I just showed this to Kyle and Owen. They laughed hysterically!
A couple of weeks ago we were at the movie theater (seeing Annie), and before the movie began there was a preview for the movie Selma. Kyle was sitting next to me. As soon as the preview began and I realized what it was, I turned to look at him (just knowing my son, I knew he’d be transfixed). Sure enough, he was transfixed, literally on the edge of his seat for that movie trailer. As soon as the preview was over, he turned to me and whispered in my ear, “I need to see that movie.” Since then he’s been all over me — daily — wanting to see it and asking me to take him. I posted to Facebook about it, asking for insight from people who had seen the film — “Do you think I could bring a 10-year old to this?” For the most part, the response was, “Yes, especially because it is Kyle.” I talked to a couple of friends who had seen it, and who know Kyle, and I decided that I’d bring him. Kyle is a huge Civil War history buff, and is also quite knowledgeable on the Civil Rights Movement. African-American history is his passion. Secretly, I had the idea that I wanted to take him on MLK Jr. Day — I just thought the symbolism of that would not be lost on him.
And it wasn’t. Today was the day. We arranged it so that Braydon took Owen and Meera to see the new Paddington movie, while I took Kyle to see Selma. Kyle was unusually calm and focused and solemn as we went to the movie theater, and he and I got our tickets, then stood in line for popcorn. We got settled in the theater and then the movie started. For the entire two hours, Kyle was deep into it. It was an incredible experience for us — Selma, on MLK Jr. Day, white mom and black son. We went out to dinner afterwards, and then came home to write the following blog post together. We did it in “interview” form to make it easy for us. Here it is~~
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H: So, what did you think of the movie?
K: I thought it taught me a lot. I did not know a lot about what happened in Selma. I knew about the bridge and what happened there. I knew it was a massacre. But I didn’t know MLK was not there for the first bridge protest. I thought the movie was really good. I admit, I started getting the shivers. I didn’t know if it was just cold or if I was really really attached to the movie and knowing it just happened a few decades ago. I never got the shivers like that in a movie before.
H: Why did you want to see the movie Selma?
K: I wanted to know a lot more about Martin Luther King Jr., and when those movies come out I really feel like I need to see it.
H: Do you think other people need to see it?
K: Some, but not all. Some kids need to wait a little longer. They need to get a little older and a little more mature. Some people can’t handle seeing someone be really beat like that, or someone being shot, and seeing nothing happened— meaning, they never go to jail – and this is in real life, it was not like a fiction story. So, you really have to be mature enough to know that and be able to handle that.
H: You said that during the movie you were getting “the shivers.” What do you think was the most “shivering” part of the movie for you?
K: Probably when they were starting the march, just about when it was going to start the huge engagement. It was a peaceful protest but they engaged it with violence. I wasn’t like, “oh this is scary!” or “oooh, what’s going to happen?”—it was like excitement. And I knew they were going to win the civil rights, but it still seemed like anything could happen. And knowing it was real life, that’s what gave me the shivers.
H: What was it like for you, as a 10-year old Haitian-American black boy, to see this movie?
K: 10 and a half. But, close enough! Anyway, it was like, well, I knew I needed to see this movie. I needed to see the truth. To know the truth. And I knew my mom would support me on this. And I wanted to see the action – like in a movie – not just in the books. I read a lot about these topics in books. Like the Civil War, and the Civil Rights Movement, but in a movie you can see it in action.
H: And then, when you were actually seeing it in action, what was that like for you?
K: I knew it had all happened, but seeing it was like, “My gosh!” It was like, “That’s sad– how people can be like that over just the skin color of someone.” It made it a lot more real.
H: Did you feel uncomfortable watching the movie?
K: I was squirming in my seat a lot. Like, literally. Cringing.
H: Are you glad you saw it?
K: I’m definitely glad I saw it.
K: It was just meant to be. When I saw the preview for it, I knew I had to see it. Even if there was violence, which I thought there would be. I just knew, “I need to see this movie.” And that’s how I feel now—like, “Yes, I did need to see that. And I’m glad I did.”
H: What other questions should I ask you?
