I have struggled writing this week. I just can’t get a handle on the myriad of thoughts running through my head (and secretly hoping this running counts as exercise). I confess that I typically write from a stream of consciousness, but this week I’ve had to edit my thinking. So, let’s just start somewhere (and apologies for the semi-rambling nature of this post).
The boys and I just went and saw Spiderman: Into the Spider-verse. Yes, it is animated and yes, the theatre was colder than a meat locker, but all worth it for my boys. More on that later- for a moment let me digress. It is Black History Month. Honestly, I am not sure what to do with this. In some ways I am saddened that we need to have a specific month to recognize what African Americans have done that is noteworthy. I mean, shouldn’t our kids know this because it is integrated into their history books? (clearly another topic for another time). And despite the recognition of these contributions the news is simultaneously full of politicians (among others) who wore black face in college as if black is a character. I have conversations with friends, I read, I listen, I let it sink in and allow the tension in my head to just be…. for now.
But it also hits home. When I began the fost/adopt process, amidst being stripped bare about everything in my past, there is lots of training. Many times, I heard that if you welcome kids from a different race you need to make sure you honor who they are and their culture. So I bought black Santa’s to add to my collection and I made sure I let them know the impact of Martin Luther King Jr. I made sure our bookshelves had books with kids of color and stories of strong African Americans. At 8 and 9 they didn’t really seem to have a connection to their culture. Maybe because they had hopped in and out of enough foster homes and group homes for most of their lives that their culture became the foster system. The reality was, as I was decorating for one of our first Christmas’s together one of them said “Mom, why do you have those black Santas, Santa is white”. The truth though, is that it is different raising these boys. I remember the day my then middle schooler came home and wanted an AirSoft gun because his friends were playing in the park. Mind you this is my quiet, introverted, passive kid. I have never heard him raise his voice and he doesn’t have an aggressive bone in his body (unless he is on the wrestling mat). I was thrilled he had friends he wanted to go hang out with. But that gun……and after talking with my man the reality hit. No. You can’t have an airsoft gun. I can’t risk that my hoodie wearing, quiet black boy won’t be seen as something he isn’t running around with a plastic gun in a park. Wouldn’t think twice about allowing Sam to do this and I didn’t want to think twice about allowing Jonathan. I didn’t want to say no, but I did, and I had the conversation with him about why. I could bury my head and tell myself I live in an inclusive community and that this doesn’t happen in my town and those boys who have been shot and killed were doing something that put them in that situation, but that isn’t the truth and I couldn’t take that risk.
So here it is “Black History Month” and although this history is important for my kids there is a daily reality that they still live with as black boys. Fade back to “Into the Spider-verse” where our hero is the new Spiderman – a 13 year old, quantum physics studying, mixed race little boy. And my hope is that despite the mess we are still in as a country, and how we have not dealt with our history of slavery (which is still significantly longer than our history of “freedom”)..my hope is that my boys will know they can be anything they want because they are seeing that truth. And that superheroes and Presidents look like them. That maybe someday their boys can play in the park with an AirSoft gun and not worry that they could get mistaken for something they aren’t.
Maybe I couldn’t write this week because my brain should be running. Maybe all our brains should be running as we figure out how to navigate our country’s messed up history and for some of us, how to navigate raising kids within this. So during Black History Month what I can do for now is sit with my discomfort and, as shallow as it seems, raise a glass to the new Spidey. Here’s to you Miles. Here’s to a different future for our boys.