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And You Wonder Why I Dress My Boys the Way I Do?

Posted by | March 21, 2012 | Uncategorized | 55 Comments

HBJ and Boys 2

Warning: Potentially provocative post. You might not like it, but I’ve got to write it. Please proceed with caution.

In middle or upper-middle class contexts only white kids can dress “sloppy”/”crunchy”/”Boho-Chic”/”Thrift-Store-Chic”/whatever-you-want-to-call-it and get away with it. You know the look — it is hip and in style (again) right now — mis-matched, thrown-together-non-outfits, stripes-with-plaids, slightly-too-small-shirts, a-wee-bit-raggedy-around-the-edges, hand-me-downs-&-thrift-store-finds with a shabby-cool, slightly-gritty, “self-expression”-ist, “he-dresses-as-he-pleases” edge. You know — the disheveled uncombed hair, the cheap flip-flops, the random accessories that don’t quite match — there is a whole look that goes with it. It is a very popular style of dressing (both for adults and children of all ages) in many of the social circles with which I, for one, am well acquainted. But here’s the thing: Only white kids can wear that. Only white kids can do that. Black kids, especially black boys, cannot.

I should probably rephrase that: middle and upper-middle class black boys can try to pull off that look, but if they do, there will be consequences.

Middle and upper-middle class white parents who dress their kids that way are enacting a profound form of privilege that is way too often completely unrecognized.

I know about this. I’ve been silently observing this phenomenon for the past eight years, and trying my darndest to keep my mouth shut. Let me tell you something– When I dress Meera (my white daughter) like that, there are no questions asked. I can bring her anywhere, looking like a raggedy mess, and people everywhere will still smile at her and comment to me about how adorable she is. The rare times I’ve allowed Kyle and Owen out of the house looking like that have been disastrous. My black boys are met with blatantly disapproving looks, subtly stand-offish reactions, obvious lack of friendliness and politeness, and I receive comments about how “nice” it is of me to “take in these boys” (or questions about The Fresh Air Fund). Those times have been quick lessons in re-affirming what I already know: My black sons are best served by carefully scrutinizing their presentation-of-self so as to appear to the world as clean-cut, well-groomed, and polished as possible. (And believe me, having them appear that way in public, all the time, is exhausting. And expensive.)

Luckily for Kyle and Owen, I know enough about all of this to know the importance of presenting them to the world just so and teaching them how to someday do it themselves. Luckily for Kyle and Owen, I’ve had countless conversations with wise and experienced parents of black boys who have mentored me in these unfortunate Ways of the World. Black parents know that dressing children is more than just dressing children. They know firsthand that dressing children is about privilege and lack-there-of. It is about how black kids will be perceived, and received, and about how they’ll be responded to by the world.

But dressing black boys is more than that too. It is also about — quite literally — life or death. It is a way of trying to cloak our kids in cues, symbols, and markers to the world. Cues, symbols, and markers that are intended to protect them, like a suit of arms, from what we know exists. Cues, symbols, and markers that are meant to scream — no, make that ‘politely and quietly state’ – “I am not a threat”; “I am not here to scare you or hurt you or make you uneasy”; “I am a good boy from a good family.”

Not that a ‘bad’ boy from a ‘bad’ family deserves to be shot and killed — no, not at all — that is not the point. The point is this: the instinct of any parent is to attempt to do absolutely anything humanly possible to protect their child from harm’s way. Dressing our children is the simplest of things we can do.

But the scary thing is that we can dress them and primp them and teach them every trick in the book (and believe me, this is not just about clothes — we spend an unfortunate amount of time talking with Kyle and Owen about speech, body language, facial expressions, manners, etiquette, and how to choose one’s battles), to present themselves in disarming and non-threatening ways… and still… they might be gunned down in broad day light for doing nothing but walking down the sidewalk.

Yes, of course, hypothetically this could happen to any white kid too. Hypothetically. But, in reality, it just plain doesn’t. The cold hard truth is that if Trayvon was white, he would not have been killed. Period. And anyone who thinks otherwise is just fooling themselves, or worse– is in total denial about the state of affairs today.

This hyper-vigilence about presentation-of-self will become increasingly important as my boys’ independence and time away from me increases. When they are with me they are protected, at least to some extent, by my whiteness. But when they are out and about in the world without me they are just them: big black boys. And they will be perceived how that is perceived.