K: You should ask, “How did you feel seeing something like that? Seeing such a massacre, or seeing the beatings?”
H: So, how did you feel seeing something like that? Seeing such a massacre, or seeing the beatings?
K: I felt like I wanted to do something when I was watching it. I wanted to be in that line, protesting with them. I would have to do a lot of practicing to do running – to run as quick as I can, to retreat from the massacre on the bridge and other places. They had to run for their lives. I’d have to run for my life if it was me. It made me inspired to want to try to help fix this type of stuff. Today it isn’t as bad as back then, but stuff still happens today. Like the shooting in Ferguson, and stuff. And it makes me—well, it makes me — not worried — but I have to be extra careful— more careful than I should need to be. It made me want to do something about that – like nonviolence – and trying to help with the problems now.
H: Anything else you want to say to the people who might read this?
K: I would say, “go see this movie!” But if you don’t think your kid is mature enough, then don’t let them go. Warning – if they are scared of loud noises, watch out because in the beginning something sudden’s going to happen. I’m not telling you what—because you have to see the movie. But that’s just a warning.
H: Any last words?
K: I hope you enjoy this movie as much as I do and learn as much as I do.
H: Ok, so, do you have any questions for me? I asked you all these questions. Do you want to ask me questions now?
K: As a sociology professor, how do you feel seeing that movie?
H: Ok, I’m going to answer this question like this is a real interview– ok? So, here’s my answer– I was anxious to bring my 10-year old black son to see it. I was nervous for what he’d see, and how he’d feel about it, and process it. But I’m glad I did it. I believe in being as honest as possible with my kids about social issues, and all issues. As a white mother raising black boys, I believe that it is of the highest importance to be truthful and real with them — in as age-appropriate a way as possible. Selma helped Kyle to understand the civil rights movement, the history before it, and our history after it— through to today —- in a way that was different than us just talking about it, or him reading a book about it. It was powerful for him and for me to see the movie. And to see it together was a bonding experience for us as mother and son. I want him to remember that his mom had the guts to take him to see Selma when he was 10 years old. But that’s actually all how I feel about seeing it as a MOM. As a sociologist, here is what I think: I think people today of all ages, including young people, believe that the Civil Rights Movement was won and that it is done. I think we need to understand that this push for justice and equality and humane-treatment-of-all-people is still very much needed now. As a sociologist, I believe that movies like Selma can be powerful and inspirational for all people, including young people. I think everyone should see Selma when they are ready. And some will need to be pushed even before they are “ready” (because some will never really be ready to face reality and see the truth). I think it is ESPECIALLY important for white people to see it. Particularly white YOUTH. So, white parents: Please bring your white kids to see Selma. And then talk about it with your kids.
K: I don’t think I should give you any more questions because we’ll probably be sitting here for hours!!!
H & K: [[[laughing out loud]]]
H: Ok, well, then, let’s end it with a quote. Can you give us a quote to end this with? A quote from you.
K: “If you want something so bad, you will risk your life for it.”
Today we took Kyle and Owen’s basketball team to a Lehigh basketball game. Here they are with their coach. It was a dream come true for K & O!
My Dear Readers,
It is a new year, and I’m going to try to get back into blogging. I slowed down with it a lot over the past couple of months. And I missed it. Interestingly enough, though, the people who seemed to miss it the most were the bambinos. They love looking at the blog, and they’ve been verbal about the lack of photos lately.
A few things were going on this fall that led to my blogging sluggishness. 1) I wasn’t feeling it. I was weary. I’m tired of being the one who is taking the photos all the time and chronicling the big events. And I was feeling a lot of pressure to blog certain events in a certain way. 2) Our “good camera” is in need of a major overhaul/repair, or a total replacement. Which is pricey, and which we just haven’t prioritized. So we’ve been using our iPhones for photos and to be honest, it just isn’t very artistically inspiring. 3) Our blogging platform died on me, our photo-editing program has been problematic, and our photo-organization system is a wreck. It has taken months for Braydon and me to try to sort out all this technology-related stuff and try to figure out how to proceed. In addition, I got a new computer and a new phone this fall… which wreaks havoc on blogging. “Technical Problems,” as it is called. 4) I was working on a couple of big academic projects this fall that were requiring a lot of my creative energy. I was feeling creatively zapped by 11pm, with zero zest left for blogging. But now those projects are now pretty much wrapped up.
