My little boy turned nine this year and with each day he begins to leave his childhood behind him. When I look at him I still see the sweet little baby that used to give me a smile full of gums and sweet giggles. I see the little boy that picked all of the flowers out of our neighbours gardens because he wanted to give me something pretty. The reality is that the road ahead for my boy will be incredibly difficult and he is just starting to learn that.
No matter how good or hard working young Black boys are, the reality is that the world believes that they are either headed to prison or making babies that they cannot support. Their sense of manhood is continually devalued to prop up the racist White supremacist state. This is not say that Black males don’t operate with a degree of privilege, but we should be well aware of the unique challenges that face them.
Destruction is already being shown by the world that he should not attempt to succeed and that he is less than. He has already learned that he cannot behave in the same manner as his friends, because if something goes wrong it will be him that carries the blame. The entire childhood for Black children is designed by Whiteness to give two options: jail or making babies and abandoning them. There is a crises in Black masculinity that must be addressed and we cannot afford to throw them by the way side when we struggle as women of colour for our own emancipation.
During the summer I normally help Destruction prepare for the school year ahead. We spend between 1 hour to 2 hours a day doing math, geography, reading etc., but this year I am designing a summer study programme specifically designed to teach him about Black history and the achievements of Black people. This is an absolute necessity because instilling racial pride in Black students is something that schools do not do. The education system does nothing to counter the negative images that Black kids receive and is quick to push them into streams that are designed to lead to low paying jobs or manual labour. By the time a child is in the first grade they have already been placed into a specific category and from that point on parents must battle to ensure that they are learning and being properly graded. The only subject that one can truly trust is math, because it is not subjective; the answer is either right or wrong, but one must really consider if the marks assigned for any other subjects are based in achievement or racism. Teachers may make a commitment to teaching, but they are born into the same world as everyone else, and they do indeed bring their biases into the classroom.
The ability for me to spend the amount of time I do teaching my children is a reflection of privilege. If I were a poor mother working two jobs to keep a roof over their heads this would quite simply be an impossibility. Destruction is an incredibly supported child, because both his father and I have the time and the wherewithal to ensure that he does not become one of the terrible statistics that is often associated with Black men.
The fact that he is bilingual is a representation of our commitment to him. Our French board demands a pre year for all students that do not come from a francophone home which must be paid for by the parents. At the age of 3, his father and I had already determined that we were going to use our resources to commit to his education. He has repeatedly been told that he is going to college or he is going to get a good trade, but either way we have expectations and if we have to sell our re-mortgage our home, our child will not become a statistic. That said, it is a sign of our privilege that we are able to commit on the level that we do.
I have recently been haunted by the book “The Other Wes Moore: One Name Two Faces.” It is the story of two young Black boys that grew up in the same neighbourhood. One ended up being a Rhodes Scholar and working at the White house and the other is currently serving a life sentence for murdering a police officer.
Listening to his story I could not help but think of the White people who have told me that they worked hard and therefore Blacks can do it to. The main difference that I see between the two Wes Moores is education and the ability to leverage assets to assure success for their children. Each generation of White families has been able to achieve greater success for their children because of White privilege. And so while each person may have worked hard, the ability of their family’s to contribute represents a large part of their success. Each generation builds on the success of the previous generation but for Blacks, education and even home ownership (the easiest path to generational wealth) has been a rarity rather than the norm. The fall-out of the mortgage crises will be felt by African-Americans for generations to come.
The playing field is nothing approaching equal because Whiteness has hundreds of years of wealth accumulation and a system designed specifically to continue its privilege in every avenue. Instead of holding up a man like Wes Moore and saying see you can do it too, what we should be doing is looking at the ways in which he was able to succeed because his family had the financial capitol and time to invest in him. Black children will continue to flounder unless circumstances are changed to specifically allow for positive growth. We cannot afford to focus on the few that manage to escape the statistic as proof of an ever changing world, when Blacks continue to dominate in areas like poverty, teen pregnancy, prison population and dropping out of high school.
Wes Moores story much like my son is about race and it is about class. As a Black child Wes had to deal with racism in much the same way that my child will and like Wes, my son has parents that have the ability to leverage assets to secure his success. We cannot talk about the failure of Black children without having a serious conversation about class. Parents cannot be blamed when they barely have time to ensure the kids are washed and fed. This is a structural problem that demands structural changes or we will continue to find that many children end up becoming the other face.