I felt a very strong conviction today; one that comes with being a parent or simply from loving someone very deeply. I felt over-protective and ultimately I felt a sense of responsibility.
We took about 25 of our kids to a Kalamazoo county park where they had various pavilions, playgrounds and a super cool “splash pad.” When our supervisor came back from scoping the area out she said, “We have community members occupying the park so make sure everyone is on their best behavior.” So when I walked up to the park with my group and saw that there were no community members that looked like my kids or myself I became anxious.
Everyone at the playground was Caucasian. For me, normally this would be not be a big problem as I am pretty much used to this scenario but I was worried for my kids. I wondered how they would be treated. I was anxious to see if they could go play with the other kids without the stares and the look of disgust. I wondered if they would be looked at as children or savages. I wondered if they would be made to feel like they belonged there or would they be treated as if they should have chosen a different park. All these thoughts overwhelmed me and unbeknownst to me it was showing up in my body language because my supervisor asked me multiple times was I okay. Truthfully was not okay. It bothered me that I was having these thoughts; I didn’t want to feel so insecure for my kids but I couldn’t help myself.
I sat back and watched about four families leave the park, while other parents who were sitting on the bench went to get closer to their kids. I also sat and watched about three other families leave the splash pad area completely and head to the other side of the park. There was even a point in time when no one was left on the splash pad area but us and the other parks were completely filled with those who left and those who came in afterwards. I literally felt like I was in the 50s where segregation was legal and it was some imaginary sign that said “whites only.” But was I over-thinking? Were my own insecurities causing me to think too deep into a situation that could be a complete coincidence? But I knew I wasn’t. I even expressed my feelings to my other co-worker and she said she felt the same way.
I am not saying in any way shape or form that the families there were racist or that they were raising their children to that way either. What I am saying is that we do NOT live in a post racial society. This may seem like an obvious thing but so many people believe that we do. Today showed me that there is so much brokenness as it relates to race within in our communities and we quite frankly don’t know how to deal with these emotions or feelings. We choose to segregate ourselves for whatever reason and commune with those who look like us. As I looked around the park, I noticed that the families who left and retreated to the other side of the park attracted families that looked like them also. As families were walking in, it seemed as though they felt more comfortable going to an area where there were familiar faces than going to an area where there were a lot of super excited black children.
It was uncomfortable. This is uncomfortable writing this because I still cant make complete sense of exactly what I was feeling or why I was feeling that way. All I know is that my kids went to that park and had a blast! They were oblivious to everything others and I were noticing. They didn’t bother a soul. They simply wanted to play in the hot sun and splash each other with water puddles. & I wondered why it couldn’t be that simple. Why I couldn’t just ignore what was going on around me and focus on the kids having a good time. I was really too busy wondering how their future would look like when they did become more aware of this world that we live in. I wondered how they would be treated when I wasn’t around or another adult wasn’t around to protect them. I worried about what would happen when they realized that because of the color of their skin some people would not accept them. That sometimes they would walk into certain environments and feel totally unwelcome. & That they would feel completely crazy sometimes because they would have feelings that not everyone could relate to because the feeling of being the “other” is sometimes a silent, less obvious one.
And tomorrow we’ll go back to our little bubbles and continue to teach and empower, uplift and build them up. Is it enough though? I’m wondering if they’ll be able to live in a world where color doesn’t matter. If everything they’re being taught will matter to the world. Will they be able to treated as equal. I think today I felt the brunt of having a passion. Its not always glorious work and regardless of if they get to experience this “perfect” world or not, our work is necessary and we have to fight to believe this every single day. It starts in our bubbles and hopefully spreads to the world. Hopefully.