Mommies in Black and White

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Month: February 2016

A Thank You Letter to J.T Brown

Dear Mr. J.T Brown,

I’ve never met you personally, but I wish to thank you for sharing your love of hockey with our underrepresented youth. I know you’re a professional with Tampa now, but I watched your career grow through my child’s eyes.

I first heard your name when my three year old son shouted it and praised you as you helped usher our (Duluth’s) UMD Bulldogs to the NCAA Championship title in 2011. You have no idea how much you have inspired my son. He would study you. He would watch you skate, watch you stick handle around defenders, watch you score, and he would see himself in you.

You see  J.T, my child can identify with you like very few can. He too is a biracial child who loves to play hockey. He also lives in a community much like yours when you were young. He’s not surprised that he’s the ‘only’ [biracial] kid rink ratting with his friends.

Like most hockey moms, I’m out there watching him at games and practices. But unlike most hockey moms, I’m the ‘only’ [person of color] and with that comes ‘those’ comments from other parents in the stands. I keep my head up and am so proud to see my son play the game.

I will continue to bring  both of my boys  to countless hockey practices and to countless games, simply because they love the sport so much.  I just wanted you to know that you are still inspiring little African American boys in Duluth that would love to ‘rink rat’ with you someday.

God Bless,

Jebeh

Tampa’s J.T. Brown showing minority children that hockey is for everyone

What is race-based medicine?

Most of us have likely heard about systemic racism, but also likely, many of us might not understand what this means or what it looks like in action. It’s difficult to comprehend how social structures can be racist.

Jebeh and I have had many discussions about “checking a box,” a box that supposedly defines who you are and allows others to make assumptions about your background, education, socio-economic state, and health.

Dorothy Roberts shares a great example of how social groupings with “made up demarcations” have a profound impact on one of the most powerful and important systems in society – the health care system.

Grab a cup of coffee, find 15 quiet minutes and SEE the health care system through a new lens. Be open to understanding race not as a biological category, but a social category that has staggering biological consequences. Get a glimpse into how social determinants, not innate biological differences, influence health and access to health care.

 

Mom, did that guy drink whiskey?

I wish I could capture every conversation with our kids. They are sometimes beautiful, often hilarious, and always real. The one below is a little bit of each.

On they way home from picking up my kids a couple weeks ago, my seven year-old said excitedly from the back seat, “mom, you can get a bucket of whiskey at the auction on Friday!” Apparently, he and his buddies had looked through the school’s auction catalogue and whiskey was the talk of the class.

The conversation continued:

Me: do you know what whiskey is?

Kid: Yeah, beer.

Me: Actually, kind of, it’s a type of alcohol.

Kid: What does that mean?

Me: Well, sometimes adults like to drink it – but if they drink too much it makes them sick, talk funny, and do goofy things that usually aren’t smart.

Kid: Oh, well I bet dad would want the whiskey basket.

Later that night after dragging the kids down to shovel the HDM (Hockey Day Minnesota) rink and missing dinner (again), we stopped at Subway. A group of special needs adults were there spread across a few booths. One man was sitting alone, not far from where we camped out to eat our third fast food meal in as many days (not a norm, but a survival tool when life is crazy). My kids were aware and curious I could tell, but didn’t say anything.

At one point, the man got up to use the bathroom. He approached our table with a hitch in his step, a smile on his face, and food on his cheeks. He said “high five” and tried to get my four year old to smack his hand. She ducked behind me and hid. I can’t blame her. I watched her get sprayed with some left over Doritos when he talked.

My seven year old was at a table across from us watching the whole thing. I asked the gentleman what his name was and introduced him to my four year old (who stayed hidden behind my shoulder) and myself. I asked if he was having a good night and if I could give him a high five instead; my daughter was a little shy, I explained. He obliged with a “yay” and then turned to my seven year old and got his second high five.

As he disappeared into the bathroom, my seven year old crossed to our table, looked at me earnestly and whispered in my year, “Did that guy drink whiskey?” My, “no” was follow by, “but he was spitting and sounded funny…”

It took everything I had not to belly laugh at his serious little face trying to make sense of a situation that wasn’t the “norm” for him. Oh, how I love to see little minds processing; how I love when they are honest and real; how I love when they let us hear what they are thinking!

As we shuffled out the door I said, “Have a great night!” to the kind gentleman we just met. The experience allowed me to reinforce another important lesson. Our ride home included a conversation about recognizing when people are different and respecting those differences in a genuine way; about understanding that we all have gifts and were given lives that were meant for us.

I’m bi-what?!!

A simple, silly at-home conversation with my two beautiful boys led to some profound insight from my four year old. It started with a question from my seven year old, “Mommy, I’m multicultural right?” I explained that they can identify with being multicultural due to their Liberian and Scandinavian heritage, but some people might call them biracial.

Without missing a beat, my four-year-old shouted in horror, “I’m bi-what?!” He’d never heard the term biracial before. I repeated the word and my four-year-old son said, “No I’m not, I’m myself.”

I reflected on our brief conversation. Why should I put a colorist label on my child? Whether he’s biracial, multicultural, or mixed, my own children know their true identity. They’re themselves. The truth is that our society has had these labels on our mixed race children [insert label here] since the Atlantic Slave Trade. Our system(s) and need for categorization perpetuates their use.

This conversation with my boys was very powerful for me. My oldest who’s starting to understand himself and his multicultural heritage is now fielding questions from his peers like “Why don’t your parents  match?” and [cringe] “What are you?” It’s one thing for me to field those questions from moms at the hockey rink or the soccer field, but another for my seven-year-old son to get them at school.

I look back at my courtship with my husband and remember that people used to send us articles about biracial children that warned, “your kids will have no sense of identity.” People would walk up to us when I was pregnant and say, “You’re going to have the most beautiful mulatto babies,” as if it were a compliment. Newsflash – it’s horribly offensive, especially to a pregnant woman. Mulatto means mule in Spanish. You just called a pregnant woman’s unborn child a mule.

No matter how hard I try to protect my children, hard conversations about race, about how their peers perceive them, about how their peers’ families see them, and about how society sees them will be an ongoing reality. We are already living this reality, my husband and I, and we plan to face it head on.

 

 

 

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