On Raising Black Sons: A Reader Responds

25 Oct

A reader who goes by the handle Brown Cowgirl mosied on over to WJSS via my Black Twitter  article featured on The Root’s website recently, and graciously took some time to read more posts on my site.

She landed on one I wrote some time ago:  Black Beauty Back In The Day:  What I Learned From The Grown-Ups, and Interracial Marriage From A Five-Year-Old.

When I wrote the post about my time working in a black-owned beauty salon, which ends with a young black boy telling me “my mother told me to never marry a white woman,”  I could only imagine that his statement came from the place and time we were rooted in–1982 on the Boston/Roxbury line–a time rife with troubled race relations in a city notorious for its school busing crisis–a city divided across color lines.

I thought back then, and even when I posted this a year ago, that the boy’s mother was simply coming from a place of not wanting anything to do with white people. Brown Cowgirl’s beautifully rendered response enlightened me, gave me an “aha” moment, one that should have been obvious in a year filled with stop-and-frisk, Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Jonathan Ferrell, and getting arrested for shopping while black.  I also was reminded of my friend Kym’s talk during our interview on WJSS, about the way she felt she had to raise her son, the things she needed to tell him, things that white mothers didn’t have to consider telling their white sons.

I won’t say anymore.  I’ll let Brown Cowgirl tell her point of view.  I wish I could thank her by her real name. I did reach out (only very recently) by email to see if I could, but alas have not heard back from her yet.  Perhaps, one day, she’ll ride back out of the sunset, and reveal herself.  In the meantime, you can visit her blog at www.browncowgirl.com

Read on for Brown Cowgirl’s Response….


Hi Wendy,

I was brought to your blog through a link on The Root to your piece about “Black Twitter.” I really like the description of your blog “…my quest to connect across color lines.”

As a black woman I fight myself daily not to be dismissive, condescending, or plain unfair in my assessment of white folks and their thoughts, feelings, perceptions, and beliefs about race. I’m not confrontational or mean or perennially irritable, so I’m just talking about controlling my thoughts. I try to let whatever “insider” status I may have as a black person remind me that there is plenty I don’t “get” and don’t even know I don’t get about what it means to be Hispanic or Asian or Muslim or dark-skinned or white or famous or physically disabled or whatever. I also don’t like professed attempts to share, that are really dressed up versions of “you just don’t get it” beat downs, so it is in that spirit that I offer my thoughts.

I appreciate your willingness to go near the third rail of race, to put yourself out there, and I’m enjoying your insights. I love that you did time in a black-owned salon (those chemical smells are killer). The one time I ventured to explain “the hair thing” to a white woman and didn’t feel like an alien afterward was in speaking with a co-worker. She had straight fine wispy hair but stopped my relaxer explanation dead saying, “I get it my mom’s got Jew Fro.” I’d never heard the term but more importantly I was surprised at how good it felt that someone who personally did not share the experience really got it.

As for the little boy, his mother’s admonition may well have been purely prejudiced and ugly, I won’t deny that possibility. However, there also may have been another root to her seemingly closed-minded “stick with your kind” pronouncement. My mother who grew up in the segregated south in the 50s says that raising my brother and I in an all-white western suburb in the 80s was exceedingly difficult because she had to try to prepare us for the institutionalized racism she knew we would encounter and the lasting fear of black boys and men that would make stalking and shooting an unarmed black boy unworthy of a proper investigation and ultimately acceptable because “there had been burglaries” and “he seemed suspicious,” in an integrated environment where overt racism didn’t exist. The sentiment that “messing with white women will get you killed” was not simply about being in an environment where “racists” may take exception to your courtship, but it also spoke to a black boy/man potentially dealing with a woman who was not acutely aware at all times of how her words, behavior, and even mannerisms might trigger a protective instinct in even a “good white person” that could lead to terrible consequences. My mom knew when my brother started “seeing” a white girl that at 14 years-old, in a place where everyone seemed to like us, fatal consequences were too much of a leap for his know-it-all mind, so she simply told him not to be surprised if his A’s and B’s mysteriously slipped because some of the same teachers who liked and lauded him didn’t think his relationship was cute.

It truly makes me sad that a little black boy, then or now, would feel he couldn’t even say something nice about a white woman, that’s not acceptable and it couldn’t have made you feel good even coming from a child. Unfortunately, having nuanced conversations with little black boys about why their exuberance, anger, frustration, or even excitement may soon be seen as threatening and why liking and loving whomever they choose my have consequences, is not a skill even enlightened, open-minded black mothers of today have mastered.

Sorry this was so long

Brown Cowgirl

4 Responses to “On Raising Black Sons: A Reader Responds”

  1. Deborah Oster Pannell October 25, 2013 at 9:14 am #

    Dear Wendy,

    Thanks for posting this thoughtful response to your piece. I so enjoy the exploration and dialogue you share on your blog.

    As the white mother of a mixed-race kid, I struggle with these issues all the time. I know full well that even a light-skinned (or caramel colored, as he likes to say) black boy can and will, in this culture, receive all the privileges of racism that our darker skinned brothers contend with on a daily basis. Black is the new black, and the old black.

    As my son nears the precipice of his teens,I know that what may have been seen as precocious behavior when he was a child could very well soon be perceived as malicious or even threatening. How do I decode the embedded racist behaviors and perceptions that will be coming at him when those who carry them may not even be willing or able to own up to them in the first place?

    It’s enough to make one mad. And scared.
    And sad.

    That said, the more we talk to each other (me and my son, our extended circle of family and friends, the larger community, the public at large…), hear and appreciate one another’s experiences and feelings, the better chance we have at not repeating the uglier chapters of our history. At the very least, we can learn to protect ourselves and support one another in managing the vestiges of hate and fear that still permeate our society and its institutions, and our collective memory.

    It’s an ongoing process…


    • Wendy Jane October 25, 2013 at 4:55 pm #

      Hi Deborah,

      Thanks so much for your kind words, and for engaging with the blog here. I so appreciate making connections here, because it becomes part of the dialogue and exploration, so thank you for giving your perspective and experience lived, and still living, as the white mother of a mixed-race son. Interesting what you say about light (caramel as he says) skinned black boys receiving the same privilege of racism as darker skinned boys. And, I agree that many people, myself included, at times aren’t even aware of the way we internalized our perceptions of people whose skin color happens to be different from our own, because of the construct of race, the institution of racism, and stereotypes we “learned” as we grew up.

      Thanks again for reading, and for your support of WJSS.

  2. Vickie October 25, 2013 at 9:28 am #

    See, the little bit of abuse you took was well worth the positives! Good piece!

    • Wendy Jane October 25, 2013 at 4:59 pm #

      Hey Vickie,

      I am always amazed by and cherish, really, the connections made–one thing seeming to lead to another, all making the journey here so rich for me. And, I don’t even see the conflicting comments as abuse, even if I do feel like I want to lick my wounds sometimes:), but instead an opportunity to listen, and enter into dialogue with someone whose point-of-view differs from mine. It helps me to try and get at the deeper feelings people hold onto about race, and the places where we all meet.

      Thanks so much!


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