How can we protect our kids from this world? We can’t. The only solution is to change the world our kids are in. That is daunting (if not impossible). And change (what there is of it) is slow. In the meantime my boys will be wearing polo shirts and khakis (because that is — as slight, if any, of a help that it is — something I can do). And they’ll sometimes be wearing hoodies and jeans too (really nice ones — because that is what they want to wear, and I don’t have the heart to deny them completely). And all the while I’ll be constantly, constantly, constantly a little bit on edge with worry for them. And unless you have a black son, you have no right to judge me for any of that.

So, you wonder why I dress my boys the way I do? Well, now you know.

* * *

Please read this:

“My Twelve Year Old Knows He Could Be Trayvon”

and this:

http://unexpectedruler.blogspot.com/2012/03/sorry-toure-young-black-boys-need.html

55 Comments

  • Meghan says:

    My 19 year old white college kid came home with long hair, scraggley beard, oversized t-shirt, pants rolled up to his knees, tie dyed socks, ….. I gulped and chided him about a beard that looks like he left a bunch of muffin crumbs on his face. I NEVER worried that his ‘look’ would make him the target of anyone’s deadly anger. Literally. IT NEVER CROSSED MY MIND. But my little brown boy, Blueberry? I wipe his face meticulously every day. I keep his hair in a nice low cut with a good line. I put little Teva sandals on his feet and colorful t’s on his body. I hear you Mama. (and I remember your blog post that was titled something like “when cute little black boys grow up into black men” – and I thank you for that which I read early when my parenting journey just began with my sweet Blue). It’s a pretty damned alarming reality check – by big boy and my little boy. Yes. Let’s change the world they live in. I’m all in.

  • Michelle Weagle says:

    Heather – I recently took an AMAZING antiracism/celebrating diversity Professional Development course presented by this collaborative: http://www.edcollab.org/emi/empoweringmulticultural.html

    Not sure if they travel to Pennsylvania but it was BY FAR he most meaningful and useful PD in which I have ever participated. It was so enlightening in so many ways about ways I had been discriminatory without ever meaning or even knowing it. I absolutely reccommend it for any and all educators, everywhere, at every level! (and no, I’m not getting paid to promote them, lol, I’m not in any way affiliated, thugh I’d like to be, because they are THAT awesome.

  • Kat says:

    Heather,
    My heart aches for you. I wish I could give you wise words to help ease your pain but I don’t have any. I can only say that I have experienced some of that when out with my autistic grandson but you have a much more intense and dangerous level of prejudice to deal with. It can literally make you nauseated. What can we do but try to change the world one person at a time? I’m 64 years old and I have spent my life struggling with man’s inhumanity to man and what we do in the name of our god. I still don’t know.

  • shannoncl says:

    I struggle with this implementation. I’ve struggled with it for a while but more deeply and personally in the past couple weeks. I struggle with the age appropriateness of who much, when? And I struggle with the fact that I have a very strong willed child- so how do I make it clear- In no uncertain terms- when he will immediately- instinctively do the complete opposite.

    Thank you Heather and Braydon. Thank you Meghan. That seems so little, for what you offer this world and our children. I deeply need, and respect the work you do as parents and role models.

  • heather says:

    My children look like me, and we all look like most of the faces on television, in government, and in corner offices. Reading the “My Twelve Year Old…” article made my stomach knot. “I know I can’t run because I’m black” from a twelve-year-old just sickens me. I’m grateful for the racial education and conversation, but so terribly, terribly saddened that it came at the expense of a boy’s life.

  • Melanie says:

    Like Meghan, I read that post while we were still in the waiting for referral phase of our adoption. I took it to heart as I have taken the other times you have written about dressing your boys “just so.” It has helped shape the way I dress my son, meticulously. He’s only 2 so he’s still in that absolutely adorable phase. I’m still obsessed with his appearance. I cringe when I pick him up from day care and he is looking a mess. If we’re walking home, I clean him up as best I can in case anyone sees us. It’s a burden that parents of white children I’m sure never worry about.

