I did not know then, but as Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I want to accept my shortcomings and failings, my ignorance, and even those things I chose not to see even though they were visible. You know I try so hard to be a voice against racism and have since either of us can remember. This year I have spent many hours trying to learn more, listen more, and think more about my path and how I can be the best advocate/ally I can be. I know that it is in continuous work that we unpack the nontruths we are raised with. In all of this, one day about a month ago, I was given another moment of enlightenment, of realness I had not known with this kind of clarity before that moment. I was given a glimpse into your current world and it has taken me this month since that moment, to open that vision more and look around inside it before I could write this letter to you.
This ‘vision’ gave me a fuller understanding of the difference between racism and white privilege and why white privilege is what holds racism together. I thought they were the same thing, even as I understood more and more about white privilege; even as I knew and you knew and everyone that knows me knew that I am not racist, what I didn’t know is how pervasive white privilege is in that even if you are not racist, racist crap is done in the ignorance of white privilege. I chose to walk around inside that moment and realized, understood some of my part in your pain. It helped me separate racism and white privilege so that I can examine them independently. And it is from this new understanding that I offer my apologies.
I am sorry that I raised you with the “I don’t see color” brand of racism. It was not fair. I did not even realize it was racism. I thought it expressly wasn’t. But because I chose not to see your color, I did not prepare you for being a black man. I did not understand that you would not be seen in the world as my loved son, but you would be seen by all the world, except me, as a black man. I did not see color, I saw my son, and as beautiful as it is to have you as my son, I should have seen your skin. I raised you with white privilege, not just my own but I unknowingly bathed you in it as well. Your ability to see the world with open eyes was blanketed by my white privilege. I did not learn the difference between non-racist and anti-racist when you were young. I fought for nonracism. I thought by not seeing color I was doing the right thing. I am sorry.
Your “knowledge” of what white and black “are” was dipped in that invisible white privilege tub. I was not ‘there for you’ the moment you realized you were black, because I did not get it. I understand now, but that moment is gone. It is part of the past that makes you who you are today, and it happened without my love for you as even capable of being part of it; because I did not see color when I should have. My lack of color-vision, my lack of intentional choice for you to see good black role models, my ignorance and the pervasiveness of racism told you that your being black made you all the negative connotations white privilege puts on black people.
I did not raise you white or black or brown. I raised you as my son. I thought that was right. I loved you from second one. I raised you in love, you know that. I supported you every way I knew how. But there was one especially important way I did not give you what you needed; I did not give you the knowledge of how to maneuver in the world as a black man, how to be proud of yourself as a black man. And now I can see how incredibly difficult it must have been for you to identify, articulate, or even really understand what and where that lacking was and came from.
You could not have said to me, no one could for that matter, that I was racist or that I did not love you, or that I wasn’t trying my best to overcome racism all around me. So how could you explain to me the deep injustice you felt, the injustice I did? The injustice I served out as love. I still do not fully understand and honestly never can. But I can apologize and hope that we can come to a mutual understanding of where to go from here.
I apologize for not being a strong enough advocate for you against the racism that permeates the family of the man I was married to. I chose not to see it because I thought I could love you enough for all of us. That was not fair to you. You had to grow up not aware of why you were seen as so different, treated so differently. To be honest, though my ‘not seeing’ was partially in ignorance, and thinking that mistreatment was due to how you were conceived, not that you were black, it was also partially from wanting to not have to see it.
I was 16, married almost a year when I was raped. Then as a stupid 16-year-old with no support system, I went on the only kind of spiral I knew. The kind of spiral that screams Help Me but is only ever seen as “what a stupid girl”. But when I discovered I was having you, that spiral came to a screaming halt. Nothing in the world could stop me from giving you the best mother I could be, in every circumstance life threw at me. So, when I say I raised you to be my son, it was with all the love I had. I tell you on your birthdays, “You’re the first …. year-old I’ve ever had. You’re my guinea pig, I’m probably going to screw it up, but I’ll try my best and we’ll love each other through it.” I never saw you as black, or white, only ever as my son. I was trying my best. But not seeing, not identifying, not allowing you to own your skin was not fair, and it was not enough. I see that now. It was all I had and all I understood. I do not berate myself for this. I cannot feel guilty about it either. I did not know any better then. But I do now, and I can apologize for what I did in my ignorance, and for what I did not do. I can apologize from now and where I am now and what I know now.
I am sorry for thinking that trying to explain away your blackness, because that was “on me” and my circumstance, rather than try to help you accept who you were no matter what, was enough. It is not that I did not accept your being black, I just did not understand that accepting your blackness, seeing your skin, went beyond the shame I felt for my circumstance. I spent decades trying to understand how to release my shame. Part of my healing is to speak out and not hide, and that remains true, but I did not see that I projected that shame on to you whenever I talked about it. I did not understand that not only was I not protecting you from that shame, I was creating it for you. I did not see how the rest of the family’s underlying racism deepened that shame and that my not speaking out for you hurt you.