I’m ready to get back in the saddle. I’m kicking the new year off with a major compilation of our blog’s most popular posts. I’ve been wanting to do this for a long time (and often get requests from readers for this). Today I took the time to put this together. I’m working on gearing up for more daily posting in 2015. In the meantime…. I hope you enjoy this:
READERS’ FAVORITE POSTS~~ http://johnson-mccormick.com/readers-favorite-posts/
Happy New Year!
Today the J-Ms went to see the new Annie movie. I had posted to Facebook: “We will see how this goes for this adoptive family…”
Well… this adoptive family really liked the movie!
I *LOVED* Annie as a kid… first the play, then the first movie. And I’m not ashamed to admit that I can still sing every line of every song (both soundtracks: the play, and the movie). Our family had gone to see Annie on Broadway a couple years ago. And our kids have watched the first movie several times over the past couple of years. We’ve used it as a conversation point for discussing adoption in lots of different ways over time. I was very anxiously anticipating this 2014 version — especially once the lead actress was announced (I love Quvenzhane Wallis!). But I was nervous too, given that the movie has had some pretty harsh reviews, particularly from the adoptive families community. So, today was a big movie outing for our little family.
I really enjoyed the movie, and was also trying to view it through a critical lens (not negative, but critique/analytical). But I was really reserving judgement until I heard what Kyle and Owen thought. We had talked quite a bit about it before going — letting K & O know that it might bring up a lot of thoughts and feelings, etc., etc., etc. I sat between them during the movie. Kyle was silent and deeply thoughtful throughout. Owen was absolutely laughing out loud throughout the entire thing. Afterward they both enthusiastically gave it two thumbs up.
Kyle had one critique: that he wished they had probed further into the challenges/concerns/problems inherent with the current U.S. foster care system. Specifically, he picked up on the character Pepper’s statement (right before they sing ‘Maybe’), about “teenagers having no chance of getting adopted,” and he really wanted to see that fleshed out more; he also wished it had been made more clear that if Annie wasn’t so “young and cute” –his own words — her chances wouldn’t have been so good either.
Owen’s only critique was that he did not like it that in the opening scene (the school scene) it seems like the “white Annie” (his words) was “the #1 Annie, or the ‘A’ Annie” while “the black Annie” (all his words) was “the #2 Annie, or the ‘B’ Annie.” We wondered if “B” stood for her last name — Bennet — but Owen still felt it was a “diss” to have her referred to as “Annie B” because he took that to mean second-best (and took offense to that). It wasn’t a big huge thing for him, just a small criticism — and he’s entitled to his own opinion.
Braydon and I both liked the movie a lot and think they did a nice job with attempting to update it with some sensitivity. The concerns that foster families have — about the movie reifying stereotypes about foster parents who are only in it for the money — are absolutely understandable. At the same time, this is legitimately one big concern with our current foster system. So, I can see both sides of it.
My own major concern about the movie is the triggers it can charge for adopted kids, or kids in the system. The storyline about Annie longing for her biological parents, fantasizing about them, etc….. (same storyline of the original play/movie)…. is heart-wrenching for adoptive/foster families to watch. It brings up raw emotions for all involved. That should not be discounted. It is just plain hard to watch when you’re intimately involved with adoption in one way or another.
But the ultimate essence of the story– hopefulness for tomorrow & maximizing opportunity — those are great, empowering ideas for kids and inspiring for all.
I really loved that they brought poor-education/illiteracy into this movie! And I love that in the end we see Grace and Mr. Sparks as an obvious inter-racial couple. Kudos for those nice additions to the new film.