  • Lisa Hilldale says:

    Heather,

    You are so right, yet it’s so sad. I too have a black son adopted from Haiti, he is 8 and in the 2nd grade and absolutely considered precious and harmless by all that meet him right now. Oh how I wish that would never change, but I know I’m a fool if I allow myself to ever believe that could be the case. I like you go out of my way to dress my sweet boy “fancy” in his words. He too almost NEVER leaves the house without being dressed very well, very “white”, very put together. I won’t even send him to sports practices without being in a true outfit. I’ve had friends ask me many times why I go to such lengths as they see no threat at all in our cozy community where he is known and loved. But our boys won’t always live under our roofs, they won’t always have our white safety net, and I hope that his father and I are able to make him understand that he is too special to be hurt and if something as simple as an outfit from the Gap or Abercrombie can save his life than so be it. I’ll gladly spend the time and money in hopes that he’ll continue to do the same. My heart is in such pain, as my little guys life is no more precious than Trayvon’s was, yet he is gone simply becasue he was born black and “looked suspicious.”

  • Sara says:

    And why also did it take a social media firestorm to get the authorities to investigate it further? If a white boy was shot in those circumstances, there is no way it would have been marked immediately as self-defense. It would have been under investigation to this day – or charges would already be filed. I hope the additional attention means that some sort of (delayed) justice will be served in this case.

  • Lindsey says:

    Thank you for having the courage to share this. The other day I was asked by a cashier if I was my daughter’s babysitter. See there is a difference in our skin colors- she being biracial and fair skinned and me being what society calls “dark skinned”. I was wearing sweatpants and a hooded sweatshirt….after all I was just going to pick up takeout and it was raining. Well this particular question about my relationship to my own baby girl reminded me of what my mother always told me “don’t ever forget what the color of your skin is….” Bottom line: brown skin and messy clothing can be a dangerous mix when it comes to perceptions of reality!

  • Candis Gillett says:

    Thank you for writing this, Heather. I sweat other’s perceptions of our son everyday.
    (He is Kyle and Owen’s long lost “cousin” or “uncle” in his mind, as they are both from Haiti and exactly 30 days apart in age.) I am an African-American mom, but we live in an upper-middle class community where my boy’s color really sets him apart from his peers. It is a type of prison, this idea that our boys must be neater and more well-groomed than the other kids.
    My brother (who is rather light-skinned) is married to a blonde, blue-eyed woman. Their two sons are practically white and have straight hair. I have to admit, I resent the fact of the coolly-casual way my nephews wear wrinkled shorts and flip flops, while my Peanut is always preppily-polished whenever we are all out somewhere together. But yeah, anything else would would interfere with the public perception of my son’s worth. I’m sad for him and enraged at those who would judge our children by a different standard.

  • Kate says:

    Thank you Heather for sharing this aspect of your family life. I can only imagine how hard it was for you to put it out there. It’s given me a lot of food for thought. Kyle and Owen always look so pulled together and wonderfully dressed and I love all your outfit choices – may they always enjoy and take pride in dressing well and never feel overly burdened by it (I personally think Black men in well cut suits/clothes can look really dashing!) Lately I’ve noticed Kyle and Owen are expressing their fashion choices to wear more “sporty” clothes.
    I imagine if Kyle and Owen (or any Black male for that matter) lived outside of the USA in a non-black majority country they would face these same issues. In the UK, there isn’t so much of a gun culture (and in Singapore gun ownership isn’t allowed) but that doesn’t mean black men (and women of colour) don’t feel pressure to look their best. I agree, if Trayvon was white, he would not have been killed. And it is so disheartening to hear people deny that.
    - Kate

    • MalShaeMama says:

      (I personally think Black men in well cut suits/clothes can look really dashing!)…. um, do you not see what you said, there?!

  • Kelly says:

    I do the same thing with my 9 year old black son – he has more shoes than most 9 year old girls. His new favorite look is matching Under Armour shirts and shorts, which gets very expensive. Luckily he still likes to be the only kid in 3rd grade sporting the collared polo on a random weekday.

    He also plays travel lacrosse, which is a very white sport, but luckily he stands out in a good way and has been treated well, so far. We are the only parents who stay for every practice, the entire time. Just in case. Up to 6 days a week, 2 hour practices and we both work full time and have a 5 year old daughter. We are just too nervous to leave him there without us watching.

    And I start freaking out a little when his hair gets too long.

