Integral to this story/real life is that I am a White, CIS-Gender, Bisexual, Middle Class woman. I married a Black man, and together, we have a daughter. Half of my family is Latinx, specifically of Cuban and Spanish descent; Spanish and English speaking. This half of my family was predominant in raising me. The other half of my family is of mixed-European heritage. I grew up in a majority White, Blue/All Lives Matter town, like that which I am describing below— and I grew up non-woke. Jah and I are friends from graduate school, and we regularly engage in discussion about race. She asked if I would write on: “Black family. Political climate. That stale ass Long Island neighborhood you live in.”
Every day, I walk about 10 minutes home, in the suburbs, after I get off of my train from NYC. On that walk, I pass a series of telephone poles. Stapled to each one is a large, decorative, blue gift ribbon. I walk three steps… pole, ribbon. I walk another three steps… pole, ribbon. This goes on and on. This display of ribbons and poles continue far past my destination and remain in my mind long after I’ve arrived. These blue ribbons are a visual representation of the Blue Lives Matter movement. They are second only to the Blue Lives Matter flags and bumper stickers, which also adorn many of the homes and cars in my town. Today, I am shocked, but not shocked, to find that my neighbor has added one to her front yard. I can see this new addition from the inside of my home and it is viscerally upsetting to me.
I think about these flags every day. But more specifically, I think about the people who hang them. I have this fantasy in which I imagine a middle-aged white mother, who after a very significant–but largely irrelevant to her–history of events, has eventually come to the problematic delusion and conclusion that she, her family, her community and those who she perceives to be “tasked” to protect it, are under attack. I imagine her heading to her local 99 cent store, pulling out actual money, and buying an entire bag of blue ribbons. I imagine the commentary between her and the white clerk, who makes a validating statement— using different language of course— about how, “the current state of affairs warrant her purchase.” I imagine her proud smile. I imagine her getting back into her SUV, heading home, and then setting aside time to walk the streets, and staple the ribbons to each pole. I imagine what she tells herself with each ribbon hung.
I think about how this woman from my fantasy is so many of the women who I know and see daily. They are women with whom my mother is friends. They are women who raised and fed me. They are women who voted in Trump.
Neuro-moments later, I am thinking of my husband and my daughter. I think about them because they are Black, and I am White. I imagine my husband, who walks home from the train, and passes by these ribbons like I do. Sees them every day like I do. I think about my husband, who has a Black father and a Black brother–both of whom are or have been on the Police Force. I think about my husband who, despite his familial connection to the force, knows what it means to be victimized by the police and actively denied justice by those who would ideally be upholding it. I think about my husband, who has had the police follow him to the front door of our home. Whom has had the police called to question him when neighbors assumed he was breaking and entering into his own, and my grandparents’, home. I think of my husband, whose parents, cousins, brothers, sister, communities, and ancestors are and have been continuously and systematically victimized by the police.
I think of my daughter. My thoughts become future-oriented. She is harder to think about and even harder to write about. I think about my daughter, who has a higher likelihood than a white child of being put at risk or killed by police. I think about how she could have (or statistically will have) adverse experiences with police, and how I wish I could keep her from them. I think about my daughter, and how in one reality, she could be the only one in school who got “the talk,” and knows why she, unlike her classmates, may not be able to trust the police. I think about my daughter in another reality, in which, unlike her father, she grows up as a minority in a majority-white town. I think about how, as a result, she may develop a childhood-perception of the police that more closely matches that of a white child, and how problematic that could be. Not just for her mental health, but for her safety. I think about my daughter in that reality, this time as a teenager, and imagine her engaged in a verbal argument with me in which she is outraged, defensive and confused about her parent’s perspective on the police as I struggle to explain myself, and am desperate to do so.
I think to myself that I should be more strength-based in thought. If I’m being honest, I do this as a means of trying to distract myself from perceived threat and traumatic memories. I think of my husband and daughter’s resiliency. I think of Black Girl Magic. I think of the superpowers of folks of color. I think of consciousness, as a growing movement. I keep my head to the sky. I find pockets of hope, and evidence that the future is brighter than my fears may suggest. I try to remind myself of my own power.
It was only after I grew and labored my daughter into the world, that my identity as a mother naturally intersected with my identity as an ally. It was then that I became increasingly, organically intentional about the role that I– a White, Latina mother to a Black family– could play in racially-focused dialogue and activism, in any community. But especially in a White-majority community.
I believe now that the essence of this role is like a proverb that says (something like), “I am sick in my brother and sister.” My black husband and daughter suffer the sickness of systemic racism. As this family’s White mother, I suffer in their “sickness,” but I do not suffer THEIR “sickness”. Most importantly, I need to actively focus on not directly contributing to their “sickness.” In lieu of supporting them and working to actively dismantle systemic racism, I believe that the function of my suffering and the way I process it must be intentional and ongoing.
Furthermore, my indirect suffering must NOT be my focus or the focus of my family. On the one hand, this is its own respective maternal issue, but on the other, it is an ally’s work. It is why I do not make it the focus of this written text. It is why at all times, unlike mothers to racially-homogenous families, I have to be conscious of choosing words like “we” or “I” when I speak. I have a great responsibility to my Black family and to folks of color. To not be a savior, but to embody a place within which they can feel safe in the experience of their “sickness and suffering.” I must be a champion of their needs when called upon, and a solider against my own internal wiring that triggers me to act on my white guilt or seek empathy in shedding my white tears, as a mother and as an ally. I should need no accolade for my White worry of my Black husband and daughter. I believe that to be applauded or comforted for my White worry would actively work against the cause.
For me, striving to be a better white-mother-ally has meant striving to be better at mentally and behaviorally navigating intersectionality and understanding how to effectively process secondary trauma without re/traumatizing my loved ones. I have not always done these things, and I do not always do them, but I try and will continue to.
To those white mothers/fathers out there in a similar position, I can say this much: the needs of your respective identities will compete. As with all things [parenthood] you’ll need to mentally “stay on your feet” to resolve the dissonance this will create and simultaneously remain effective in both roles. In the words of Mother Teresa, “If you want to change the world, go home and love your family.” Acknowledge the racially-informed power dynamics at play in your family relationships and try to remember that BOTH your ‘wokeness’ and your love are incredibly important to them.