Yesterday I was on a panel—via zoom—at Harbourfront Centre in Toronto. If you’ve never been to the city, it’s located on the water’s edge and is a popular location for festivals, art, concerts and performance.
The topic was “Raising our Sons: White + Black Mothers Speak”. I don’t have a whole lot of experience being a mom yet but it’s something that I’m quickly forming opinions about. I had already held a similar support and thought session like this for clients shortly after the riots began. But yesterday was different because the audience was strangers and it was extra important for me to speak clearly from the truth of my experience.
One of the panelists was a Black woman who married a white police officer who was raised in a family of police officers. His brother, father and now their son are all police officers. The other was White woman, whose viral poem you may have seen floating around the internet. She is a white woman, raising her two white sons to be activists.
Then there was me. I spoke about the experience of adopting my son but also about some of the ugly truths I’ve learned while living in the United States for almost two decades.
My adoption training was where I first learned about the school to prison pipeline. Briefly, it is a disturbing national trend wherein children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems. Many of these children have learning disabilities or histories of poverty, abuse, or neglect, and would benefit from additional educational and counseling services. Instead, they are isolated, punished, and pushed out.
“Zero-tolerance” policies criminalize minor infractions of school rules, while cops in schools lead to students being criminalized for behavior that should be handled inside the school. Ava DuVernay’s documentary 13th, which is one of the resources that we recommended to those of you who asked, explains why most of the children affected by this system are Black and brown.
My interview with Shannon Watts—A Lesson on Doubling Down—which I highly recommend, taught me that Stand Your Ground laws in the United States disproportionately affect people of color, usually Black or Brown men. Those were the laws used by the white men who murdered Ahmaud Arbery and Trayvon Martin as justification.
One of the questions I didn’t answer well was the “wish I had for my son”. It’s complicated for me to explain but it’s important because it’s the underlying reason of all of the work that I believe I’m here on the planet at this time to do.
When I look at my son admiring his reflection in the mirror. I see a human being who is in love with who he sees, one who knows his value. That is the gift of being not long out of the space where souls come from. As a baby, I told him he was unlimited, and he loved it. My guess is because his soul knows that to be true.
As he speaks words and is able to express the dreams, desires and calling on his life, I want to be able to hold space for whatever he tells me is his highest and greatest good. Any wish I could have for him in this moment would be made in response to my experience, not his, a reaction to the rules of a broken system, to fending of the pain of malicious stereotypes and in my own fears that bubbles up with violent, unjust acts. The broken system he was born into is not his to fix, nor are those rules his to abide by. His ancestors—bless their souls—have paid for it for over four hundred years.
Whatever he, and his creator, wish for his life is so much greater than I can conceive.
As women we spend so much time trying to get back to that person we were before they told us who we were supposed to be. We try to silence the critical voices in our heads, the ones convinced that we’re not worthy. How lucky am I to bear witness to the beginning of his human experience?
For what I can see is so intrinsic to his soul is weaved into every fibre of your being too, even though you may have forgotten somewhere along the way.
Love. The end. The Beginning. All that is.