This year I won’t be celebrating Mother’s Day with my only child. He just left for the University of Honduras where he will be working as an Artist in Residence, joining his father who is representing our country as a Fulbright Scholar. My son’s absence – and my constant worry about him whether he’s at home or abroad – has me thinking about how difficult it is to shed the role of protective mother.
And then I read several articles on the unbelievably racist comments that appeared on conservative news websites after President and First Lady Obama announced their daughter Malia’s decision to take a “gap year” before entering Harvard University in 2017. According to the ridiculous comments posted by readers, Malia couldn’t have been smart enough to actually earn a place at the prestigious university. Many of the comments harken back to some of the most negative and insidious stereotypes of Black intellect. I have chosen not to publish any of them here.
The news of Malia’s “gap year” decision was of particular interest to me because my niece Kennedy was accepted to Pepperdine University for spring admission and I tried to convince her to take at least “half a gap year” something I wish I had done at her age. She has already traveled abroad and spent time in a variety of countries. Kennedy is just one of my four amazing nieces who are graduating from high school this year. Jordan, who just accepted a Presidential Scholarship, was accepted to over twenty colleges and her unusual “March Madness” styled college selection process was reported on in the local newspaper. Kayla, much like Kennedy, is a popular well-rounded student, who did mission work in Brazil with her boarding school classmates. She plans to return to Alabama for her undergraduate education and then return to California for medical school. And Jaelyn, one of the highest nationally ranked basketball players in the country, received offers from dozens of top women’s college basketball programs. She decided to attend UC Berkeley in the fall. Like Malia Obama, these young women are exceptional, and much like her mother and grandmother, fiercely protective mothers raised them all.
We need to protect our children from racist idiots in the same manner we protect them from sex traffickers, drug dealers, and violent gangs.
The vitriolic racist and inexcusable hate speech comments reminded me just how much ugliness and hate there still is in our country and how much we need to protect our children from racist idiots in the same manner we protect them from sex traffickers, drug dealers, and violent gangs. That type of parenting is something I learned from my mother. We have to shield our children from malign influence, one expert says, and “healthy parenting involves the dual role of nurturer, on one hand, and protector on the other.” And my mother did an amazing job of protecting us from things that could harm our self-esteem or negatively influence the way we saw ourselves in the world.
It wasn’t so much that we weren’t exposed to racism. We knew it existed. We were told stories about all the racism our dad experienced growing up in North Carolina. We knew the history of Blacks in this country. We weren’t naïve. But, as children we never experienced feelings of inferiority in our home. We never heard that Blackness was bad or something we had to “overcome”. There was just a standard of excellence that was expected. We were taught to be confident in our abilities. When we fell short – and all four of us did – our reprimands were not framed within the context of race or gender. That was never an excuse.
Our mother knew her job was to protect us from anything that could cause harm, including the faintest hints of racism, a belief she passed on to all of us. And something, I hope, we all think about doing for the children in our lives – whether they are our kids or someone else’s.