Carolyn, “As a black Mom I’ve learned, “mainstream” has its own set of rules, regulations, and expectations, which for the most part do not include my child or my culture.” Tip #1
I appreciate Carolyn’s input and honesty, particularly with her first tip. She and I have had many discussions, and shared sadness, on racism and discrimination.
I am honored she’s entrusted me to expand on the challenges she’s faced, as a black Mom raising a black child. We are both disheartened by the obstacles in “mainstream” society, and the exclusion that exists, preventing black youth from becoming all they can be.
One of the special things about Carolyn is, although she has been victim of, and has painfully witnessed, the impact of racism and discrimination, she remains optimistic. She has an ability to accept people for who they are, even though she may have reason to feel otherwise.
In our collective work with a diverse population, Carolyn and I have shared frustrations in supporting cultural differences. We ache to see everyone feel, and be, accepted.
Having these conversations with Carolyn, has been a place of privilege to me. I value her openness to share, and willingness to listening. Time with her has helped to further develop my thoughts, and understanding.
We both have a deep passion regarding the societal virus of racism. I’m surprised she could contain herself to just one line, one tip. That will absolutely not be my case!
Having raised a white male, in a relatively comfortable environment, I had never considered preparing him for discrimination. We may have touched on the topic in some superficial way, however, we were far removed from any true understanding.
As a family, we knew nothing of what it meant to be judged by appearance, excluded based on perception, to be overlooked, or find opportunities inaccessible. Discrimination was something we were aware existed, but were not impacted by.
Following Michael’s injury in 2008, a visible disability, I became more familiar with discrimination and limited access. Michael now looked differently, he was open to discrimination. I noticed side glances, subtle whispers, not-so-subtle comments, and fear in the eyes of others.
Because Michael was a handsome, young, articulate, and fully developed physically, individuals felt, and vocalized, he was “playing” in that wheelchair. I personally witnessed two seniors insist he get out of the chair. I wanted them to die, burst into flames even!
The issue pierced deeper when we were introduced to inaccessibility. We came up against buildings we could not accessed, ramps too steep, and restaurants we could no longer visit.
Although our experience cannot compare to those facing constant and systemic racism, and generational, lifelong discrimination, it was a sample providing painful awareness. As I watched others judge my son, and made assumptions about his ability, I reflected on what discrimination meant. I began to see discrimination in a raw and more personal way.
I better understood the magnificent impact of judgement and exclusion. In my mind, I drew parallels on limitations, barriers, and the unique obstacles in each specific journey. I thought of the steepness in our individual “climbs,” the “ramps” that may or may not be helpful.
In my work with black youth, I’ve gained a profound and meaningful understanding of racism, and its impact on lives and on futures. That understanding is painful for me, and at times immobilizing for the youth.
As a white, middle-aged woman, working for government, I have had the unique experience witnessing how racism has affected my interactions with black youth. I work diligently to earn trust in a system that has repeatedly failed them. Racism, particularly systemic racism, strongly impedes my relationships, and reduces the hope of connection.
When sitting with black youth, at times, I observe their lip curl, their nose pointing up, eyes casting down, and a strong look of disdain. I speculate how their experience, and generational history, has caused irreparable damage. The distrust is palpable, heart breaking, and justifiable.
I cannot imagine what it must feel like to, experience judgement everywhere, every day. How deflating, exhausting, and at times debilitating!
This insight propels me in seeking solutions as to how cultures can work together for change. I invite conversation on we can improve the world and our collective future. I want to focus on strengths, accomplishments, and unity!
I want all our kids to be taught how to fight for their seat in education, how to use the right to vote, how to write a letter to the editor, get interested in the news, and to run for council. I want all kids to grow believing they have a right to be in every room, to feel belonging, owning the chance to be there!
I want kids to feel looking different is a privilege, a badge of honor! A visible cue to others, they bring a unique understanding of diversity, and of the world. I want all youth to know they carry the strength and resilience of great ancestry. They have earned the position to represent others, share background and culture, and to contribute an enriched perspective.
I’m afraid this vision is in direct opposition to what I fear is happening for some of today’s youth: entering a room looking different, feeling like they don’t belong, and others in the room do not want them there. I fear youth believe the larger community is not accepting of differences, and even worse if they have learned that to be true!
For individuals to possess such abilities, yet feel themselves to be inadequate, to be imagining or experiencing racial tension, or discrimination – it is an injustice for all of society! It would be terrible should any individual with visible differences carry a negative and defeatist narrative into any space, despite obvious strength, insight, and distinct viewpoints.
Many are beyond eager to hear opinions, share ideas, breakdown bias, and expand thinking. I would love if everyone with visible differences were to greet each opportunity with pride and appreciation; if everyone were to feel apart-of and not apart-from.
I wish we were happy to see differences, and we listened closely to all contributions. I wish no student would ever allow some idiot take their seat in school, position at work, or future from them.
Can we find and promote a strategy that will elevate us all? Can we work together to push up any “ramp” we face, regardless of the incline.
Thanks to Carolyn for providing this opening, to such an important issue! I did mention, I had a lot to say on the matter!