For You: a Mother's Voice on Racism
This post is from one mother to another. I wish it were all different. But I promise that I will raise my daughter to love you.
When I was studying a master's in social work, I took a mandatory class, Racism and Oppression in America. You can imagine this is a hard class to teach, there are a lot of emotionally charged discussions to be had.
However, and unfortunately, the class wasn’t guided well. I was made to feel ashamed of my biases, and trust me… I had many. We all do. I remember saying in my innocent and ignorant white girl way, “I feel good about living around Boston because I just look like everybody else”. The reactions in the classroom and from the white professor were tangible and venomous.
What I was trying to say was that I HAD always looked like everyone else in MY community. What I didn’t know I was stating was my white privilege. At the time I had such limited exposure to open discussions about race, surrounded by white people in a middle-class white neighborhood and going to a 99% white Catholic school system. What I needed was guidance.
The reaction to my limited perspective creates racism. Hate creates hate. At that moment the people of other races in the room felt like they were against me. I suddenly felt like I was on the other side of the fence.
That is not what we want. We do not want a fence at all.
And then, four years ago, I had the most profound experience of all...
I have changed a lot since then, I found the guidance I needed through many experiences along the way. I have had the opportunity to work with Somali and Kenyan refugees and their children, I have had the opportunity to live in Japan and Hispanic neighborhoods in Miami and I have had the privilege of working with several black men released from federal prison. I have also been blessed to travel and experience how other nations feel about white Americans...and it’s not good.
And then, four years ago, I had the most profound experience of all...I became a mother.
I know that, as a mother, I will want to protect her like the Mama Bear I am.
My daughter is a light in the world. She wakes up in the morning and tells me, “Mama, I dreamed of giving love to everyone”. If she has one candy left she will offer it to you, if she thinks you are hurt she will run to you to kiss your booboo, if you fall down she will be beside you to help you up, if she speaks unkindly to you she will say, “I’m sorry I talked like that”, if she sees a bug of any kind she will want to put it outside and make a house for it where it will be warm and happy.
I know that we are privileged to live in a place where we are safe enough for her to grow with such innocent and pure love. I know that she will be exposed to a lot of anger and hate as she grows. I know that, as a mother, I will want to protect her like the Mama Bear I am. And I also know... I won’t always be able to.
As a mother, as a woman who is simply maternal to the core, it breaks my heart to think that ANY mother must raise their child in a place that doesn’t offer him or her love. But I know that is reality. And I yearn for them to have safety. I know I can’t create it for them...but what I can do is be a mother that raises a child to never contribute to hate.
...my maternal heart cried for him and his family. And I cried after they left my office.
I can shine light in the world. Which is just who I am and what I do. And I am grateful that my daughter has the blessed life she has so that we can foster her kind open heart. I do not take it for granted because I have seen what other children have had to endure. I have walked into their homes, talked to their parents, played with and hugged their children, and witnessed true cruelty… and true love.
I will simply be the change that I desire to see in the world because that is the most powerful thing I can do.
One of the most heartfelt experiences I had was with an eleven-year-old Somali boy. I will call him Hassan. Hassan came from a poor refugee family, his parents had fled a refugee camp in Kenya, relocating here to raise their family in safety. Then, one afternoon, his mother was killed in a car crash. It was then when I first met with him. He came into my office with three of his sisters the day after his mom’s death. I was not yet a mother...but my maternal heart cried for him and his family. And I cried after they left my office.
One day, Hassan came to my office, like he usually did every morning.
Hassan wore old clothes to school; ripped pants and shoes that were too small and holes in the bottoms. He often didn’t have a winter coat or warm mittens in the wintertime. If he did, he would usually give it to a sister or a cousin who needed it. It was his responsibility to walk his sisters to and from school. Now that his mother was dead, he had to “step up” in the house to help. He had too much on his plate for a little eleven-year-old boy, his tears expressed his heartbreak and overwhelm frequently.
One day, Hassan came to my office, like he usually did every morning. He had something in his hand wrapped in tin foil and a smile ear to ear. “What’s this, Sweetie?” I asked, taking it graciously. “I had some extra food from what my aunt made for dinner last night, I knew you’d like it. I brought it for you.”
I stared at him. I glanced down to the hole in his pant knee. I looked into his perfect eyes. I reached out to him and hugged him close. “Oh, Hassan, you’re so sweet, thank you so much!” I wanted to cry. But I didn’t. I didn’t want him to confuse tears for sadness when they were just pure gratitude and appreciation for him...for his light.
I will never forget Hassan because he showed such humble kindness. I will never forget him because he was a child who had a giving heart. I will never forget him because I got to be a part of his life at a time he needed love and security. My memories of him have nothing to do with his race and everything to do with his divine presence in the world.
Today, many years since sitting in that classroom at Simmons College...
Of course, I am not “color blind”. The differences between our bodies were obvious; his skin, hair and eyes were dark and beautiful. Of course, I noticed them. Of course, I was aware we looked different, that we came from different cultures, that he was born in Somalia and I was born in the US. But that had no bearing on love. It was just a simple, physical fact. That’s it.
I don’t know what Hassan thought about my skin color, I wish it wasn’t even a question...but it is.
This post is the expression of a mother who loves children, people, all life on our earth.
Today, many years since sitting in that classroom at Simmons College, I have compassion for my past ignorance. But, because of Hassan and the diverse people I have been honored to work with along the way, I can now acknowledge my white privilege with clarity and a pure desire to create equality. I wish I wasn’t lumped into this privilege, but I am because I am white, and I can accept that.
Even though I wish it were different, that doesn’t matter, it must be addressed head on for children like Hassan...for children like my daughter. They deserve to feel totally equal; they deserve to see their differences as merely physical and the light in their hearts as the same.
This post is the expression of a mother who loves children, people, all life on our earth. This post is from the heart of a maternal woman who can’t stand watching the suffering of any being, child or adult. This post is for the sorrow among black communities, the rightful anger and heartache. This post is for black moms who face unbearable possibilities for the future of their babies. This post is from one mother to another. I wish it were all different. But I promise that I will raise my daughter to love you.
My heart bursts for you, Mamas. I love you.
Sarah Dionne is a Yoga Psychotherapist & Life Coach. Recently she began studies to become a certified doula. She works with prenatal and postpartum women to recover from anxiety and shame around their changing bodies. Sarah's joy is helping women "Love Body, Baby & Life".
Sarah is also an artist and writer. She values her blog as a way to help people beyond her practice while using it to express her heart on many issues.
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