The Joys and Pangs of Being a Single Parent and Black…..

Time and again, reality check strikes me that I am Black and a single parent, in a sea of Whites and Marrieds. I have felt both the joys, and pangs of being Black or a single parent, even when I am the ‘token’ in the group. It happens where I reside, in my travels, social engagements and networks, and at community events.

Not that I am blaming anybody for my “black-single parent status”; it is the story of my life! Particularly now that I am a parent of a child – a single parent. That reality set in during the recent Child of Mine (COM)’s Cub Scout Pack #85 2015 Annual Weekend Camping at Knoebels Amusement Resort and Campground in Elysburg, PA.

I love social living, I love involving my child in social activities, taking him places and engaging him in educational experiences. Joining the Cub Scout was my way of introducing him to civic responsibility and good citizenship at a young age. Moreover, as a woman and a single parent, I cannot give him all the lessons on “Becoming a Man”; so I need the help that the Boy Scouts of America can provide him. Plus, as the only child, he benefits greatly from broadening his social networks, meeting new friends and interacting with little boys his age. Plus, mommy gets a break from being the “sole playmate”.

In most cases, I do not let “being the only black family or single parent” keep us away from partaking of the many fun activities Pack#85 organizes. I take him to as many activities that his Cub Scout Pack organizes, hiking, Day Camp, baseball games, Veterans Day and Flag Day celebrations, and most recently, the annual Pack Weekend Camping Trip. I am very aware of my single parenthood at most of his Pack events, where I am visibly the only single parent. Most non-custodial parents of other cubs show up to Pack meetings, and not many single parents participate in Pack outings. At least at Pack meetings, I do not stand out alone because there are usually two or three Black families in addition to us.

This past weekend Camping at Knoebels was an “In Your Face, You’re Black Moment”. Walking through campsites to the bathroom, that strange feeling of “Blackness in a sea of Whiteness” engulfed me. I wondered whether anybody was looking over their shoulder seeing me going through their campsite. While I love to wear my hood sometimes, I could not risk being mistaken for a “dangerous trespasser” and getting shot at in “self-defense”. The simple things others may take for granted, I was self-aware and highly cautious.

Because I barely saw any full Black families on campground. The ones I saw had white spouses and mixed race children. In a sea of whiteness I wondered, where are all the Black people that love to do “white people stuff” – Don’t say you have not heard that saying before, that “Black people don’t hike, don’t camp, don’t do crazy adventures.” I wondered, is it really true? I bet there were some Black families, but there are over 500 campsites, and I was only exposed to a small section.

In my camping group, I was the only single parent among seven other families, in addition to being the only black family I saw on ground. Don’t get me wrong, I have my joys of being a single parent – that I can make decisions without the encumbrance of a disagreeing non-supportive other parent, in my case. But there are also pangs of single parenting, especially the absence of an extra helpful hand, a male figure for this male COM, or a companion for myself. I am always making these lonesome trips and activities with COM.

The pangs of single parenthood struck me for a minute over Scout Camping Weekend, among couples and their children. While I was solely responsible for COM – preparing him meals, making the bed, taking him to shower and bathroom and taking him onto weekend entertainment, none of the other parents! I watched with longing the unspoken/automated division of responsibilities between husband and wife or father and mother, as well as the children.

Time for dinner or breakfast, the women/wives/mothers in our group dived into the kitchen, prepared pancakes, eggs, sausage, toast, and all for their families/husbands/fathers of their children. Time to erect or put down tents, the men, unquestioningly took on their responsibilities like pros, ensuring everyone had a place to sleep. Yours truly benefited from the Camp organizers’ teenage son, a Boy Scout, who offered to erect and bring down our tent. Fathers and sons also worked together to carry the heavy stuff and stepped up as men should.

Note to self: Don’t believe the “equality hype” western white feminists preached, that men and women in marital relations equally share family and household chores. Equality is not Sameness. True, fathers and husbands have stepped up from the days when they did not babysit. However, the gendered division of labor still exists, even here in America, my America.

