadors for their products, and working with black artists.
- Share this list with friends and family and have meaningful conversations.
We can all do something.
Let’s change this world for all our children and their children. The status quo has taken generations to create. Let’s change it for the generations to come.