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Raising kids in a world where race still matters

When President Barack Obama was elected, my husband and I — watching the results roll in on TV — clung to each other and cried. The historic election meant so much for us, for our families, for the children we would eventually have together. But we knew it would not mean a "post-racial" society, as some suggested.

If I'm being really honest, it's hard to believe such a thing will ever happen, at least not in our lifetime. But for our three children's sake, how we wish it could. We want them to have every good thing in life — and to be the kind of people who offer back to the world some of what they've been given.

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We're far from perfect parents, but we try to do the best we can. At the same time, we pray every day for our children to be recognized the world over as just as valuable, just as worthy, just as smart, just as beautiful.

That's why it stings when a brown sixth-grader, playing with a toy gun in a public place, is shot to death within seconds of a police car's arrival.

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That's why it hurts so much when a teenager — the same color as my boys — is shot and killed in the street, called a "demon" by his killer, and vilified in the media and on the Internet.

That's why it is so anxiety-causing to learn that schools suspend black boys and girls at far greater rates than white children for the same (often minor) offenses.

I could go on and on about inequities, implicit bias, stereotyping, hatred. But you've heard the research findings. You've seen the recent news stories.

All of it shows that no matter who the president is, no matter where we live, no matter how well we teach them to behave, be smart, work hard, love people, be kind and honor God, their families and themselves — no matter what we do to prepare and protect them — someone out there is likely to see our curious, delightful, sweet, hilarious children and think "criminal," "scary," "untrustworthy," "value-less," "stupid," "ghetto," "ugly," "target."

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So what can we do?

Our parents' way of handling things was to keep us, for the most part, sequestered in majority black communities. It was self-segregation for protection's sake. It's more comfortable, to be sure, and maybe even safer in some respects.

I understand its origins and good intentions, but it's not for me. I like the full Technicolor of our lives. I would never choose, for myself or for our children, a life lived in a monotone.

So we will give our children the best we can in terms of education and socialization, community and character, values and principles, faith, finances, family and friends.

And, at some point, we will do the delicate dance many black parents before us have done: letting the three of them know the sad truth that there are people out there who will see them only for the color of their skin — and make negative assumptions about them because of it.

But we will also let them know that many, many more people will accept, celebrate and love them neither because of nor despite their skin color. Like the many friends of ours they will come to know over the years, those people will love them just for who they are.

We'll never be able to totally shield them from the world's hatred, from prejudice, discrimination, fear and ignorance. But we hope they will not be stymied, crippled or in any way hindered by it. We pray they will shine and succeed in spite of it.

We will teach them to love the skin they're in. Their hair, their noses, their far-from-privileged ancestry. And we'll pray they will create for themselves a life full of people of all races, backgrounds, religions and cultures.

If our three brown babies can do that — and God willing, they will — we will know that we have done for them the very, very best that we could do.

Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who now works as director at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 4-year-old sons, a 21/2-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap.

Her column appears monthly.

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