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Struggling with the bigotry my children may face in today's America

On weekend mornings, they come crawling on to our bed — my side always — on all fours like lion cubs, padding across the comforter. They peer at me, looking for signs of wakefulness.
On weekend mornings, they come crawling on to our bed — my side always — on all fours like lion cubs, padding across the comforter. They peer at me, looking for signs of wakefulness. (Getty Images)

On weekend mornings, they come crawling on to our bed — my side always — on all fours like lion cubs, padding across the comforter. They peer at me, looking for signs of wakefulness.

I pretend to be asleep, but somehow I know who is who. Through the slits under my eyelids, I can make out a gap where a tooth used to be, or see the blur of a beaded braid. I know the sound of their exasperated breaths when I roll but don't "wake." I know each of them, half asleep, eyes closed, in my dreams, in my soul.

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But my window is closing. Too soon, they will develop lives that don't include me. They will keep me on the outside of inside jokes, and harbor secrets I can't know. They will start to value more and more the opinion of their peers over that of their parents. Their friends will become more like family.

Already, the idea of it makes me immensely sad — the inevitable separation that has to happen between parent and child. But I take comfort in believing that my husband and I are building a foundation of love and acceptance that will not only withstand the cleaving but foster a meaningful friendship when the kids are grown.

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I want this especially because I very much like my children. I like the little people they are becoming. They make me laugh. They're interesting. They challenge me.

And so I strain to comprehend that there are those in the world who will dislike them, without knowing them at all, simply because their skin is brown.

I've written about this before. I feel like I've talked about it to friends ad nauseam. But it takes up a lot of space in my brain and heart, so I unspool myself here again. I know there will come a time that my three little children will be judged upon sight and found unworthy or worse. And I hate it.

There are those who continue to deny that such an injustice is possible in our modern, post-civil-rights-era world. Racism died with the Jim Crow bigots, they say. But in the aftermath of a heart-wrenching week in our nation, a week of death and grief and raw public rending, the racists came out again in full force.

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A friend of mine, and former Baltimore Sun colleague, Maryann James-Daley, wrote a column in USA Today last week, after Alton Sterling and Philando Castile died at the hands of police in back-to-back shootings. Her tearjerker opinion piece, written about her concerns for her 2-year-old son, was titled "How do I raise my black son in this America?"

One man who read her piece insulted her by suggesting she find out who her child's "baby daddy" is, despite the fact that she mentions her husband in the commentary. Another wrote, "How about teaching your son not to be a damned thug? That might be a good place to start."

I know the comments section of any article is often where our nation's worst souls go to have a cesspool party. But these people mean what they say. And they have friends and family members and golf buddies who back them up and egg them on. So the stereotyping and bigotry sinks in deeper — like a stain left too long.

These are the people who will see my sons in their neighborhoods and think "thug," "criminal." And those thoughts will put my sons in danger. These are the people who will mistake my daughter for "the help" in nice establishments, and chip away at the esteem we are working so hard to instill in her.

These are the people who will never know my children for the hilarious, kindhearted, sweet-spirited humans that they are. And I mourn for those people, somewhat like I do for my future self when the children get older and start to wall themselves off.

Because these little people of mine — just like so many beautiful, brown-skinned children all over — they're worth knowing, America. They are worth knowing.

Consider this the morning after a long, painful night. Open your eyes and see them.

Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who now works as vice president at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 6-year-old sons, a 4-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at tanika@thehatchergroup.com. Her column appears monthly.

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