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.