Men are still the predominant breadwinners, and women nurture the children and take care of the household [expectedly]. Husbands do the heavy lifting, repairs and chores around the house, women produce the food out of the kitchen, feed the children, put them to sleep, prepare them for school, attend PTO meetings and chauffeur them from school to after-school programs.

Before you start claiming such couples are ’traditionalist in their marital relations’, without [advanced] formal education, plenty of the women I know, as mothers and wives, have graduate degrees. They simply quit working away from their homes, or quit paid work all together to focus on running their families and homes. Such decisions are as much a luxury, as they are a sacrifice, for the best interests of their children. After all, employers are not making it so attractive for mothers to stay at work and ably raise their young children, without offering great benefits packages for maternity leave, vacation, personal days off, child care or health insurance packages.

The kind of security and harmonious relationship I watch among Cub Scout couples gives me a kind of nostalgia for finding a good committed relationship for myself, which may not necessarily lead to marriage. I am not saying this kind of harmonious, secure relationship is only found among white couples; I am simply citing the white couples who predominate my Cub Scout’s Pack. It feels good to see couples providing unconditional and unsolicited support to each other, in the traditional way. In such moments, it is hard being the strong Black woman and single parents I have to be each day. I just wish to be loved and pampered. But the work continues!

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Talking Racial Prejudice with The Six-Year Old

This morning, I found myself talking about Racial Prejudice with The Six-year old, aka Child of Mine aka CoM.  All this started while I was reading through my morning newsfeed, and saw video images of Miss Universe Japan 2015.

Remember her, Ariana Miyamoto? Remember when she won the Miss Universe Japan this year on March 12, though many Japanese did not accept her as ‘Japanese enough’, some calling her “ugly”?  Why? Because she is “Black”, and because she is biracial!

I showed my six-year old a picture of Ariana’s and asked him, what color he thought she was? To which he replied, “Brown.” Surprise! He did not say, “White”, which is the color he self-identified before we had the talk about “coloring and racializing” in America, not too long ago.

Typically, I like starting off by tickling my child’s brain, and framing my lessons with him through his own understanding of life, rather than imposing my own knowledge and conceptions on him. I did the same thing when we explored “Racism”; resisted delving into “that Holy Grail” with him, until he shared with me what he knew about racism. He had learned about Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks during his class lesson on “Black History Month“.

Anyway, if you haven’t been following Ariana’s story, she said that she has received more public and media coverage, support and admiration for her win, from fans and media outside Japan or foreigners in Japan. Well, we are talking about Japan, which considers itself a homogenous country, with its long history of denying multiculturalism. Yet, Ariana defines herself as Japanese, of Black African American paternal and Japanese maternal parents. She visibly has Japanese features.

Anyway, I had to explain to CoM that in the video we saw, Ariana shared her story, growing up in Japan with kids who did not want her to touch them, for fear that “her black skin would rub off them”. Others wouldn’t get in the swimming pool with her “or threw trash at her. I share first-hand “trashed at personal experience from some of my white neighbors.

CoM’s curious mind wanted to know more, “Why didn’t other kids like her?”
“Because she’s Black,” I said.
“She’s not Black. She’s Brown.”

How does one break down such cumbersome, loaded details about race, prejudice and skin color to a six-year old? For a start, “Well, people can be different things. Yes, her skin looks Brown, but she’s also Black.”
Just like you. Your skin looks Brown, but you are also Black,” I said to him. I explained to him that Black peoples come in different skin colors. Just like Ugandans; they speak different languages, but they are all Ugandans. Or Americans like you, me, Obama. Some Americans speak Chinese, Luganda, Spanish, Arabic, but they are all Americans.

“Then why don’t kids like her?” He asked again.
“Well, remember that story you told me about Martin Luther King, and how he had a Dream that all his kids would be accepted? That Black kids would play freely with White Kids. Or when Black kids were not allowed to go to  school with White kids, or sit in the front of the bus, then Ross Park at the front and got in trouble?

