White Privilege: Lessons from a White Mama of Black Children.

Via Christy Richardsonon Jan 30, 2016

boys

With all of the national attention to police violence against unarmed young black males lately, there has been a lot of talk about this thing called white privilege.

As I scroll through some of the comments on articles I read, I am struck by the fact that there are so many people who simply don’t understand what this means. I believe this is because they have never been exposed to the injustices and differences in the life experiences of someone who goes through life with any color skin besides white.

I get where they are coming from. How could you understand what you haven’t lived or what hasn’t been explained to you?

In fact, I’ve been there. A couple decades ago, I didn’t get it either. I certainly didn’t feel privileged when I was a young, poor single mother barely making ends meet. Later in life, however, my worldview changed drastically when I adopted my two youngest sons and became the mother of two beautiful black boys.

Raising them has given me insight into things I never could have understood. It has been a lot like living a social experiment. It has been both one of the greatest joys and biggest heartaches of my life. I have learned things I never expected. I actually have three sons—two black and one white. My white son is 29 and my black boys are 14 and 15.

When I was in college, I read an article by Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” She wrote of the privileges she as a woman experiences for being white. I would like to take it a step further by sharing some of the things I experienced raising my sons that have made my white privilege slap me in the face. I hope that you, too, might understand what it means when we talk about white privilege.

Here are some of the privileges I never realized I experienced raising my white son:

Not Once…

…did I ever have to explain to my white son that people might be mean to him and even hurt or kill him simply because of his skin color.

With my other two sons, I had to figure out at what age to do this and ask myself a variety of questions: Do I wait until they are old enough to see the news and understand it? Is that too late? Will telling them too soon make them unnecessarily afraid? How do I explain this without making them completely distrusting of authority figures and people in general? Can I do this without making them fear white people? I mean, I’m white and I have white friends and family members. Will telling them too late keep them safe? What will this do to their sense of self-worth? How in the hell do you explain this ridiculousness to a child?

…did I ever have to tell him to keep his hands out of his pockets while in a store, because they would follow him around if they thought he was going to steal something.

…did I ever have to go into a store or a school or athletic event with him to assert myself as his mother so that people would treat him fairly—so they’d think, “oh, his mom’s white so he’s like-white.” Countless times over the years I have watched people change the way they treat my black sons; they suddenly become more friendly or less skeptical after I have asserted myself as their mom.

…did I ever have to tell him not to wear the hood up on his hoodie, because it might save his life. Because Trayvon Martin.

…did I sit across from him at the dinner table and nearly drop my fork mid-bite and contemplate how to answer the question, “Mom, if a girl won’t be your girlfriend because her dad won’t let her because you are black, is that racist?” Then later wipe away his tears along with my own after I answered that question. I didn’t have to go to the school to explain to them that this seven-year-old girl told my son, “I can’t be your girlfriend; in fact, I don’t even like you because you are brown.”

…did I have to go looking for band-aids that would match his skin color or use a marker to color the ones I could find because the only ones sold at my local store are white flesh-color.

…did I have to tell him that he has to always be on his best behavior, because he will get blamed for things before others do. Or tell him that sometimes, in situations with certain people, it doesn’t even matter how good you are or what you do—they still won’t like you or treat you fairly.

…did I ever have to go looking for things like books or artwork in “specialty” stores or online in order to find things that depict people of his same race. I mean, how many black Santas have you ever seen? And have you ever looked for children’s books that have children of color in them? Let me tell you, it isn’t easy to find in your local store.

…did I ever have to go to five or more different stores in order to find hair care products for his type of hair.

…did I worry about him walking home in the dark by himself out of fear he may be harassed by police or others—a mother’s worst nightmare when she can’t be there to protect him.

…did I wipe away tears because someone called him “nigger.” I never cried myself to sleep over the injustice of my white son being demoralized or degraded by his peers for something he had absolutely no control over. I never had to deal with him being frustrated or angry because of these situations. I didn’t have to delicately balance his self-esteem with his safety. I didn’t have to teach him how to both resist and conform to an unfair society.

…did I have to go to school to raise hell about him being harassed for his race. And not once did he get suspended for punching a kid for calling him racial slurs, because the school refused to do anything about it.

…did I have to look in his 11-year-old eyes and tell him he couldn’t go play in the alleys of our neighborhood with the other boys who had air-soft guns, because he might get shot by police thinking he had a real gun.

…did I ever have to look at any situation he was in and decide if there were racial undertones involved. “Mom, I think this teacher hates me because I am black.” “Mom, everyone got invited to this kid’s birthday party but me.” “Why am I the only kid who got suspended for doing what several other kids were doing?” “I don’t want to go to history class, because we’re learning about slavery and the teacher always looks at me or asks me questions and it makes me uncomfortable.” These are a small sampling of questions I’ve been asked or things my black sons told me that made me have to decide if there was a racial component to the situation. And once I had made that determination, I had to decide what—if anything—to do about it. I had to ask myself if “doing something about it” would further escalate the situation. Would it make it worse for them or better? Did they need to see me stand up for them in this situation? Or did I need to leave it alone so it didn’t cause them further problems with authorities or their peers.

