On Raising Black Boys In 2018
When my son was almost a year and a half old I took him to his cousin’s birthday party. Despite his newness to walking, my little one was still determined to run around as fast as he could. Of course he toppled over after a few laps. Instead of shaking it off as he usually did, he hiccuped into a breathless scream-cry. His mouth was bleeding and his little face was contorted with pain. I rushed over to scoop him up and comfort him. But before I could reach him, my aunt stepped in and held my shoulder back.
“Don’t baby him”, she said.
I looked at her, then at my small son’s crocodile tears. I shook away her hand and enveloped my baby in my arms. This wasn’t about an opportunity to teach my baby how to toughen up. This was about letting him know that in a cold world, his family has his back. That he has a safe space in the world, one that supports his emotional needs and provides empathy when he needs it. My aunt shook her head a few times, which I wisely ignored.
The hardest thing about raising (black) boys is that they are so underestimated as emotional beings. I went into this mother-of-boys life thinking girls were easier to bruise and boys were tough balls of steal. I learned quickly how ambivalent the gender roles are during those precious early years - of which my son is still a member.
A good friend of mine just completed her doctrine in child development and explained the myth of childhood in the black community. She said that based on public perception and social treatment, childhood for black boys ends at age 8. The same age I was when I had streamers on my bicycle handles and knockers in my hair. By this age the world hardens around them as their facial features sharpen slightly. Their rambunctiousness is tolerated less, their emotions are dismissed more quickly. When they should still be hugged, spoken to gentle tones and asked how they feel - they are often asked to simply keep their thoughts and feelings to themselves.
I make an effort to soften my tone, get down to his eye level, ask him what his preferences are, ask him how he feels and remind him that his voice is important instead of buy into any of the stereo typical viewpoints of what masculinity means or looks like.
Don’t let the world define who you are as a mother, who your children are as people, or what your family should look like.