Well, some White people were really bad! But you’re very lucky you live in a neighborhood with  White friends to play with, ride the school bus, go to the same grocery friends, and friends like C and Kay.

“Of course, there still some racist people out there,” I said to him. “Like the police who shot and killed a Black kid who was playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland park, Ohio. Or the recent manhandling of Black teens at a pool party in Texas. Yes, there are some nasty people still.

“Even in Japan. Some people think their skins are, close to your friends, like “Kay”, and do not want to be friends with Black people,” I continued. They think she is not beautiful!

Phew! At the end of it all, we had gone through the “racial prejudice talk”, exhaustively. I think he got the point, that some people can be nasty, while others accepting without prejudice or questioning. Then it dawned on me that, one day, society will redefine his reality. Maybe when he is a teenager, he will learn, through experience that he is different from all his close white friends – Co, Is, Eth, Seb; his close Hispanic friends -So, Bra, Ale, Am, Sab; his close Asian friends – Jay, To, Em. And of course.

Society is going to redefine him, and ‘pigeon hole’ him, and steal his innocence of the love, affection, joys and playfulness with his social relations, regardless of their skin color. Then he will begin to look over his shoulder, and run away whenever he sees the popo. Perhaps he will no longer put his hands in his pockets again, as he always does. Regardless of how much we shield our children, proclaim our humane living, open them up to ‘colorless’ social living, we can never completely shut the world of prejudice, hate and racial baggage away from them. At least we have tried, and continue to try, reminding them of the greatest social definition – as all Humans First and Forever!

Everyday, I have to understand Racism

Dr. Jeremiah Gibbs, a white married christian male shared his “coming of age with racism in America”, when he wrote, The Day That I Started to Understand Racism, inspired by his experience as an adoptive/foster parent (with his wife) of a black child.

“Our first weekend together we were on our way to a birthday party and had to stop to get a last minute addition to our gift. We had to stop at a store that was in a town not far from our own. That town had a long and well-known history of racism. So as we got out of the car to walk into the store, I began to run scenarios through my head. What might I do if someone in this store makes a racist remark to this boy that has been given to my care? Should I just ignore it as if the comments don’t matter? Surely I cannot let that be OK for my new son. Should I confront the racist jerk and tell them how ludicrous their comments are? I couldn’t imagine what I might say. Would I just respond with violence and stand up against injustice? That didn’t seem like a Christian response and no one likes to go to jail.(March 18, 2014, http://jeremiahgibbs.com/2014/03/18/the-day-that-i-started-to-understand-racism/. Accessed May 13, 2014)”

I can perfectly related to all these questions, even though I am neither white nor a parent of a white or multi-racial (white and black) child. I am a black woman of continental African origin, living in suburban America. I am a mother of an African American child of lighter skin color than myself, that he has sometimes thought of himself as white. Well, he is five-years old, and recently returned to America from living abroad where racism or race was not a fronted identity or discussion. He is just a lovely baby, an American baby, and since I have lived in America for most of my adult life, I consider myself an American.To my friends and family back in my country of origin I am an America, though not the same with my American friends here. In a way, this is a good and a bad: good because it gives me “a pass” with white friends (“You are not like those black people,” I have been told more than once). A bad because it allows me that uncomfortable pass, which I ride with, because I do not want to “disturb the status quo”. Partly, this is why I can relate to Dr. Gibbs’ story, most especially when I am running outdoors, and when I go around looking for work.

Let me tell you why running in my neighborhood revokes feelings of fear, anger and insecurity in me, similar to Dr. Gibbs’ experience. I love running and jogging in my neighborhood, through the trees and waters. I barely see anyone running in my neighborhood. Perhaps they do, but not at the time I go out at 8:30am, when many are either out for work or are on their way, during the week, or sleeping in over the weekend. My neighborhood has plenty of older retirees, who got tired of the back and forth vacation travel up here, and decided to settle for good. The neighborhood is within a ski mountainous zone, attracting plenty of winter sports and vacation in the mountains. There are, as well, middle-age couples who got tired of the bustle and hustle of city life in New York and New Jersey, and settled here with family. Many commute everyday to work in New York City and New Jersey. That group is for the most part open-minded to folks from all walks of life; in typical NYC experience. Then there are the “original settlers” or long-term residents, some who still have the confederate flag on their big trucks. That group scares me.

