Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cute Little Black Boys Do Grow Up To Be Black Men

Owen & Kyle

We can't talk about our boys being from Haiti without talking about the fact that they are black. So, here goes the first post for Haiti Week~~~

Braydon and I talk about this all the time-- the fact that people (even white people!) think that little black kids (especially babies! and even boys!) are so very, very, very "cute"... ("ohhhhhhh! they are A-D-O-R-A-B-L-E!!!"/"wouldn't you just LOOOOOOOOOOVE to have eyelashes like that?!"/"Oh gosh, is it o.k. for me to admit it-?!-seriously-?!I-just-think-black-babies-are-sooooo-much-cuter-than-other-babies!!!!!!!!!!!"/squeal/giggle/squeeze the cheeks/tousle the hair)... but those very same people (especially white people) come to view those very same black kids (especially boys) as Predators. With a capital P. Not-So-Cute. With a capital N-S-C. 'When will it happen,' we wonder, 'that our black boys will lose their cutie-ness in the eyes of their larger world?' We know it will happen. Actually, we know that it is happening. (already they look so much older than they are). And it sends shivers up our spines. We talk about it (often) with the black people in our lives. "It will be when they hit puberty!" many have said. "It will be sooner than you think," others warn. "It will happen as soon as they turn 10," a good friend said, "I swear," he told me, "10 is some sort of turning point, it will be as soon as they hit 10." (A lot of people, as it turns out, say 10.) And then there was a series of deep conversations that Braydon had with one of his colleagues awhile back. She swore, based on her own experience as a black mother of black boys, that "it happens as soon as they lose a tooth." That tooth thing was a new one to us. But she was so convincing that we've been fearing and dreading the Tooth Fairy ever since. (which is tough, since Kyle and Owen are extraordinarily excited --and just cannot wait-- for the glorious day that they lose their first tooth... to the point that they regularly try to convince us that their teeth are loose... and we worry that they'll tug and pull on their teeth so much in their efforts to convince themselves that they are loose, that they will make them loose). Anyway, you get my point: it is going to happen, and it is going to happen sooner than we'd like (because, of course, what we'd like is for the world to just go on forever thinking that our beautiful black boys are just that-- beautiful black boys). So, like everybody else who is or has ever been a parent, we see time moving way too quickly, and we see our little babies-toddlers-pre-schoolers-little-boys being taken away from us way too fast, and we see the Big Boys that are taking their place appearing much too often. But, unlike parents of kids who aren't black boys, we have this whole immense other layer of sadness-concern-dread-fear-and-loathing weighing on us as we watch them grow. We know what the future will bring. And there is a huge dimension of it that we desperately wish we could postpone. Forever. Because we just desperately wish that the parents of the little white girls who now ask them to go to their birthday parties would be just as thrilled ten years from now about their daughters asking our sons to go out on dates or to the prom. And we just desperately wish that their teachers, who now think that they are "sweet rambunctious little boys" would not turn on us later, thinking instead that they "trouble makers" with "behavioral problems." And we just desperately wish that our boys would never be followed around in a store, suspected of shoplifting, pressured to get out. And we just desperately wish that people would never subconsciously (or consciously?) move out of their way --conceiving of them as Thugs-- on the sidewalk or in the elevator or in the lobby or wherever. And we just desperately wish that our boys would never have trouble hailing a cab. Or getting help from the police if they needed it. Or convincing somebody that they are just as legitimate as anyone else in whatever way they need to be seen as legitimate. And yet, we know, that no matter what we do, it is all bound to happen. There is a structure in place. It is ominous and looming. Regardless of who is President. And all we can really do is prepare them for it. Prepare them for the fact that no matter how high up they get, no matter how expensive their suit will be, no matter how drop-dead-gorgeous they become, they will still be, after all, Black Men. If you haven't been reading about it yet, you really should be:
David Wall Rice from The TakeAway

and if you have just a little more time, you should really read this too:
Jimi Izrael from The Root

and if you are interested in all this, then this is a must-see:
Cornel West and Carl Dix on Democracy Now!

Henry Louis Gates, Jr.


Nicolle said...

Heather, I have a feeling that with your and Braydon's support, K&O are going to learn to handle those situations with grace. And handling those situations, among other things, with grace, will give them the character that will have them become Really Great Men. And the world sure could use a few more of those!

Jessenia said...

i just read your blog from a link from i am a young-adult adoptee, and i am in the age range thinking about children and adopting with in the next couple years. it's always so beautiful to hear of people's adoption stories, and especially adopting out of one's race. i myself am biracial and i have to deal with many issues day-to-day, but as ling as you educate your children they will always get the bigger picture. i know some ignorant people may have negative comments as they grow up, but as a family continue to love and embrace them and teach them about their culture as a family. i think it will be very fun and interesting for you all. well, i just wanted to say thanks on the behalf of adopting and i pray you and your family be blessed. i will checking back for updates.

Laurie said...

Great thoughts. I have to say that I have thought many of the same things, although had not let myelf think TOO much about it yet (our's are 3). I have been so surprised at how many comments we get when we are out with our black twins about how cute they are, etc....just like you were saying. You are so right about all those things I think, and I dread it too. Thanks for posting gives me some thinking to do.