…did I have to go to court with him for something trivial and witness the old white judge talking with every white child who was in there for the same thing but not say one word to my son when it was his turn—my son, the only kid in there who was dressed respectfully in slacks and a button up shirt—then answer his question on the way home, “Mom do you think that judge didn’t treat me the same because I am black?” with, “Yes son, I think you are right.”

…did I worry as my teenage son left the house that he may get killed today simply because of his skin color. I never lay awake at night worrying he might not make it home to me. I never had to decide how much freedom to give him because of his skin color. It never broke my heart that I had to treat him differently than his brothers.

…did I have to explain that he will have to work harder in school and at work to make the same money as a white person doing the same thing. He will have to be better and work harder to prove himself, because statistics show that black men make less money for the same job.

…did I have to watch him go from being seen as the cute little brown boy to being perceived as scary or a threat as he grew into a big, strong young man. Never did I witness white people crossing the road to walk down the opposite side from him because he scared them. I never had to wonder how this was affecting his psyche and what I could do as damage control.

…did I struggle to find a school that had a decent proportion of students of color like him but wasn’t located in an impoverished part of the city where the education he would receive would be of a lower quality than those schools located in a predominantly white neighborhood.

…did I have to tell him I wasn’t ready for him to get his driver’s license yet because of the can of worms that opens. I didn’t have to explain that he most likely would be profiled and pulled over at some point for DWB (Driving While Black), which can lead to a whole other host of problems while interacting with the police. I didn’t have to worry that if I let him drive my nice car he would probably get pulled over because they would think he stole it. I didn’t have to re-iterate over and over the importance of keeping his hands in plain sight if an officer pulled him over and clearly stating that he was going to open the glove box to reach for the registration and insurance information so they wouldn’t assume he was going for a gun.

I could go on and on here, but hopefully you can see that many of the privileges we experience as white people are invisible to us.

We don’t even have to think about so many of these things in our daily lives, and we don’t even realize it.

I didn’t.

I hope that sharing some of our story helps you understand the privileges we take for granted. Being pro-black doesn’t mean you are anti-white. It means you empathize with the way things are today in America for our brothers and sisters of color. It means you stand together with them in fighting the injustices they experience and that you recognize and honor these differences. It means being the change you wish to see in the world.

In closing, a wise black woman once told me a powerful story about how racism feels and wears on a person. She took my hand and ran her fingernail across the top and asked me if it hurt. Of course I said no.

“Well, what if I keep doing that over and over in that same spot for years? Eventually the skin will break, it will bleed, maybe fester and scab over. Then someone else comes along, does the same little thing which normally wouldn’t hurt but it breaks the scab open and you scream and howl in pain and punch them in the face. That is how years and years of discrimination wear on a person and why sometimes we react in the ways we do.” 

I can only imagine how it feels to live with this day in and day out based on my second-hand experience.

And that, my friends, is white privilege.

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Relephant Read:

Raising a Son of Color in America. {Poem}

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Author: Christy Richardson

Editor: Toby Israel

Photo: Author’s Own

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About Christy Richardson

Christy Richardson is a mother of four who was born with an instinct to nurture. In addition to her four children, Christy has “soul-children” around the world who affectionately call her Mama C. As a sociologist, empath and intuitive, she is passionate about social justice issues and aspires to spread understanding through sharing experience and information. In her free time Christy loves to dance, make things and create community. You can connect with Christy through Facebook at or by email.

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Comments

23 Responses to “White Privilege: Lessons from a White Mama of Black Children.”

  1. Emma says:

    Don’t ever give up. You are amazing. Your children are, too. I am grateful to have come across your article and will honor your words. This is a piece that has left a mark in my heart that will remain and the remainder will return often, I know. It will remind me of beautiful people like you out there, it will inspire me and give me strength to stand up for those who need me.

    Thank you, for being who you are. <3

  2. Susan says:

    My white son was profiled simply because he was wearing some vaguely goth clothing. Both by police here In Florida and once, by a store manager, when he would walk around the store, looking at things, but not buying them. Even after several times going into that same store and actually buying things. He wasn’t dressed from head to toe in black like the other goth kids had, he had maybe a hat and shirt that were black. But my son is WHITE, so it can happen to white kids too. Not denying what your black sons have gone thru or belittling any of it. It all depends on the other persons outlook at times.

  3. Vonna says:

    YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. I am a black mother of two black children and I have had every single thought and feeling. I’m so proud for this letter. I hope it reaches many. There is one more thing I would like to add.. and that is through it all I make sure my children are SUPREMELY proud of their culture. I love love love my culture… make sure that they do too. It’s more joy than pain. The current pain point is getting others to SEE that the struggle is real and not imagined. You are beautiful mom! Good job mom. God bless you for being a conscious mom to your 3 children.