Interestingly enough — as usual — things never play out as we expect. As it turns out, the person in our family for whom the 2014 Annie raised the most thoughts and feelings was…. Meera! She saw it last week before any of the rest of us did (she saw it in New Hampshire during Christmas week with MorMor and MorFar while the other four of us were skiing). For the past few days since coming home, Meera has been asking profound and poignant questions about her brothers’ early history, orphanages, foster kids, child neglect, adoption, biological families, etc., etc., etc., etc., etc. It seems that developmentally this movie hit right at a time when Meera is really starting to “get it” a little bit and the movie has helped raise for Meera a lot of intense questions. Seeing the movie for the 2nd time today was helpful — it helped clarify some confusing things for Meera and will surely allow even more probing questions in the days to come. This is all good, as far as we are concerned.
So, all in all. 10 thumbs up from the J-Ms. But with a head’s up for adoptive/foster families that this movie does, for sure, trigger lots of raw emotion.
Owen & Kyle, Fall 2014, age 10
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Today, we are dealing with the Ferguson decision. It is another sad, sad day for mamas of black boys. Deeply demoralized and shaking scared, we keep on fiercely loving them, and wait and hope for the world to see them as we do.
Today, I received a steady little flow of email from around the world, telling me how much my blog posts over the years are helping to navigate the rocky terrain of thinking through — and talking through with others — the Ferguson decision. That’s pretty humbling in the face of my own uncertainty.
Today, I picked up my beautiful boys from school (4th grade! times two!), sat with them to do their homework (long division! similes and metaphors!), made them a favorite dinner (salmon! green beans!), and tucked them into bed. Each day is such a blessing.
Today, my son Owen saw the front page of the New York Times and asked me, point blank: “Was the guy who was killed black or white?” I had to say, “Black.” If you could have seen the look on his gorgeous soft brown face, you would have felt just as sick to your stomach as I did in that moment. He knows. If you loved my boy — even a little bit — then the look in his deep dark eyes would have tortured your heart and soul just as much as it did mine. I swear it. You’d be inhuman to not feel the pain of it.
Five years ago I wrote this post:
The summer that I wrote that, Kyle and Owen were five years old. Gosh, they were cute at age five! And as toddlers?! Oh my goodness gracious land sakes alive, they were so very, very downright undeniably adorable! I could not get through an aisle of the grocery store with my two-too-cute-toddlers without at least one (but usually several) people stopping me to “ooooh!” and “aaaah!” over my sweet baby boys. Everyone (not just me) thought they were “ADORABLE!!!” The fact is, they were.
Today, they are ten. When you read the post from 2009 you will understand the significance of ten.
Ten year old twin boys. Here we are. They are all energy all the time. They are larger than life. They are AMAZING. They are getting a handle on the world. And, just as we knew it would, sure enough, the world is getting a handle on them.
It is hard, this thing. We knew it was coming, but that doesn’t help. It is like a storm that you know is rolling in. You first just hear the forecast (and maybe wonder if it is true), then you feel it brewing in the air (and know it is to be), then you see it with your very own eyes (the sky turns grey, the clouds take over, the wind starts whipping). You can get ready, you can prepare, if you are lucky (or privileged, as the case may be) then you can even take cover (we are privileged; we work hard to provide as much shelter as every single resource available to us will allow). You can hunker down and you can do everything right. But it doesn’t stop the storm from coming. It just rolls right in. It is bigger than us. It is more powerful than us. We are just there, relatively defenseless to its forces, attempting to cope as best we can. Hoping we are still standing for it to leave us in its wake.
That’s how it feels right now, at ten.
Right now, I’m just hoping and praying and wishing and trying-to-believe that we’ll somehow be the lucky ones — the parents of black boys who are lucky enough to watch them grow up and still be standing in its wake some day. I’m scared to hope for too much, but maybe someday we’ll be talking together about the challenges of raising their children, our grandchildren.
For now, for today, we are just trying to get through this. This period of time when we watch as our precious sons grow out of being cute little black boys in the eyes of the world. They grow up to be black men. Trust me, it is hard to watch.
In some ways, like all ten-year-olds, they are still so little.
Except, that they are not.
In addition to being ten, Kyle and Owen are big. They are just about the same height as me, and their feet are bigger than mine. They wear size 14 clothes, and their strong, athletic muscles are rippling.