    • Lisa Hilldale says:

      I wanted to reply to Kelly’s comment. WOW! I feel the same way as you, my husband and I always stay at our son’s practices as well. It is exhausting to say the least. He plays three sports year round, football, baseball and basketball. He loves it! I love watching him love it! But….I never behaved this way w/ my other children whom are white. He too is usually the only boy sporting the “fancy” clothes in class as he calls them, but he is also only one of three black children in the entire school. Today was class picture day, he is wearing a tie and adorable bright blue button down shirt, he looks sharp. I’m a teacher at his school, as I walk the halls the majority of the other kids are in their same every day garb, t-shirts w/ some kind of crazy writing on them and jeans. Now to the hair….my guy has awesome locs, very manicured locs and not very long, but they are locs. I love, love, love his hair! He loves his hair, not the work that goes into keeping it so manicured looking, but he loves having hair. I am interested in other mom’s thoughts including you Heather :) on keeping our black boys’ hair short vs. in locs. I’ve had black mom’s tell me that doing the locs is a mistake and that playing down their hair is best. Not sure what to think?? Do locs provide yet an additional threat to the white world?

      • Kelly says:

        I worked in a high school outside of Washington, DC for 18 years as a school counselor and then as a therapist in a program for students identified as emotionally disturbed. The boys with longer hair were assumed to be associated with weed or gangs while the boys with really clean cut hair were “preppier.” Our son is adopted, we are both white, and we take him to a barber every couple weeks and ask for the #1 blade and a clean up all around. I am in a whiter, more affluent county now and see boys with longer hair that don’t fit that stereotype, but it’s still rare. He is at a pretty diverse elementary school – there are probably 5/6 black students in his class as well as students of other races – and all the boys wear their hair very tightly shaven. The white boys are a mess – hair in their eyes and not even washed most days. Those are just my reasons – but I love the look of the locks and wish that I was braver about his hair choices.

      • Heather says:

        The locs question is a great one. If we are so meticulous about their clothing, why would we be encouraging the locs? For everyone, I’m sure, it is different. And I know that black folks, especially, have very strong opinions about this. But for us, we started K & O’s locs at age 20 months old (when it just looked CUTE, and *nothing* more/less). At this point, they are so attached to them that they won’t even consider letting us cut them. And they still look neat, clean, polished, and tidy most of the time… so I’m feeling pretty confident about letting them have this look. However, I am very aware that someday we might need to discuss cutting them… and I’m willing to face that when the time comes. In the meantime, their locs/natural-hair are a MAJOR source of black pride for them, instilling a deep sense of confidence in their blackness, and educating them immensely on hair/culture/politics… so we keep them… for the time being. Huge topic… maybe some day I’ll gather up the gumption to post more fully about it.
        Thanks for reading,
        ~hbj

        • rhonda heal says:

          interesting topic ladies! fabulous food for thought…! we are adopting two cutie pies from haiti…one girl, one boy…i have three boys…and i’ve been pondering buzzing all four of my boys’ heads…so that the surfer messy hair look of my bio boys will not make my black son feel left out or less than…the girl is very different as she will be the only one…what do you think??? am i oversimplifying this, or idealizing uniformity? it genuinely crosses my mind that when i do my own hair, they could want “white” hair and not thier own…i want them to be proud of thier own beauty…thier own features…their identity…your thoughts???

  • kathy says:

    I showed my 17 year old mixed race boy the articles about Trayvon because he’s been stopped by police and questioned while out jogging practicing for cross country and track. When we got off the cruise ship in Key West two weeks ago, he was dressed nice but was at one point surrounded by police officers and questioned because of an incident that happened nearby.

  • Amanda says:

    I never thought our small community of Rochester, MN would be on the cutting-edge (in a positive way) of *anything* racial, but I have found this to be 200% absolutely not true in our experience. We have two kids from Ethiopia, two biological (white) kids and one kiddo from China and when ANY of them are dressed poorly, the reactions are less favorable than when they are dressed well. Across the board, whenever one of my kids dresses themselves (and it shows!), we get the ‘knowing smile’ from fellow parents and grandparents and never ONCE (and my oldest is 14) have I ever ever EVER gotten anything I would even remotely consider racist in regards to how they are dressed.