Diet and Nutrition Pathfinder said...

As a black woman, am I feeling this post..heavily. I pray constantly for the safe well being of my nephew as he navigates through this world as a black man. Trust me you'll worry, fret and be in constant pray for them but also trust that (1) you and Braydon are laying a solid foundation for them. (2) that their definition of themselves will come from you and your husband and not the world and (3) althugh bad stuff will happen with love and the grace of God they too will be able to navigate in this world as great men.

Leslie said...

Thanks for sharing this. I have all sorts of thoughts running around in my head at various times about similar things. Mine are from a different perspective though. I think about things like what will Olivia face growing up in Haiti with white parents in an area that is not that friendly to foreigners (there are a lot of issues in our area that aren't in other parts of the country)? I wonder what it'll be like for her when we have another child. I worry about things like wanting her to make friends in the community, but I look around and don't see many good influences right now. So many things that I wasn't expecting with adoption while living abroad. I want to protect my baby from the hurts of the world around her, because they will be there, but I know I can't. We just need to do the best we can at helping her to be strong and hold her head up high. Then we have to let her go and pray she can deal with it. It's scary and makes me wish I could bottle her up forever :)

I totally get what you mean about the "cute" thing as well. O is a show stealer. Everywhere we go people fall absolutely in love with her because she's such a social kid, and she's a good kid. I just wonder what's going to happen as she gets older, maybe when she gets to university or something like that and not everyone loves her. Only time will tell I guess :) Again, the hard lessons of life.

Keep teaching and loving.

Malia'sMama said...

I recall bringing a group to Haiti after they had seen some of my earlier travel pics and were so enthralled iwht how cute the little boys in them were etc. Then, when they MET those little boys who were now 10, 12, 14 etc... it was: shouldn't we lock the door? , _________ (insert name of young white female) you watch yourself etc
You know that change is inevitable and you are giving those boys love and and an environment where their self esteem grows strong and healthy. Hopefully, they will never accept streotypes as any measure of them, or their greatness!
Kenbè fô, Maman!

Melissa said...

Thanks for posting this. As someone who also thinks about this issue a lot, I so appreciate your candor and openness in sharing these thoughts. While your sons may not always be cute in the eyes of the same people tomorrow as they are today, they will always be beautiful and strong to many, many more. It's clear you're giving them strong cores that will doubtlessly outweigh the inevitable heartbreaks.
Thanks again for sharing.

Candis said...

"And we just desperately wish that their teachers, who now think that they are "sweet rambunctious little boys" would not turn on us later, thinking instead that they "trouble makers" with "behavioral problems." "
OMG, HBJ! THAT is one I fret over everyday (hence the reason we chose a small private school for the Peanut). I saw it with our older son. I see it as a teacher (the coded comments, et al).
I stress out whenever the Peanut tells me he's going to be an ambulance or trash truck driver. Part of me screams (on the inside) "No!! That's what they expect. You should be the doctor waiting in the ER for the ambulance." The other part of me argues that there is no shame in driving an ambulance, and that little boys should be allowed to explore their fantasies without anxious Mamas suggesting careers.
In law school, there is a concept called "tainted fruit." Was Gates a sympathy-mongering reactionary whiner? Perhaps. Was the arresting officer blind to Gates' age and id, seeing only another pathologically criminal black man needing discipline? Maybe.
Our tragic race history has taken away the simplicity of like/dislike and substituted unresolvable angst. QED.

P.S. Glad to hear about MorFar's successful surgery.

T & T Livesay said...

My Haitian son is easily one of the kindest and most encouraging people you will ever meet. I have often wondered when people will start judging him based on all of those stereotypes and prejudices ... and I agree with you that it will come. For now he is mainly visited by white people who are on our turf in our home and they are pre-disposed to be kind to us. This fall Isaac will be coming to MN with Troy and I and Noah ... and I will be watching ... he is a foot taller than the last time he was in MN and he will be 8 (but looks older maybe?) ---- He does not know he gets to go to America yet, we are telling him on his 8th birthday -- but he will be thrilled. I hope we are not hurt by any of this B.S. that you describe ... but I am prepared to be.

Glady said...

WOW,somehow you are able to bring out my fears as I watch my now 12 year becoming a man...I m a professional black Haitian mother of 2 boys, last winter when my son decided to join a couple of school friends at our local skating rink, he was asked by another group of kids to leave since according to them "n*** dont iceskate". I watched my son handle it with controlled grace and calm. He was thought to never react to what others say and might think he is. as the only Black Social Worker at a Hospital, do you know how many times, I will enter a room and be mistaken for housekeeping? now I know I have to prepare my boys not to look forward to what s ahead but how to deal with it when it happens and so far KC have made his mama proud.

Mayhem said...

You're absolutely right! We think about this A LOT as well, as white parents raising two black boys.

Here's a post I wrote about our thoughts on the subject here:

And later, here:

Thanks! Keep talking about these issues!

Laura said...

