One hardship in being a White mother of a Black child is that when your child isn’t with you, bigots mistake you for one of their own. A few months ago, a woman whispered “Black” while describing her coworker. As if his rich chocolate skin was a trespass we should discreetly pity together.
I’m prepared for the stupid things strangers say. It’s the friendly fire that knocks me down.
Tesla Tits (not her real name) is a mother I know. Hell, she’s a mother we all know. Her 2.8 children make the best grades at the best private schools. She’s adorable and gorgeous at the same time. Her kids send timely thank you notes after their birthday parties. And when your kid wants a play date with hers, you shoot him a jaded smirk and say, “Yeah, you and everyone else.”
Recently, at a sporting event, Tesla Tits struck up a conversation with me…
Tesla Tits: “I expose my kids to everything. My uncle lives in public housing, and we have lunch with him every few months. I mean, I literally expose them to everything. Nothing phases them.”
Me: (wondering why I seemed like the right person for this conversation) “Ummm…”
Tesla Tits: “The other day, I took my kids and some of their friends to a roller skating rink. We walk in, and OMG, everyone was Black!”
Tesla Tits: (puzzled glance) “My kids’ friends were like, ‘Oh my God!’ Right? Because they don’t have any diversity in their life. It was crazy. My kids didn’t care though. Because I expose them to everything.”
I let the conversation hit a wall of silence. But, to be honest, 99% of the silence came from an inability to think of anything polite to say. I just stood there offended, stunned, hurt. I’m mad at myself for not taking a grander stand. And, I’m simultaneously scared to post this and hurt anyone’s feelings.
How is a lack of exposure to poor people a legitimate explanation for fear of Black people? How is a lack of exposure to anything a legitimate explanation for fear of Black people? Why is it ever reasonable to walk into a room filled with people who look like my son, and say “Oh my God”?
I feel like I want to set my friend’s Trina Turk flip flops on fire. I’m so tired of the overt, MAGA racism that’s been unleashed. But I’m still really sick of the inadvertent slips I used to consider progress. Those slips aren’t progress, they are indicators of a huge problem that people are carefully hiding. They are hiding it not just from us, but from themselves. And nobody is allowed to talk about it. And nobody is going to do anything about it. And it’s not getting fixed. And I’m sick of it.
But, if I really want to be the change I want to see in this world, I have to lean into friendships with people like Tesla Tits. Shouldn’t I show those people the grace I demand people show me when I mess up?
I mean yeah, but it’s more comfortable to be angry from a soap box. The jokes are funnier. But change is only going to happen through compassion. And who better to show compassion in this area than a White lady from 1980’s Atlanta, GA?
I guess I choose option B: don’t set the flip flops on fire.