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A Tale of Two Outings.

I am an introvert.

I don't enjoy small talk, yoga is my jam, and this pretty much sums up how I feel about phones (so text me, mmmkay?):

I have a black son with an outgoing personality. I am white. And we live in a really white community.  Like, really white.

So when we leave our house, my introverted self is always in a bit of agony. Strangers in the produce aisle will stop me to ask where my son is from (though one time someone asked him and he informed them, "Costco."). People will rub his head as he walks by. We elicit a lot of stares and observations (not always kind ones) when we are at the swimming pool and he is the only child of color there. Kids at the park will ask me why I'm "pink" but my son is brown. Sometimes other kids just stare at him a lot, and when he nears them, they reach closer for their mom and say something along the lines of, "I don't like that boy."

And then there are the times that are just plain soul-crushing - even though they are more occasional. The times where we are walking down the street and a pickup truck clad in Donald Trump stickers and bearing a Confederate flag shouts out, "Make America Great Again -- Go back to Africa!" or the times where someone tells me my child looks like a thug because of a particular hairstyle he is wearing.

It's exhausting.

The other day I took my daughter shopping for back-to-school supplies. She is white.

We spent over an hour at Target. No one touched her hair. No one asked me where she is from. No one asked if I was her nanny or she was really my daughter or said they didn't like her if she walked close to them. When she whined about something I wouldn't get her, I didn't have to worry that all those looking on were silently judging her or me -- because no one was looking at us in the first place.

It was really easy.

Because I have white skin - I have that option. I have the option to blend into my surroundings. There is no pressure on my daughter not to misbehave at the risk of people judging the entire white community if she screws up. I can roll my eyes at the Trump sticker without having to worry about someone hurling a racist slur from their car window as I walk by.

I am exhausted. I'm exhausted of being on display when I leave the house with my son and watching him be othered. I'm exhausted of learning of another black man being shot and seeing the "ALL LIVES MATTER" posts. I'm exhausted of someone "liking" my son's Facebook picture one minute, and then seeing them post a meme in the next minute that refers to black people as thugs.

I'm exhausted -- and I've been at this 4 years. AND IT'S NOT EVEN HAPPENING TO ME!  I still have breaks from it. Those times when I leave the house alone in the safety of my white skin.

Women of color who are my age have been at this their entire life. They have a lifetime of strangers' fingers in their hair, hurled insults, worries for their safety and for the safety of their loved ones that no one understands.

They have a lifetime of saying, "MY LIFE MATTERS," with someone else responding in a way that glosses over their oppression.

When I am frustrated or angered or just plain exhausted, I try to remember these mothers:

 

Sybrina Fulton, Lucia McBath, Gwen Carr, Reed-Veal -- the mothers of Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis -- they have lost their sons and daughters for no other reason than they are black in America.

If it is uncomfortable or exhausting for my introverted self to speak up - to insert myself in conversations on Facebook rather than scrolling on by, to advocate to my community about issues of race, to tell a stranger not to touch my son's hair....I can do that.

I've had it pretty easy so far, and will continue to have it pretty easy because of my skin color.

Speaking up?

Well, it's the least I can do. And you can do it, too. 

Yes, it can be exhausting. But imagine how exhausting it is to LIVE with this reality and oppression and constant dehumanization.

Remember that the next time you...

-See an unkind meme pop up on your Facebook page which negatively depicts a person of color

-Hear a joke that perpetuates negative racial stereotypes

-Witness someone using a racial slur (and can we all just agree that THUG is a slur against black people?)

-Are tempted to ask a person of color where they are from or touch their hair

-Are tempted to blame a black victim for his own death, or see someone else doing so on social media or in conversation

-See someone criticize the Black Lives Matter movement as a hate group

-Claim that having a Black History Month is racist

Yes, it is nerve-wracking and uncomfortable to speak up -- to make yourself vulnerable and put yourself out there.

But we cannot leave all the interrupting up to the people who are being oppressed. 

Being inconvenienced for speaking up in the face of racial microaggressions and straight up racial assualts is nothing compared to a lifetime of marginalization and oppression.