I've very much enjoyed reading your blog for over a year now and simply wanted to commend you for approaching such a difficult topic. As much as most would like to sweep the issue of racism under the table, we all know it is alive and well in this country. Thank you for addressing it here as I believe every attempt at educating people does make a difference.


Carolyn said...

I have read your blog on and off and I must comment on this. Here's the jest yes you are raising black men, yes you will never completely understand the negative encounters they may/may not have in the future. But here's the thing and the fact is they can still dream they can be whatever they want to be. Keep loving them and when they ask answer as best you can. BTW: I'm of Haitian descent and you appear on the blog to be wonderful loving parents and its great you have black friends who can help with the color issues.

This Mama said...

Thank-you for this post. I think/worry about that all the time too. Recently in a town not far from us a man was beat up, jumped by about 3-4 white men who yelled racial slurs at him and attacked him for no apparent reason other than he was black. It was caught on video tape by strangers and loaded up on utube. ALL over the news and the man who was beat up (actually he very impressively held his own against the team of red necks) said in a newscast "I have dealt with this kind of stuff my whole life". My stomach just went to knots and I kept thinking "my little boy" ugg. I also worry what my girls will have to face. But even our area, known for it's "tolerance" has blatant violent acts of hate.

JenniferJ said...

Hey Heather,

Since I don’t have my beautiful black boys, yet, (beau garcons, as their Nanny calls them) I wanted to mention that there are issues for beautiful black girls as well. Our daughter is cute, but there are times when she turns it up a notch, like flipping a switch. I’m not sure why, but I suspect it’s a way to “control” the type of attention she gets; my concern is that when she’s being “cutesy” people talk down to her like she’s much younger than her 8 years and it irritates me. What’s the phrase, “soft bigotry of lower expectations”? I find it maddening when strangers talk to my smart, clever 8yo like she’s 4yo. (ex: Praising her for knowing her ABC’s…she’s 8, of course she knows them. She does 1500 piece puzzles all. the. time.)

The other issue that worries me more is that our daughter is not just pretty, she’s stunning. When strangers stare, she believes that it’s because she’s so pretty, they just can’t help themselves. But here’s the problem, most 8yo’s look like Winnie-the-Pooh in a bathing suit….and she doesn’t. She has curves and a bright smile and I have seen boys much older (or even men) check her out and I have to say it makes my skin crawl. But, what to do? (I confess, the temptation to wipe that leer off their face is there.) We talk about modesty, and the way you choose to dress says a lot about the way people see you, but I don’t want her to be embarrassed or ashamed. She shouldn’t have to go around in an Amish sack dress just because she’s pretty.


PS- Conversation at reunion-
Owen-What are those things on your teeth?
Ana- Braces.
Owen- Can I touch them?
Ana- Um…sure?

Ana said he cracked her up with all the questions.

Alexandra said...

Dear Heather,
thanks for your thoughts on this topic. Being the parents of both a Haitian girl (6) and a Haitian boy (almost 5) the issues you are bringing up are in our minds constantly. Some days they are more prevalent than others, but as our children are growing bigger, more boisterous and self-confident by the day, we have been having many of the same/similar discussions as you. It has actually led us to move to a much more multicultural area 2 months ago, to choose Léane`s school with the utmost care and actively looking for positive role models in our area for our children. Many days the thoughts of what our children might get confronted with when they grow up leave me with lack of sleep and pretty worried. At the same time, our entire family (incl grandparents, uncles & aunts, close friends) has grown so much through having Léane & Davidson with us, they enrich us as human beings in every possible way.
Thanks for sharing and I am looking forward to reading your next posts on Haiti Week!
Best regards,
Alexandra from Germany

kayder1996 said...

Thanks for posting on my blog. I've checked yours occasionally as we've been thinking about dreads but I haven't looked in in quite a while. This is a great post. I so don't want to be the person who colors everything with race and thus influences how my children see the world. We essentially live in a town of 5000 that is very diverse but mostly Hispanic and White. There are a few AA and a few Asians as well. We love the diversity and the challenges we face as teaching in a school district with this population. But I still wonder things like "What if my child wants to date so and so's daughter? What will they say?" And we currently work with a group of mostly Hispanic teenage boys through my husband's job as head soccer coach. We see/hear ugly things way more often than I would have imagined, things that total boggle my mind. Usually about once or twice a season, we have a game where someone either other players or fans make some racial comment. I can't help but wonder what will be said about my child on a soccer field, basketball court, etc..

Amy said...

Thank you for this post. I am currently adopting a "cute little black boy" and often think about this. I have followed your blog for a few years now and admire the job you do as mother and father. I appreciate the extra reading material you've linked. I look forward to reading your journey as the boys turn into cute black adolescents and eventually handsome black men. :)

Frenchie said...

The honesty in this post brought tears to my eyes. I just stumbled on your blog from another comment you posted. As a Haitian woman, I immediately fell in love with your sons. I love the strength, resilience, and beauty of my people that I see reflected in their smiling faces. I commend you for realizing that your sons will be treated differently, it's sadly inevitable. I hope you prepare them for this by instilling pride in them about where they come from and the history of our people, teaching them to never make excuses, and reinforcing that they must always be better than the rest to be thought of as equal. All the best!