Generally, I run around my neighborhood with no incident of disrespect or attack on me. I run mostly along the roads/streets but without pedestrian walk/run platforms, most motorists politely move over to allow me running space. Sometimes, I get a High-5 or honk, and sometimes I catch a smile. Most often I do not make eye contact, in respect of the “societal taboo” against staring at people, but as well due to my inner “insecurities” of running in a predominantly white neighborhood. I fear offending anyone, if I am caught looking at her/him. True, I get the rude pushovers. I have been honked at rudely, literally ran off the tarmac, given a finger, and near spat at by a drive-by male in a passenger seat. I have also been intentionally hit with leftover foods. Please believe it! One Winter Sunday, while running back home on my last leg, a car slowed down while approaching me with two middle-aged white folks. They threw leftover foods out of their window targeted at me, and drove off. Fortunately, it missed me by a thread, but I did not survive a bruised ego. I cried running my last leg home, and I wished that I had recorded the registration plate, said something or chased the vehicle to the stoplight and told them off. Since my instinct is not to fight, especially when dealing with a people of ‘higher’ societal privilege, I let it burn. Still, it haunts me, and I cry again sometimes when I remember that incident. I ask myself similar questions like Dr. Gibbs, how can I let such evil acts flyby? But I did.

But there is another very vocal resident of in my neighborhood that repeatedly outwardly disapproves of my presence in the neighborhood – “Holy dogs”. That fact that white people’s dog generally hate and bark at black people is hidden in plain view. That these dogs generally do not like black males or look-a-like males is also an established truth, especially if you are walking or running in their neighborhood. And if like me, you have low cropped hair, typical of a male, I wonder if that is an additional disadvantage. It is so humiliating when dogs – small, large, old or puppies bark at me through their house windows, fences or chase after me from their yards when I am running on the main street, not on their property. I have been bitten by dogs, so I do not take “my dog is sweat, nice to us and our cats and eats from our plates” crap. I also believe that dogs are trained and socialized to respond differently to different people. Most white people’s dogs are socialized [intentionally or not] to respond to black people harshly. From experience running in my neighborhood, I have witnessed a white person walk past a home in front of me without the dog(s) barking at her. When I came in sight, they started barking. There is a house by the road, where dogs chase after me from their yard, even after seeing me run past multiple times. Another time while running through the neighborhood, a dog charged me and barked at me repeatedly, while its owner sat on the front porch merely calling it back. I stopped running but the dog would not bulge. Each time I tried to move, it charged toward me. I begged the neighbor for what seemed like five minutes to come restrain his dog, until he felt ‘kind’ enough to get up and call his dog back home, by throwing a bone or play toy at it.

Once again, I asked myself why I did not notify the police? I guess my hesitation to involve the po po comes from my internalized understanding of racism in America, and fear that racism could prevent the police from responding to me. Even as an educated woman from an elite US university, sentiments about the unfair US criminal justice cannot simply fed away. So, I keep on running, hoping my neighborhood and the dogs would get used to my face and body, and accept that I am not gonna stop running unless they knock me over or eat me up. But for now, I keep on the main streets, and wear bright neon colors, to avoid giving anyone an excuse to run me over because, “they did not see me; I was too dark”. As much as I would love trail running, I keep away to avoid stirring anyone from shooting me for “trespassing” in their backyard. It is a privilege white folks can risk, well, unless you are a German exchange student at a high school in suburban Montana (http://www.nydailynews.com/news/crime/father-german-exchange-student-killed-montana-homeowner-slams-u-s-gun-culture-article-1.1775600).

