Speaker 1: How would you respond if your child asked you, “Mom, are we still slaves?” In her op-ed piece, America’s Not Here for Us, A’driane Nieves of Butterfly Confessions shares her answer with us.
A’driane: “Mom, are we still slaves? Do people still hate us, African Americans?” Brandon asked me this last week while driving home. He’s also asked me questions about Abraham Lincoln freeing the slaves, the Civil War, why brown people were slaves, the same questions he’s been asking me since he learned about all of this and Martin Luther King Jr. in kindergarten.
I answered them as best I could, bearing in mind to keep it age appropriate yet honest because I don’t believe in glossing over or hiding history from my kids or relying on the public education system to tell their one version of it.
However, when he asked me in the car if we were still slaves, if people still hated us, I faltered. I felt caught between two parts of myself that both bear particular responsibility.
As his mother, I carry the responsibility of trying to keep him as innocent as possible while encouraging him to grow into who he is, be inclusive of others, and take responsibility for how he carries himself. I want him to enjoy the freedom that comes with being a child, yet teach him what he needs to know about the world around him in stages of understanding that aren’t marred by the ugliness that can come with increased knowledge.
But as a woman of color, raising an African American son who has a Puerto Rican stepfather and a half-Puerto Rican brother, I and my husband also bear the responsibility of teaching him about things like racism, white privilege, equality, how black and brown men have been and are still perceived in American society, and really, just about being a person of color period in the United States of America.
I have to explain to him why peach people think he looks suspicious even though he might be doing the same exact thing they are: walking through a neighborhood, shopping in a store, hanging out with a group of friends, wearing his favorite hoodie.
As a mother, I have to worry about my child’s quality of life, his education, his growth as an individual, how he treats others, help him shape a worldview that is hopefully inclusive, healthy, well-rounded, educated, rooted in morality, everything that comes with being a man. But as a mother of a brown boy in the United States of America, I also have to worry about how to keep him out of prison, where a disproportionate amount of black and brown males are sent to and reside these days, more so than their white counterparts.
I have to worry about him walking down the street or driving in his car and being profiled simply because he’s a black male. I have to teach him how to carry himself, talk and express who he is in a certain way, so that he’s not viewed as threatening, a thug, a criminal, or even an animal. I have to teach him how to work that much harder than his peers just so he can maybe, maybe stand a chance at having the same benefits they do. I have to teach him that he can be more than an athlete, a rapper, or some other occupation that white people have deemed OK for brown people to succeed in.
I have to teach him that even if he became the President of our United States, he’d still have to prove himself worthy and not some terrorist hell bent on destroying our country. I have to basically teach him that when he’s done his very best to keep going and to dig deeper and push harder, because our society unfairly demands that he be more than just a human being like his white friends.
I have to teach him that because he’s not peach, others will feel they have the right to call him a n*gger just because that’s how they were raised. They don’t mean any harm by it, their black friend says, “N*gga, what’s up,” and Jay-Z and Kanye have a song called “N*ggas in Paris.”
I have to teach him that people will often not see him at first. They will see a stereotyped version of him that has been engraved upon their consciousness by their culture, the media, and sometimes, sadly, even those who look like him.
I will have to encourage him to remember that all the white folks have always been taught, on some level, that black and brown people are inherently evil, bad, incapable of being good, lack value and lack intelligence—he is none of those things.
I will have to constantly remind him that no matter what is said, what laws are enacted, no matter how many jobs or promotions he’s denied—he does indeed have rights. He is more than a stereotype, and he will never be less than.
I thought about all of this as I sat in the shower this morning, hot water mixing in with the tears streaming down my face, my heart heavy. I thought about his questions to me last week and whispered, “Yes, yes, we are still slaves and yes, people do still hate us, my son.”
Even our own people are still oppressed with the self-hate fostered in us when we were just property.
In 2013, 40-plus years after desegregation and Martin Luther King, Jr.’s speech on Washington’s monument, we are still slaves. We are free physically, yes, and slavery is illegal, an amendment in the Constitution says so, but systematically, in people’s minds, in our own minds, as people of color, no, we are not free.
Since Obama started his run for office back in 2007, the hate for the color of our skin and our culture has been getting louder, bolder, and more vile than I can ever remember hearing and experiencing growing up. Yes, we are still hated.
As my heart weighed heavy with this answer, the thought that came next was, “I’m brown. I am a woman. America’s not here for me. I have brown sons. I have a brown husband. America’s not here for them either.”
In 2013, America is still not here for people of color. America isn’t here for my family and I because our skin is brown and we are a mixed, multicultural family.
Response to Cheerios’ latest commercial is just one of the recent events to reinforce this belief for me. Add SCOTUS’ gutting up the Voting Rights Act, the defense of Paula Dean’s use of racist language, her blind eye to discrimination and harassment in her own establishments, and the reaction to the George Zimmerman trial to the equation, and that’s what it all adds up to, doesn’t it?
So my question is this, “Who is America here for, you all?” I’ll give you a hint, it’s not you, citizen.
Not unless you are white, straight, rich, Christian, and male, the 2013 America is not for you, and is barely better than what it was in the past. If you are poor, if you are gay, if you have a mental illness, if you are an atheist, agnostic, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, or any faith other than the Bible is the inherent and literal word of God Christian, America is not for you.
White, male-dominated America doesn’t care about you as a human being if you’re brown or gay, and doesn’t care about your rights and freedoms to make your own choices about your own body or reproductive health if you’re a woman, even a white woman. America only stands for life, one kind of life, one that is privileged, entitled, elitist, and democratic (but only in theory). Fuck that.
You want to stand for life, America? You want to stand for life, American church? Stand and fight for the millions of children living outside of the womb who are hungry, homeless, abused, in foster care, neglected, and living below the poverty line.
You want to stand for life? Stand for the kids in Chicago, and Philly, and DC, and even in rural areas where our public schools are failing and having funding ripped from them.
You want to stand for life? Then, fund schools. Fund the arts. Fund your local food bank. You want to stand for life? Stop taking money from schools in the inner city to build $400 million prisons.
Get real, OK, about who can purchase a gun, what kind, how many, and how much ammunition they can have. Get real about gun safety and gun control. Care about violence in urban areas just as much as you do in the suburbs where you live comfortably encased in your hard-earned privilege.
You want to stand for life? Volunteer at a veteran’s home, hospital, clinic or service organization. Spend some time giving back to those who sacrifice their time and lives so you can make your stand for life. You want to stand for life? Man a suicide hotline.
Want to stand for life? Stop enforcing your way of life on others and allow them the same benefits and rights you enjoy. Church, hear me. We are not a theocratic nation. People can marry, love and believe who and what they want.
You want to stand for life? Then support SNAP benefits in your local food bank. Feed and clothe the homeless whether you think they deserve it or not. So you stand for life? Do you stand and vote for deep cuts to food and other welfare programs? You want to make a stand for life, church? Stop demanding hungry people sit through your tired ass, patronizing sermons to get the bags of food you offer every week.
Be just as mission-minded here in our country as you are in others. Extend your outreach to support those with mental illness. Stop the sexual and emotional abuse happening in your congregations and institutions. Hear me.
If you stand for the unborn, who you claim are more worthy than the women impregnated with them, then, and those who are already living, if you’re an apologist for racist behavior, attitudes, beliefs, and ideals, if you aren’t here for my rights as a woman and mother of color, if you aren’t here for my mixed family who works just as hard as your privileged ass, despite the systematic racism we encounter in various ways every fucking day, well then guess what?
I ain’t here for you, or your God, or your so-called God-blessed America. Guess I should just take my black ass back to where I came from, huh?