I thought my love for you automatically removed the shame for you. But it did not. I thought every time I told you how much I loved you I was creating a safe harbor. Instead I gave my shame to you as an undercurrent, something you could not speak of, or see, or name because my words forbade it with every proclamation of how much I loved you. I am sorry. I didn’t know.
YOU have nothing, NOTHING to be ashamed of. I am sorry that I created that in you. I have nothing to be ashamed of, but my lesson, my healing should not have caused you pain. I am sorry. The part of my life that was before you, was erased because of you. You brought me life; your life brought me to life. You taught me how to love. Do not ever feel ashamed of that.
You are allowed to feel all the feelings associated with the complicated mess of being black in America, of the only father you’ve known being racist and having a mother that did not understand how to navigate raising a mixed child in that environment. I wish that shame was not part of it, but I understand now that it is, I put it there. I am sorry, I did not mean to.
Son, be a proud black man. Be the strong black man that you are. You have love, strength, compassion, empathy, tenderness, and intelligence. You are talented, brave, and work hard. I am sorry I did not tell you before this that you are all those things as a black man. That you are worthy as a black man. YOU ARE WORTHY just because you exist, regardless of any misdoings, and in spite of anyone’s words or actions that say otherwise. You are worthy of the love you were denied because of your skin color. You are worthy, you are enough.
I am sorry I did not prepare you for things like shaving the right way, putting your hands on the dash, having people follow you around a store, or the understanding that you were given the worst ‘end of the stick’ in so many situations because people thought the black in you made you naturally ‘bad’. That is not true. You are only inherently awesome. Nothing about your skin color determines the kind of person you are. I should have advocated that more for you.
I am sorry that your white privileged upbringing set you up for the belief that ‘black’ means violent, untrustworthy, and prone to criminal behavior. It does not. That is a white privilege talking point, a way for uninformed white people to categorize and maintain a level of ‘fear’ and therefore keep power. It is an unspoken belief that underlies the family you know. The truth is, for you, the violence you know came from watching and being part of abuse at home. That abuse came from a white man, so do not chalk that up to some inherent blackness. But also, do not allow it to be part of your life. You are better than that.
I am sorry I did not see color when you were young. I am grateful I do now. I have always been grateful you were given to me. From your first flutter, you have taught me how to more fully love everyone. Being your mother taught me to SEE COLOR in that moment when I learned what I should have taught you about shaving. That was my first understanding that you are black; and you were 19 or 20. That sucks.
I am grateful that you are my son and for the many ways you have helped me see the very different experiences people have in life, simply because of their skin color. I have understood through 30 years of being your mom, I need to remove the white privilege blanket that covers everything. To step out of that bath. I keep growing, being your mom helps me know that seeing color is the only way to create change, to see the disparity, the real world as it is. I am grateful that because you are my son, I had that moment of clarity a month ago to help me better understand the pain you are in now because of your childhood.
Without you, maybe I would have kept on in my invisible privileged life, but I am not because I have you. It’s a long process, but with each new layer I can uncover, each new thing I can pull out, I learn how to love better, how to be a better human. You are the reason I choose to keep looking for those layers. I am grateful that maybe I can help others see too. I am, have always been, and will always be proud to be your mother. I love your skin.
White privilege is a crap sandwich. It is known as invisible because, it’s like the people who have never been fired unjustly and cannot see why that person is so upset. Or like people who do not have children yet, make all kinds of judgments on parents who do things differently than they think they would. White privilege lives in the ignorance of not having been through a thing. It’s subtitle should be white ignorance, but that would probably go over less well than white privilege….
Just like people who haven’t been catcalled, whistled at, hollered at through a passing window, followed, and know to hold their keys a certain way, don’t understand why other people do that; white people do not see the complexity of being not-white. I did not see the complexity of your not being white.
Just like people who have been raped, see the world more clearly and try to survive in it anyway, black people, people of color do see. They live and survive in the world they can see better, more clearly. They see it and I did not give you that sight when I should have. There is this world in which you live that I did not prepare you for but put you out in it thinking I had.
Healing requires us to speak about the wrongs done, put it in the light and examine it. My recognizing each piece of white privilege as I see it does not induce disgrace, but spurs the choice to move ahead doing better because I know better. White privilege is a not-knowing. And where racism can be examined, seen, explained, and criticized, white privilege is unseen, unfelt, misunderstood, and hidden. It is all the ways we do not know we cannot see.
So, I apologize for what I did not know, what I did not see, what I did not do. I apologize for what I did in my ignorance. I apologize for those things I pushed to the side, so I did not have to confront them. I apologize for not standing up within my home the way I stood up outside of it. I apologize for not giving you what you needed to be a proud black man. You know I love you. You know I have always given you everything I could. But I can see that everything I could was not always enough, and I am sorry.
Your ‘thought she was woke but realized she’s still waking up’ mother
#inspiration #motherhoodrising #honestlymothering #doingthebestican #onceyouknowbetterdobetter #blacklivesmatter #iamnotcolorblind #seecolor #unpackingwhiteprivilege