  4. Tom says:

    I thought your rant was pretty pointless because it seems 80% of the examples you brought up were you preempting some kind of scenario and just forewarning them something might happen. Whites discriminate against blacks, and blacks discriminate against whites. And tit for tat with every single race and nationality. And no, Santa is white. Because Santa is Russian and that's why you tell them he's white. Blacks account for about 12% of the population. So from a business stand point, might not be profitable for chocolate colored band aids. And slavery? Look up the Barbados slave trade. And people really need to stop using the word racism so loosely and learn the difference between that and prejudice. I too can come up with a number of examples of blacks being "racist" towards whites and the preferential treatment blacks get for things

  5. Rachel says:

    This is one of the most powerful articles I've ever read. Elephant Journal has some terrible articles but this blew my mind and gave me an entirely different perspective on something I had always brushed aside as a synthetic matter, thinking it was a matter of perception as opposed to reality. You are an amazing mother and an amazing writer. Thankyou so much for posting this beautifully written article with such thought-provoking content, I was weeping before I was half-way through it. I really hope things change, the way coloured people are treated is clearly an absolute disgrace and one that is all too easy to ignore as someone who is not coloured in the same way as your beautiful boys. Change has to happen and I really hope that this article is read far and wide (I am in the UK so that's a start). You sound like a wonderful mother and I'm sure your boys will grow up to do wonderful things.

  6. Corrine says:

    I ache for you, I am a mother of three sons in a beautiful Caribbean island. We have many social and economic challenges but thank God my sons have to work hard to succeed academically and financially but not to prove they are worth because of the colour of their skin. I am of African, French, Scottish and German descent but I am pure Jamaican…

  7. Rachel says:

    I was very touched by your article. It makes me laugh and cry inside when I see people (mostly white) try to give similar examples of their white discrimination stating it can happen to everyone without acknowledging the fact that they can just change their clothes to be perceived in a different light, which is a whole lot different than changing your skin color. I count myself as very lucky that I was raised in a predominately BLACK middle/upper middle class area in southern California and never experienced racism at the level I see today. My parents did very well at shielding me and all my siblings from encountering these issues so I don’t have the same ingrained fear of my skin (or authority figures) as that of my friends raised in different areas. By the time someone started scraping the back of my hand (so to say), I was already a college-educated, professional adult who chose to move to more racially hostile areas and the comments I received at this time weren’t internalized because I could logically place the person in a class of being ignorant and uneducated and continue on my way while remaining a person of few words. I never before this had to make a conscious choice to be of few words as a safety precaution to avoid situations from escalating resulting in my death because although it is my natural state of being, it is now a necessity. I dread raising children in the current climate because I don’t know if there is a way to shield them as my parents did for me. My hat is off to you for helping to educate people of the realities that Black people face daily in this country as well as raising the next generation of confident, black men. We have come a long way, but we have so much farther to go.

  8. Stacey B says:

    Brava for your article. I'm shocked and saddened by the racist/ ignorant comments posted by others. They have never walked a mile in the shoes of someone of color. Through tasing your boys, you have. Namaste – big love.

  9. TRACK says:

    This letter will go far and wide! Thank you from me and your two well loved sons

  10. Sparrow says:

    Thank you for writing this. I too am a white mother of a black child and definitely have experienced a lot of these things. It can be heartbreaking to see your wonderful, talented, kind, handsome child go through rejection and injustice they don't deserve simply because their physical features, skin color and hair are African. White privilege is the flip side of white guilt in many cases, which I believe is the foundation of racism. Isn't it just possible that white racism is fueled by fear of retaliation for the brutalization of black people? It may be the sins of the ancestors visited on the current generations, but it's not an easy sin to forgive or forget. Some may think I'm being too harsh, but I have thought about this deeply.

  11. Laura says:

    Thanks for sharing these words with us! It’s frustrating but I’m glad we are having this conversation (in society). It is hard to deal with those who deny privilege (even on this thread) but hey… We are talking about it which I think is a great thing! I’ll be recommending your article for sure. Thanks again!

  12. susann says:

    I too am the white mother of a black son. Thank you so much for putting into words the things we have experienced most all of the 27 years of his life. I still wake in the middle of the night, frightened of how vulnerable my son is in this country, simply because of his color.

  13. Gayle Fleming Gayle Fleming says:

    You are amazing. If anyone doesn't get it after reading this, they don't want to.

  14. Lisa says:

    What an interesting prospective. Honestly, I had to skip to the bottom because reading the many considerations pressed on my own anxiety.

  15. Melody says:

    I am white and went to a predominately black college. I experienced these things there. Not all of them but I was discriminated against by a one particular professor and several of the students. It was ongoing the whole semester and I could not just change my clothes to fix it as others have stated. There were a couple of times I did not feel safe. I do not deny that this exists but it also happens in other areas of life. Humans treat each other like this and it is not limited to white privilege.

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