    I know you’re the psychologist and I’m just a lowly head-in-the-ground economist so perhaps there’s a lot I’m missing…? One of the many reasons why I love the Midwest. :-)

    • Heather says:

      Amanda,
      But the problem is this: Even if you currently live in a racial utopia (which, I hate to be the skeptic, but I doubt it is as perfect as you think it is), isn’t it possible that some day your two kids from Ethiopia will venture beyond your town? Maybe they never will. But perhaps, someday, they will. Maybe they’ll want to go to college in another town, or take a job in another place, or live somewhere different than where they grew up. Then, what will they do? Will the be prepared for the way the rest of the world will react to them? That is what is so worrisome to me.
      ~hbj

      • MalShaeMama says:

        Agreed, Heather. I have a friend who feels like the original poster, and sadly, it is not REALITY, I think. Hopefully, as the boys grow, both women will either not have to worry anymore b/c the world has so drastically changed, or they’ll realize they need to start educating their sons differently.

  • Kendall says:

    Thank you so, so, so much for sharing this. These revelations of knowledge and perspective and experience are exactly the things needed to effect the change you desire. We all want that! I learn so much from you all the time. You’re the best, Heather!

  • Yve says:

    Thank you for that Heather,

    I admit I had been so ignorant of this, until I commented that a friend’s sons were always so well dressed and I wished my son would dress like that. Felt so ignorant when they explained- and showed me their collection of ‘tshirts with college names’

    It is difficult enough controlling the thrill seeking testosterone of any son, my heart goes out to you Heather. You are never more vulnerable than when you are a parent

    Y

  • Megan says:

    I found this very interesting, and not at all surprising to hear. I think that this phenomenon is found in other minority circles as well. I have a daughter with a disability, and I try my hardest to make sure that she is always clean and her hair is brushed and she always looks cute. I don’t worry about those appearances at all with my sons (without disabilities). This is my first time to your blog. I’ll be back!

  • Carl says:

    Here here, Heather.

    Thank you for saying this: “The cold hard truth is that if Trayvon was white, he would not have been killed.”

    Hard to say, but so painfully true.

  • Lea says:

    My son is almost 6 and I have many of the same thoughts and feelings regarding dress. It is a fine line for us in regards our kids looking good but also allowing self expression and maintaining a budget! Our son is currently sporting a Mohawk – his choice, sometimes askes for nail polish and we allow it but his clothes are always clean and always match! Same for the girls!

    Even if he’s wearing jeans with a hole in them on the weekends, they will be clean!

    As far as locs, our girls have locs and I was told the same thing. But, their hair looks cleaner & healthier than man of their black classmates & peers. Locs on a boy can always be cut or shaved & it wouldn’t be as big of a deal as it would be for grls.

  • Sarah says:

    This is another articulate but heartbreaking article, also written by a mother of 3 black boys. The author is a Stanford and Harvard Law graduate and minister, minivan-driving soccer mom, and she still gets pulled over for “looking suspicious.” She also writes about what she tells her three sons:

    http://www.urbanfaith.com/2012/03/walking-while-black.html/

  • Stephanie says:

    This whole story has thrown me for a loop as a parent. Thanks for the post- I’m glad to know I’m not alone.
    http://baileygardnerfamily.blogspot.com/2012/03/and-im-afraid.html

  • Cate says:

    Your family and your post about black boys becoming black men came to mind when I first heard about Trayvon. What happened to him is tragic. How the police handled it is abhorrent. We live in a very, very white town in the Pacific Northwest, and we’d love to adopt a child. Color doesn’t matter. I have a dear friend who is black, and I asked her about bringing a black child into our lily white community. She advised me not to.It breaks my heart we still do not se people by the content of their character.

    • Lea says:

      To Cate,
      I agree with your friend. I would not place any child of any non-white ethnicity (black, asian, spanish) into an adoptive situation where they will be alone or one of few in their geographic area.

      It isn’t just about racism but about kids developing a positive self-image, which includes having others around them who look like they do.

      I highly recommend the book “black baby, white hands” written by a black man who was adopted by a white couple in new mexico in the late 1960s.

