In this special series about Parenting and Race, we highlight the experience of what it’s like to raise kids of color in our society. The intention is to spark courageous conversations, encourage reflection, and provide guidance and support for talking to kids about race and racism at every age, so we can create more inclusive, tolerant, and socially just communities.
As a Filipino mother of two African-American boys, I am overwhelmed with difficult and complex emotions about what is happening in our world today.
I wonder how much to share with my younger, 13-year-old, son. What information is appropriate for his age? Am I prepared for the questions he might ask? As the news of the protests spread in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer, I struggle to figure out how I can support him with what he might be seeing or hearing on social media.
I know I have to follow my son’s lead. I know he will be upset and have questions, but I also do not want to overwhelm him with too many details. My son struggles with anxiety and is very sensitive. I know intuitively as his mom that I have to tread gently, but I also know in my heart that I cannot shelter him from reality either.
As an African American male, my son needs to know how he might be perceived and treated in society, and the dangerous situations he will inevitably encounter as he becomes an adult. He needs to know about the challenges ahead, and how this moment in time will impact his future.
As parents, our highest priority is to ensure our children are safe. For my sons, that includes an awareness of the systemic racism that plagues this country. How do I make sure they are equipped with the tools necessary not only to survive, but thrive?
My elder son is 20 years old. He is a man coming into his own. I want him to develop his voice, be heard, and be a proactive decision-maker. But as proud as I am of him “adulting,” I’ve also lost countless nights of sleep from the pressure in my chest that increases when he isn’t home by midnight or when he decides to join a protest in the streets.
I hope I have been the type of parent whose advice and guidance has provided a strong foundation for growth and learning. As a mom of African-American boys, I know that I have also had to teach my children how to react when approached by law enforcement—where to put their hands, what to say, what not to say, how to move, and how not to move. Not every parent needs to teach these skills, but for my children it is a necessity.
As they grow, my sons are becoming increasingly aware of the biases that surround them. The only thing I can do as a mother is to be there for them when life gets complicated and challenging, educate them on the difference they can make in this world, and prepare them for the challenges of a society that wasn’t built with them in mind.
The current protests about the unjust treatment of African-American men, compounded by ongoing fears about the pandemic crisis, compel me to take a breath every day and remind myself that I am doing what I can to keep my children safe and healthy. I feel a tremendous responsibility to both protect and defend my sons in every way possible, because their lives matter.
Ibram X. Kendi, Author, Stamped: Racism, Anti-Racism, and You, The Antiracist Baby. https://www.ibramxkendi.com/.
Systemic Racism explained in a short video from Act.TV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YrHIQIO_bdQ
Ijeoma Oluo, So you want to talk about race
Austin Channing Brown, I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness
Richard Rothstein, The Color of Law
Dismantling Racism: https://www.dismantlingracism.org/
Other books about anti-racism: https://time.com/5846732/books-to-read-about-anti-racism/
Mary is a true believer in investing in the people around her, the services she is supporting, and the most efficient processes for everyone. Mary supervises the administrative team for JFCS’ Peninsula region and coordinates programming for the Center for Children and Youth. She received her BA degree from California State University, East Bay in Mass Communications, along with a certificate in Human Resources Management from San Francisco State University. She lives with her husband and two sons in San Francisco.