What I struggle with most is not what I don’t know, but what I do.
My partner and I both grew up with music. We both heard our daddies sing from birth, and sang with our families before we could read. When we think about having a child, we often wonder what their voice will sound like. We wonder if they’ll hear jazz and beg to play the piano before their feet can reach the pedals, like I did, or sing at Carnegie Hall like their father. We hope that they will be happy, honest, and kind; that they will find and express their joy proudly; that they will be ready when they meet those who might wish to silence them.
My friends who are parents often tell me there is no way of knowing what parenthood is like until you experience it. My partner and I are in our thirties, and we are deciding whether to bring another human into our family. We both love other people’s children. We both feel we could offer a child a loving home. If we do have a child, we will do our best to help them understand the importance of respecting and truly hearing others.
What I struggle with most is not what I don’t know, but what I do. My child, if I have one, will be Black in the United States. As a white person with a Black partner, I already know what it is to fear my husband will meet a police officer who finds him “threatening.” But I do not know, and can never know, what it is like to be Black. I worry I will not be able to teach my child all they need to know in a nation and a society in which I have privileges they will never have. And it terrifies both me and my partner to know that any child we have is sure to face racism in this country.
I’m not alone. Writer Shannon Barber says, “Racism is a large part of why I’ve decided not to have children in the U.S.” When I ask if she would be more likely to consider parenthood living in another country, Shannon answers, “There aren’t enough places where me or my Black children would be safe.”
Writer and activist Feminista Jones also talked with me about whether racism factored into her decision to have a child. “For the longest [time], I didn’t want children,” she says. “There were a lot of family issues, but I was concerned about bringing another Black child into this world. With everything that our people experience, I wondered if it would be fair to sentence another human being to the inevitable.” Jones does have a son now; he has just started fifth grade.I was concerned about bringing another Black child into this world. Click To Tweet
My partner and I know that any child of ours would face an education system that unfairly punishes and suspends students who look like them. They would live in a city in which only about six in 10 students graduate from high school — and this number is even lower for Black students. In the United States, Black children are three times more likely to be the victims of robbery and five times more likely to be victims of homicide than white children. Black adults are twice as likely as white peers to experience unemployment.
Our child would have advantages and opportunities many children do not — they would have a parent who taught art, one who makes puzzles, two parents with advanced degrees who were once educators. They would grow up in a house full of books, with (hopefully) three loving and supportive grandparents in their lives. But my partner and I must also face the fact that our future child could also be murdered by those tasked to protect and serve them. Who will protect our child from the “protectors”? Can we truly cope with a lifetime of fear, wondering if our child would become one of far too many whose lives are lost at the hands of police?
Feminista Jones feels prepared to discuss racism with her son. “It was the current movement against police brutality that prompted me to begin the age-appropriate discussions,” she tells me. “When Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who looked remarkably like my own son, was killed, I became fearful for my child’s life. It was imperative that I begin to discuss racism with him. My son is quite intelligent and rather intuitive, but also curious. He asks important questions and I do my best to answer them. I think he has a basic but solid understanding of how racism affects Black people, but the focus has been on uplifting our people and teaching him the importance of living himself and respecting Black people.”
Writer Rhea St. Julien, a white parent of a 6-year-old Black daughter, tells me, “We started early, talking about race…When our daughter was two, and was learning parts of the body and differences between people, we pointed out our varying skin tones and hair textures, and gave her language for how to describe those things respectfully and truthfully.”‘When Tamir Rice was killed, I became fearful for my child’s life.’ Click To Tweet
Rhea says she never once considered not having a child because of anti-Black racism they would face. “I knew I’d have to equip my child with special resilience skills, but I felt strongly that this was something my husband and I could do, with our strong support system of family and friends,” she says. Rhea and her family began the Stay Woke Parents Collective in her city to create opportunities for kids to participate in actions to fight racism and promote Black lives, from sign-making and story time to marches and rallies.
To know your child will face racism and the threat of state violence is one more injustice on top of so many others that Black parents and parents of Black children must combat. People should be free to make parenting decisions — including the choice of whether or not to have children — and dream of their families’ futures without this kind of fear.
If my partner and I do decide to have a child, we will do our best to prepare, filling up on cautious hope and endeavoring to listen and learn. We will work our hardest to give our child more than we had. We will challenge systems and individuals and language that oppresses others. We will be open about and true to who we are and what we support, and make our voices heard.
To our future, maybe child: I will teach you to play the piano. Your father can teach you to play the guitar. Our friends and family will sing with you, show you how to lift a tuba, and proudly watch if you ever want to take over a stage. We will help you find chances that many may not want you to have, and we will struggle to be honest about the world we live in — a world that will sometimes devastate us with the way it treats you. Know that we will fight for you and do our best to protect you. As your parents, that is what we must do.