This is a reflection that I wrote for the Kenyon College Literary Journal, Beyond Walls. I wanted to share it with you here…
I have always assured my children that I love them equally. And that’s true. But I also love them differently. As a white mother of my biological, white son and of my adopted, dark-skinned son, I have had different worries about them as they have matured into young men.
They have grown up in the same household, under the same rules, surrounded by the same caring congregation in a tightly knit New England village. And yet they have had vastly different life experiences.
There was the time when my adorable Bolivian baby, tucked into his stroller with his chubby cheeks ringed by a mop of curly dark hair, was viewed with disdain by a passerby. “He isn’t from around here, is he?” declared the man before he huffed away, apparently concerned that his white town was being tainted by this newborn. It was just a sentence lobbed at us, but it made its impact and it hurt.
Then there was the time outside of a movie theater when my dark-skinned son ran ahead of me to claim the “shotgun” seat in the car. Intent on his goal, he squeezed past a man who wheeled around, face full of anger, and shouted, “Hey, darky! I ain’t scared of you! You think you’re so tough? Come on!” My gentle, not yet teenage son was the one who was scared. This experience was topped only by the time when he was walking our dog not far from our house and someone stopped their car to ask if he belonged in this neighborhood.
All of this was a learning curve for me. My eyes were opened to experiences that I didn’t even realize existed. Where had I been? Hadn’t I been paying attention? And yet if I only had a white-skinned son, I’m not sure I would even today be aware of the vast differences in individual life experiences that are based solely on a color spectrum.
I don’t have to warn my white-skinned son not to wear a hoodie, to keep his hands visible on the steering wheel if he is pulled over by the police, or to be cautious about who he dates, lest he experience the reaction of an overly protective white father or brother.
I love my sons equally. I just wish the world could see them as I do, so I wouldn’t have to worry about them differently.