We’ve hit the turning point. I’ve watched it happen. I’ve witnessed it first-hand. Over the past several months my sweet little adorable babies went from being perceived as just that, to being perceived just as I’ve long dreaded.
It has started.
I’ve been in the store and watched from a short distance as they’ve been followed. (Yes, already.)
I’ve heard it over the intercom system: “Security Alert. Section C. Security Alert.” (Yes, already.)
I’ve stood behind them as they’ve been stopped in line, being perfectly obedient, but being questioned. (Yes, already.)
I’ve watched as they’ve been wrongly accused. As the worst has been wrongly assumed. As the fault has been wrongly blamed.
The looks. The hesitation. The ever-so-slight facial expressions. The too-quick-to-judge.
It has only just begun.
It doesn’t matter that they go to an elite private school.
It doesn’t matter that they are straight-A students.
It doesn’t matter that they have white parents.
It doesn’t matter that they are well-travelled, worldly, well-dressed, polished, polite, poised. It doesn’t matter that their vocabulary is incredibly well-developed, that they have eaten in fine restaurants, have met famous authors, have seen world-class performances, know the names of the classic European composers and philosophers, know how to shake a hand and look someone in the eye and use their best manners when needed. It doesn’t matter that they are cloaked with class privilege and all of the advantages that go with it.
It doesn’t matter that they are gorgeous and charming and organically charismatic. It doesn’t matter that they are gifted and talented and have off-the-chart-IQs and that the world should be their oyster. It doesn’t matter. Still, they are followed, suspected, questioned, accused, judged, and — yes, already — feared. They are black. They are ten.
Maybe you think I’m crazy to say this. Maybe. Maybe you should try being the mother of ten-year-old black boys for a little while, and then see what you think.
You can’t write me off as an “angry black woman” because I’m not black. I am angry. And I am a woman. But I’ll tell you this: I’m white, I grew up around white people, I know white culture, I am embedded in whiteness. And what I see, feel, witness, and experience… it is real. If there is anything I know, it is that I know this is real. You can’t tell me it isn’t true because I am an insider and I know it is true.
My sons, no matter how authentically fantastic they are, are still black. They can’t get away with experimenting with how they dress, and they definitely can’t play with guns (at least not outside the walls of our home; their safe space, their oasis).
We can’t let them experiment too much, we can’t let them take many chances. We don’t have that luxury. Because they’re black. We have to tell them the truth: you’ll be judged quicker, you’ll be perceived more harshly, keep your hands out of your pockets, keep your hood down, no fast movements, never run, racism exists and it isn’t to be messed around with. We’ve got your back, but even we can only do so much. We are limited in how much we can protect you. No matter how much we try, no matter how much we love you, no matter how precious you are to us, no matter.
My sons are growing up to be black men. And they need to be prepared for what they could (almost certainly, will) encounter. We’d be gravely, woefully, unforgivingly failing them if we weren’t to prepare them for reality. At ten, they are in process. And it is heart-wrenching. Because I know the truth. I know that even though they’re black boys sporting hard-core bball jerseys, with biceps that are already popping, and locs that are getting long, they are also sweet, kitten-loving, nurturing, fragile spirits with hearts and souls of pure gold.
I know that even though they are ten-year-old black boys, they are still my babies.
But the world doesn’t see them as I do. No matter how perfectly they present themselves, no matter how spectacular they are, they will be disproportionately extremely LESS SAFE than if they were white. Kyle and Owen’s stellar reputations and hard-earned achievements and family-privilege will not necessarily get them as far as they choose or could go. Because the world might just choose for them and against them — in ways that would simply not occur if they were white. That is what it means to be entangled in structural, entrenched, historic, and systemic racism. No amount of privilege — or charm, or charisma, or pure raw talent — can protect them from the fact that they are black boys.
In this way, despite how extraordinary they are, despite their stunning life stories, despite all that they have going for them, they are no different than any other black boy.
Today is another sad, sad day for mamas of black boys. Deeply demoralized and shaking scared, we keep on fiercely loving them, and wait and hope for the world to see them as we do.