  • Melissa says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your family’s story, and especially for not being afraid to speak openly and express your opinions about race. It has made me be more open in discussing race with my friends and co-workers. It is a terribly sad reality that black men are so judged. My daughter attends a mostly white pre-school. Her teacher this year, the 4 year old class, is a black male. Until this past year, he co-taught with a white woman, but due to enrollment dropping in the 3 and 4 year old classes, he now teaches alone. We adore him, the kids adore him, the director says how lucky the daycare is to have him. Still, I try to warn her that we will lose parents who are afraid to have him as the sole teacher. I tell the director that not because he should be moved or because I think it is right, but because I want her to be open about this with the parents. A male teacher in a daycare already raises eyebrows, but for him to also be black, I hate it, but I think it is part of the reason why the center loses kids when they get to that age. He is wonderful and those that question his ability need to be shown in detail, all the great things he does. For me, I’m so glad that my child has this excellent black man in her life that she truly loves and I hope it helps her grow up seeing black men as peers and not as threats. The day I came to pick her up and he was bent over her, helping her on the computer, and she so lovingly reached up, put her arms around his neck, and then gave him the strongest hug and a big kiss on his cheek, I nearly melted. I was so happy to see the love she has for him. It gave me hope that we can change the world, even if it is one white little girl loving her black male teacher at a time.
    I wish you and your family all the best.

  • memphislis says:

    Two questions… Can I print this post and use it in my (8th grade) class? Can you link to the Cute Black Boys…Black Men post again? This article stunk. I’m glad.

  • Eboni says:

    I hate that we still use the term “dressing like a white boy.”

    It’s 2012 and we still have to make the decision to dress our children more closely mirroring the “white culture” instead of the “urban, black culture” so that they won’t be assumed to be dangerous. What a mess we’ve made.

    • Heather says:

      Eboni,
      I hate that term too. Ironically, in this post, what I’m talking about is the strict constraints on black boys’ which make them unable to get away with “dressing like a white boy” (a particular middle-upper-class white style of ‘sloppy’/’crunchy’/laissez-faire dress/style/look). I didn’t even get into the subject of the “hoodie”/”urban”/”black culture” look in this post…. that’s a WHOLE OTHER story. Ugh. Yes, you said it best: ‘What a mess we’ve made.”
      Thanks for reading,
      Heather

  • rhea paul says:

    Wow. I sometimes find myself trying to make others feel comfortable with my Blackness in this country. I feel that it is necessary skill, and speech, dress, aura all play into that. Even with the challenges I have faced, I recognize that Black boys have a challenge that I cannot begin to understand.

    When I heard of Trayvon, I immediately thought of Kyle and Owen. God bless you and your family.

  • Rose Anne says:

    Heather,
    It scares me to death, my Saul will be 11 next month! I sat him down and had a tlak with him because I too live in a very ( white ) community! It has changed a little bit in the past 30+ years but not much!! We lived here when Iwas in highschool… he is a very gentle boy but has friends in school that he plays with that are a little rougher, I told him that he had to think when he gets older about who and what he is doing out in the community because they will atomatically think that he was the one who was causing the trouble because there are some close minded people around . He asked me why when he would not do dumb things like that… I told him because he was Brown( his name for his coloring because he says he has black hair) he has since he could speak…and people can be very unitelligent when they fear differant!
    It was still scary even when we lived in the Twin Cities-I watch the police harass a Black man because he was driving a BMW, he was a Surgeon for Health system I used to work for , they thought he had stolen it!!! Yeah right!

  • Great article! You have gently, courageously, and truthfully described one aspect of a Black person’s daily experience. Keeping up clothing appearances is very important, and in some instances an obssession which causes people to spend muc…h more than they can afford to spend on clothing, shoes, and hair styles. Young men will often spend their entire paycheck on a new, designer coat and sneakers. Likewise, a young woman may routinely spend her whole paycheck on a new hairdo, pretty nails, and a pedicure. Appearance is one of, what seems like, endless ways to show society that we’re normal, productive, and peaceful people. Thank you!!

  • Sharon says:

    Hello,
    I’ve taught the EMI course one of your commenters talked about. I am also African American. I have no sons (2 daughters) but I have 2 brothers, my dad, and many uncles. What I remember most were the lessons my dad was teaching my brothers as they began to venture outside of our home. It was all about how to answer policeman when stopped for a traffic violation or how to handle other situations where they might be the only African American male. My dad and my uncles all grew up in the south where making any kind of slight could have led to being lynched.

