Why I Never Wanted a Boy
Finding out I was pregnant with another boy wasn't easy. Why? Because I know what it really means to raise black boys in America.
Though I'm already the mom to a happy and healthy toddler boy, my heart sank when I learned I was pregnant with another one. I was officially a boy mom, and it was something I never pictured I would be.
No, it's not because I yearned for a little girl to dress in tutus for a dance recital and bond over pedicures at the spa. (Well, maybe I did a little bit.) I never wanted to have boys because I wouldn't just be a boy mom: I would be the boy mom of black boys. This mom club is more than just a cute hashtag on Instagram and Twitter. It's filled with additional challenging parental responsibilities and a constant reminder that your kids' childhood and innocence are at stake.
I know when my little boys come of age, the world will see them as a threat. Truth is, I'm terrified; I'm not convinced my heart can handle it, and I'm nervous about my ability to raise them.
Reality of Raising Black Boys
As a boy mom, it's your job to teach your children to be upstanding and productive men in society, but when your boys are black, there are just too many factors working against them. I'm forced to take their innocence and explain that their skin alone is enough for others to feel threatened. It's my responsibility to explain to them that they can do everything in an "acceptable way" and still end up on the wrong side. And I have to teach my boys lessons no parent should ever have to teach their kid.
I wish having "that talk" with my kids would only mean talking about procreation. But no, our talks will include me explaining that wearing a hoodie can be enough for them to be viewed as dangerous. I will have to explain that sometimes being a black boy means having to give up a part of yourself in order to be accepted. I have to explain to them that people might have a problem with how they style their hair or they may possibly be dismissed from an activity due to another person's closed mind and cultural insensitivity.
My days aren't just filled with reading to my children and vetting their television shows of choice. I'm forced to make sure the media they are exposed to show black men in a positive light. Although it's getting a little easier, it can be difficult to find children's books featuring black boys or selecting television shows that don't depict the black characters as troublemakers. I want my boys to see themselves in entertainment and media—and positively represented—so they know they can take roads that lead to success and not prison. I want them to see their potential despite society trying to hold them back or what statistics say.
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And those statistics are heart-wrenching. Black children represent 19 percent of preschool enrollment, but account for 45 percent of out-of-school suspensions, notes the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights. Black students are 1.9 times more likely than white peers to be expelled. And black students are more than twice as likely to be referred to law enforcement for discipline in comparison to white students.
Oftentimes the severe disciplinary actions stem from biases, lack of racial training for school officials, and limited knowledge of cultural differences. "We know from research on ingroup bias that people subconsciously favor their racial group over others," says Erlanger Turner, Ph.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and assistant professor of psychology at Pepperdine University. "This is why we need to have more racial training in schools to combat racial bias to reduce inappropriate punishment for black youth. If school officials are able to detect their implicit bias it could force them to think more critically about consequences for all students."
The bias and unfair punishment can all contribute to a downward spiral. "Suspended and expelled children are often left unsupervised and without constructive activities; they also can easily fall behind in their coursework, leading to a greater likelihood of disengagement and dropouts. All of these factors increase the likelihood of court involvement," according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). And it's not fair that this is more likely to be the outcome for black children, as well as children with special needs, than others.
As a mom of black boys, I don't want to feel my heart drop every day as I watch my son leave the house. Yes, it's a fear all parents have, but it's harder when your children are rich with melanin. And it's a fear I'll have for the rest of my life.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. But how am I supposed to trust that village when the village seems to prove it's out to destroy my children?
How Can We Build a Brighter Future for Black Boys?
It's heartbreaking to know that no amount of explaining can change the minds of close-minded people, and my children will be the ones that suffer because of it. But if you consider yourself an ally, do something when you're confronted with disheartening statistics regarding black boys and discipline. Do what you can to help the school provide students—especially black students—with additional resources. The responsibility can't rely solely on the parents of black children to make the change.
You can attend school board meetings and challenge educational systems that employ zero-tolerance policies (or predetermined consequences that are usually severe in response to student behavior), says Rupert Pond, father and board member of the Roselle, New Jersey school district. "No crime and punishment is one-size-fits-all," he says. "Inquire about the goals of the particular district and what tactics they plan to employ to ensure fair treatment and punishment of minorities at the school level."
What can schools do better? School administrators can institute social emotional learning and explore how their own biases may be affecting their relationships with students, says Pond. Schools can also maintain the emotional wellbeing of their students by providing weekly group guidance counselor sessions as early as kindergarten, he adds. This will help students deal with their feelings and behavior and help them understand they are cared for.
The social emotional method has been practiced in the Roselle district for two years with success thus far. "It allows our staff to hone in on what students are feeling and going through," says Pond. "If they're happy or sad or tired it changes the way they learn, and having that information is vital to the success of the student. With all of this we are able reach the kids where they are and truly connect. The benefits are better connections and fewer disciplinary actions needed."
However, being part of the change isn't limited to the schools. It starts at home.
Take the time to expose yourself and your children to different cultures so they know not to judge others based on stereotypes. Volunteering in different communities, reading books featuring diverse characters, and watching movies that portray black males positively can all help. "If people don't have interactions with black males, your world and viewpoint will be just what you see and they don't paint particular groups in the best light," says Pond. Additionally, parents need to check on their own biases. Teaching your children to have open minds about different races can be conflicted if you roll your eyes at certain news headlines or clutch your purse when in the presence of black males or repeat racial stereotypes around the home.
In the meantime, I hope to push my fear aside and choose to believe that I had two little black boys because they will survive their reality and become part of the change. I need to have faith that my boys will thrive in spite of everything with the solid foundation my husband and I provide.
No, I never wanted my boys, but words can't describe how much I love them and how hard I will fight to protect their livelihood.