Trying to Explain Blackness to a Seven-Year-Old
“I don’t think Liam knows he’s black.”
Rebecca is the queen of big statements with a little voice.
“Wait what? Yes he does!”
I am the king of brushing off big conversations in favour of watching TV.
“No I don’t think he does. You need to talk to him.”
“Why me? You can do it. You’re smarter than I am.”
Typing out this conversation really lets me see how much of a pain being married to me must be.
“Why do you think we need to talk to him?”
Rebecca goes on to explain to me how Liam didn't want to mention that Barbados, where he spent most of his summer last year, had lots of black people in it because he felt he would be laughed at. My response is a typical ‘It’s not a big deal…’ sort of reaction. Then she wins the argument:
“I would rather him learn what this means from us now then us having to explain it to him after something happens to him at school.”
That settled it. I was going to have to explain blackness to my son.
My parents never sat down and had the talk with me about my blackness. It was just something I always knew. What they did teach me, especially my mother, was how my blackness would be seen and perceived by the world around me. Those talks on dealing with rejection for jobs, having to work twice as hard to get just as far and more shaped my young worldview. I was never raised to be a victim but I was raised to know that the game of life was somehow rigged for kids who looked like me. And so I had to learn the code…learn how to live in two worlds at the same time and work hard to earn my place anywhere. That focus was only highlighted as I got older through my own experiences. I do not remember what I thought about at seven, but here’s what Liam thinks about:
Liam is a legit seven year old boy. He's not thinking about his skin or the skin of his friends. He’s thinking about this list and adding WWE to it and doing pro presenter at church on Sundays. He’s thinking about how to trick me into letting him have another snack even after his mom said no more snacks. And yet, one day the reality that he is different will hit him. A kid or adult will say something dumb and he will come home hurt and confused. Someone may tell him that he doesn't sound or act black and he won’t know what they are trying to convey. And on that day, he will join the millions and millions in his ancestry who experienced hell on earth for the same thing. And we’ll have to pick up those pieces. You can’t regain innocence. Once Pandora’s box is opened, it’s done. And so I attempted to bust the balloon in hopes of saving him from later pain.
“Hey Liam can I talk to you?”
Liam joins me on our bed.
“Liam, pal…you know that you are black, right.”
Look at me killing it with the subtle talk, eh? Man I suck…
“I think so…can I go watch TV?”
“In a sec. And you know that you’re a mix of both mommy and daddy, right?"
He just stares forward and nods.
"But some people will only see that you are darker and they might be mean to you because of that.”
“People are mean to white people too, right Dad?”
Ugh! Feel spot activated. He isn’t wrong.
“Yes people are, but it’ll be different for you. But I want you to know that God made you to look like you and that you are amazing.”
“Can I watch TV?”
Liam rushes off the bed and runs down the stairs….