    Thank you for this post. Your boys are lucky to have you as a mother.

  • tafel says:

    Great post Heather! I admit I am hyper-vigilant about my 9 year old son’s hair and clothes. He wears holes in the knees of his jeans & cargo pants weekly. It’s a never ending treadmill of pant-buying at our house. I have had friends tell me I’m crazy to replace them, and I should just let him wear the ones with holes, or patch them. Not. A. Chance.

  • M3 says:

    Great post, Heather, and like others I immediately thought of your other post “cute little black boys grow up to be black men.” I remember thinking at the time that that post was so courageous and so thought provoking. Wow.

  • Cheryl says:

    Thank you for your post. I really appreciate your honesty. I have two daughters and I feel the same. I feel that if they are dressed well then others will know they are important to someone. They come from a nice family. However I was still unable to shield my older daughter from being told that she was brown in preschool ( by another 4 yr old) and unable to sit at a table. She asked for weeks why her skin wasn’t lighter like Daddy.

  • jayme says:

    Hi Heather,

    I love that you’ve broached this topic because I think it’s such an important one. I’ve got lots of thoughts and opinions on what Trayvon Martin’s case means for us and for our children. For me, it just reinforces and underscores the fact that racism is both individual acts of power assertion (i.e. George Zimmerman feeling that he had the right to kill Trayvon Martin) and systemic (i.e. the fact that the police have still not made an arrest in the case; the fact that what Trayvon was wearing is relevant in any way, etc.).

    As white adoptive parents, I feel that it is our duty to prepare our children to navigate social situations that will sometimes be unkind, or even dangerous for them. But our job is bigger than that. We also have to prepare them so that they have their best chance to succeed in a system that was intentionally and specifically designed so that people of colour “fail”.

    I love that you’re talking about these issues. I love that you are such a strong voice and advocate, not only for your kids, but also for others. One of the biggest questions I have is how parents of both white children and children of colour talk to their kids about the differing expectations that society has for each of them. I’d imagine that’s an incredibly difficult series of conversations to have, and I think with your academic / educational background and your thoughtful consideration of so many issues, that you might be able to offer some insight.

    Thanks again for sharing your family with us.

  • As a father of two adopted boys from Ethiopia, I loved your thoughts. Thank you. I had planned on blogging on this anyway, so I’ll link back. THANKS.

  • Thank you very much for sharing your thoughts. I wish everyone I know could/would read this post. I’m not a wordsmith and this may come out rather trite, but four years ago I crossed the room and voted in a primary not usually my own because I desperately wanted to see history changed in our country. It’s just time to change. Thank you for giving some words to help in that change process.

  • Volker says:

    You’re living in the wrong country.

    Greetings from Germany

  • Latoya Julce says:

    Thank you for sharing :). I think if we all address these issues it can be a start.

  • NJTed says:

    That was a great post Heather!
    I saw that Trayvon/Zimmerman case on TV while I was in Jamaica. It made me sick.
    I think you made a really good point about the clothing thing. When I bring mine home, I would probably do the same thing you’re doing. I’m not the most style savvy guy, but if I end up being married, I would hope she would dress them nicely because I’m not the best at matching outfits. :)

  • ericka says:

    as a black mother, i like your observation. i believe volker, we are living in the wrong country. too bad everyone cannot move.

  • Jess says:

    Really glad you wrote this post. (And its Cute Boys predecessor.) It’s heartbreaking that it’s prompted by Trayvon Martin’s murder.

    Anecdata on the perception of locs: I’m a white woman in a coastal blue state, & see locs as a positive & political statement, no drug/gang association.

    Also, it’s heartbreaking that these lessons have to be taught. Reminds me of the “don’t dress like a slut” admonition to prevent sexual assault. Neither should be necessary, and should — like you said Heather — prompt us to try to change the culture in addition to teaching these sad-but-true lessons for now.

  • Rebecca says:

    Just saw this, and thank you. I’m a white single mama of an Afircan American boy and NO MATTER WHAT, he goes to school looking sharp. Collared shirt. No stains or holes, ever. It’s protection for him, and it’s worth every minute that I spend staying up late with the laundry.

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