Similar thoughts came to me once, while trail-running with a team in a predominantly white neighborhood or Marietta, Georgia. We run through woods and streams, and in people’s backyards, without anybody shooting or shouting at us or calling the police on us. Well, I was running with a predominantly white group, and the only one of two black folks. A week later, while running in South West Atlanta, I did not feel brave enough to trail-run by  myself, ironically in a predominantly black neighborhood. Why? Randomized surveys done on street racism have showed that blacks are as much likely as whites to profile black people. In a staged “bike theft” in a public park, part of ABC TV series, “What Would You DO?”, results showed that when it was a young white male cutting a bike chain off a stand,  people looked on, asked questions and expressed shock when he told them the bike did not belong to him. All except one (out of 100) continued on without confronting him or calling the police. Even more revealing, when the “staged bike thief” was a white female, as passerby’s offered her immediate help to free the bike from the chain. Only one woman protested to her husband helping free the bike, and another called the police after she had left the scene. However, when it was a young black male wearing identical clothes as the white male, passerby’s immediately (white and black people) confronted him, congregated, confiscated his tools or immediately called the police. When asked to account for their actions, both blacks and white people pointed to their biases against “personal appearance”. Black people said “first impression matters”…..and…”they thought the white guy worked in the park.” White people generally said they were looking out for private property, some even claimed race did not matter. So, there you have it!

Sometimes I worry about running into a serial killer or kidnapper along my route, especially while running new, quiet and isolated neighborhoods. I guess it comes from watching too many “Forensic Evidence”, “Unresolved Mysteries”, “20-20” and “48 hours” TV shows. Pretty much all of the crimes featured happened in suburbs similar to where I live. I have heard from moms at my son’s bus stop that they are plenty of drug users in the neighborhoods, and some have been busted in the police. Then I worry whether, being a black person, anybody driving or walking by would care if they saw a guy forcing me into his car? On my recent Saturday long distance run, while trying to discover a new running route in the neighborhood. I got onto a new street with a few houses. From a distance, I saw three white males and a white woman standing by the road and “burning something”; there was smoke likely from a fire. My heart skipped, but I was scared of showing my fears by turning back. I worried they could chase after me, so I proceeded on. I guess they sensed my fears and said, “hello”, when I got close to them.

Perhaps I am too paranoid, but that goes to show how institutionalized racism is experienced differently by black folks. I always wonder whether a white person would have to skip a beat at such an encounter! The feeling of “I do not belong here” is so real to me everyday in this neighborhood, even when I am inside my home. I hate it when sometimes I say hello to person across walking or running in my neighborhood, and they do not respond.

Similar experience and sentiments with finding work in this neighborhood. I took a break from online application and decided to walk-into several professional establishments in the neighborhood. As the black people in the “bike theft case” said, first impressions matter. Pretty much every place here is staffed with white folks. Like I say, “You know the place is white, if McDonald is predominantly staffed with white people.” Welcome to my neighborhood! Although, I did not look for work at McDonalds. I went to Doctors’ Offices, Departmental Stores, Restaurants, Grocery Stores, education institutions, and several small businesses. At most places, I was asked to apply online, or bring a resume – including restaurants! I know times are tough, and jobs are not coming by easily. However, when you do not see anyone who looks like you in most workplaces, including the front desk, it is hard not feeling unwelcome. Still, I did all as requested, with follow-up call back and walk in, but no rewards yet.

I bet some of you are wondering, why I am still living in this neighborhood, if it is that traumatizing to me? In the words of Dr. Jeremy Gibbs…

“This isn’t the only thing that we learned from raising our son (that we gladly adopted last year). We also have learned that parents that want the most for their children are often faced with a dilemma (even when they have the means to make educational choice) about whether they will give their kids a school environment that is supportive of their identity. Or shall we choose a school where lots of children look like him and he can learn about being black in America? Usually the schools with large African-American populations are struggling and under-resourced. Do I use the means that are within my reach to send him to a school with opportunity that will ensure that he has very few friends that look like him? Is that somehow better? The thing that I’m learning here is that racial minorities have to ask questions that majority populations get the privilege of ignoring. I still don’t know all the questions that I need to be asking.”

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