It puts things in perspective, doesn't it? 

A Bit of An Introduction

You might be wondering what the title of this blog is all about….White Mama in Progress.

So perhaps it’s fitting to kick off my first blog post for The Montana Racial Equity Project with a bit of an introduction…or maybe an explanation.

My name is Carly, and -- as you might have gathered from the title of this blog -- I am white.

I have lived in some of the most homogenous cities in this country. I was raised in a suburb of Salt Lake City – an area that I brought diversity to simply by being a brunette. Before moving to Irvine, California for college, I dyed my hair blonde (because CALIFORNIA BEACH BABES, amiright?). However, when I got to college I realized for the first time in my life that I was in the minority amongst the raven-haired beauties of Middle Eastern and Asian descent.

My diversity stint was short-lived, and I moved to Thiensville, Wisconsin after marrying my blonde-haired-blue-eyed husband. We welcomed a beautiful little daughter – who I’ll refer to on this blog as “E” – a few years into our marriage. In many ways, our life “looked” similar to the life I had growing up in Salt Lake.  My neighbors were predominantly white, my daughter’s pediatrician and the doctor who delivered her were white, the church we attended was white, my hairdresser was white and the people I hung out with were – you guessed it – white.

While I missed the diversity of college, to be honest, I didn’t think too much of it.

After 4 years in Wisconsin we moved to the Gallatin Valley – not exactly the melting pot of the U.S.  We soon found ourselves at a crossroads with how to add to our family, ultimately deciding to grow through adoption. In 2013, we welcomed a beautiful little boy – I’ll call him “B”-- into our home. His chocolate colored skin, tiny curls and full lips are features no one else in our family possess – but love is love.

If only it were that simple.

While we were in the adoption process and waiting for “B” to come home to us, we did lots of things to prepare. I read many a blog and even took a webinar about how to do African American hair. We took an online course about becoming a “conspicuous” family, taking the chance to prepare a few canned responses in the event that invasive questions came our way.

And then I started having some “AHA” moments. The first one occurred when I scanned my daughter’s bookshelves for a few to snag for the shelves of B’s nursery. There is no shortage of books upon her shelves. (I might be frugal at the grocery store or Target but if you saw me shopping at the local book store you would think I was wealthy.) I was feeling self-congratulatory when I noticed the Scholastic biographies of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Harriet Tubman, but my pride was quickly fleeting when I realized those were THE ONLY books we owned that featured children of color. My then 3-year-old daughter had books about ballerinas, fairies, princesses and kings – along with regular school girls and boys – and EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THESE CHARACTERS WAS WHITE. Obviously, many a bookstore trip ensued to remedy this problem.

And then a 17-year-old black boy with skittles in his pocket was shot dead while walking through his neighborhood.

The night George Zimmerman was acquitted for the murder of Trayvon Martin, I sat up most of the night watching the news coverage and weeping. I was in utter disbelief. But as I watched the interviews with professors, pastors, neighbors and politicians, I realized something…

They were not in utter disbelief.

A young unarmed black man being shot dead was old news to the black community. And while I was gazing upon my sleeping baby, a new fear gripped me: my sweet little baby with his dimples and his tiny fingers would one day grow into someone that people feared simply because of the color of his skin. And this was something an Amazon spending spree wouldn’t fix.

White privilege is being able to purchase whatever books you want at the book store because the main characters look like you.

White privilege is being able to wear a hoodie without worrying that people will see you as a threat.

White privilege is being able to tell your child that the police are there to protect him.

And so…this blog -- White Mama in Progress.  I don’t have the answers. I’m the New Kid on the Block – the one who is just learning what it means to be the parent of a young black boy after a lifetime of white privilege.

I’m here not to speak for my son – his story and his experiences are his to share.

I’m here not as an authority on race, but as a humble student.

I’m here to share with you my mistakes.

I’m here to share with you what is working in my home and in my community.

I’m here because I’m always learning...and I want to share with you what I’m learning as I try to educate myself and become an ally.

Welcome to this piece of my journey.