I am pretty sure that when Kyle and Owen are adults, looking back on their childhoods, one of their fondest childhood memories will be Lehigh football games.
They’ve been going for their whole lives. We have never bought a ticketed seat. We get in for free with my faculty ID, and we sit on the grass at the end zone. The boys always bring a football, and they run around with a wild pack of other kids, tumbling around on the grass, rolling around the hill, tackling each other, and playing full-contact-football. They take breaks to check out what is happening on the actual field every once in a while, or to try to catch the ball in the end zone as it is kicked for a field goal. They take breaks to say hello to folks they know (Braydon and I are always socializing with friends and students and alum). They take breaks to ask for help finding napkins to deal with bloody noses, or to ask for ice to deal with gashed up knees and elbows, or to ask for an endless stream of cash to go buy junk food and sugary drinks from the vendors. But mainly, they spend the entire time rolling around on the grass, jumping all over each other, and acting like little maniacs (who are quickly becoming big maniacs). They love it. It is quite the awesome way to spend a Saturday afternoon.
At the center of it all is always their friends James and William. They’ve been playing together at these games for at least 8 years. They are steady companions at these games — and they also have been going to the same school together for the past several years (including the move from one private school to another; which is really quite something). These four boys will not forget their falls spent at Lehigh football games together — that, I am sure of.
These pictures — as James and William’s mom said — “tell a whole story.” They really do.
Saturday was the last home football game of Lehigh’s regular season. Lehigh played Colgate and won. It was a good ending to the season, but we were very melancholy about the end of a another era. The boys had a great time, as always. And I marveled at the longevity of our families’ friendship and the bond of our four boys that has pulled us together for so many seasons of football games on that end zone grass. All of the grass stains and blood stains and ketchup stains are so worth it for the fun that we’ve had and the good friends that we’ve made.
Boys: I hope you always know fun times and good friends — times that are light and full and raucous, and friends who are true and spontaneous and easy.
Meera’s friends Cameron and Natalie are twins. They came over for a playdate a few weeks ago. They are sweet, nice, fun girls and the threesome had a lot of fun. (I also could not get over how well-mannered, polite, and centered these two girls are — a major testament to their parents! Raising twins is hard, and this mom and dad is doing a great job!). A highlight of the playdate was “playdate popcorn” (our traditional playdate snack) — and these three girls ate the entire bowl in no-time-flat.
Watching the three of them together made me think a lot about what it must be for other families when Kyle and Owen go for a playdate with a singleton. Twins are something really special, and different, and challenging. We’ve had twins over to play with Kyle and Owen, but this was our first playdate with twins who came over to play with Meera. It was striking to me how Meera interacts so naturally with them — for Meera, as a younger sibling of twins, twinship seems to be something she organically understands, in an authentic way that even seems foreign to me. Playing with twins is its own special category of play (we know that all too well, as a family with twins ourselves), but for Meera it seemed almost effortless. It was interesting for me to witness.
It was so fun to see these three girls play together.
Meera has been thriving in first grade. This shouldn’t be a surprise, except that it sort of is. Up until this point, Meera hasn’t been a kid who really loves school, and she’s always needed a lot of alone-time and down-time and at-home-time. But this year she’s just loving school, and really taking off academically, and I think it is in large part because her self-confidence is blooming and her social life is good.
She’s got some good girl friends in her class this year — the kind of girl friends a mom like me really appreciates: girls who don’t seem to be catty or cliquey or possessive or aggressive. This is huge (girls can be so hard). And I see the beautiful results of it in Meera’s sense of self and self-esteem.
She’s got a new friend this year who is just a great pal for her. Chloe does wonders for Meera’s love-of-school. These two cuties are two peas in a pod and they get in trouble daily for their shenanigans. They talk too much, giggle too much, and generally get-distracted-from-class too much when they are near each other. I went on a field trip with them last week and I got to see it in action. It is quite a hoot (as long as you’re not their teacher!)!
I hope they stay friends for a good long time. I have a hunch they might. So, I’m posting this for the sake of posterity.