by Johanna Iwaszkowiec, CLC, BFPC
Social Media Coordinator, St. Louis Breastfeeding Coalition
A couple of weeks ago, I attended a talk called Mother to Mother: A Conversation with Black Mothers to White about “the Talk” with their Black Sons. Nine brave, beautiful, accomplished, black women told of their experiences raising their children, and particularly their sons, in St. Louis. On the panel of African American women, their professions included early childhood educator, lawyers, university professors, activist, scholars, psychologist, TV/radio personality, authors, poets, entrepreneurs, pastors, and all of them, mothers.
"The Talk" referenced in the title is not, as one of the panelists reminded us, about the birds and the bees. The Talk is "what it means to be a black teenager in a country with a history of regarding young black men as a threat. The talk about standing up straight, dressing the part, keeping your hands in sight at all times and never, ever letting your anger get the best of you." (http://goo.gl/9FbcG3)
Each of the mothers tonight had stories about times that their sons had been profiled by police. They all talked about the times their sons were stopped while walking or driving and when asked why, were told they "fit the description" for a person of interest in another incident. I am not sharing more details simply because these are not my stories and I missed the beginning so I'm not sure if there were guidelines about what personal details could be shared. But believe me when I say these stories were compelling and a completely different reality from what I will ever face with my son. He will assume that his only interactions with law enforcement will happen if he actually breaks a law. He will NOT have to worry about being pulled over or suspected of a crime simply because of his blonde hair or fair skin. He will have to actually DO something to arouse suspicion or attract attention, not just BE.
Two of the speakers that night issued what were basically calls to action for the white mothers in the room. And since one of the simplest and most immediate ways to get involved in a cause is to amplify it, I'm going to share them here with you now.
The first was shared by Assata Henderson. After sharing about the talk she had with HER sons, she asked the white moms about what talk we are having with OUR sons. What are we saying to our sons who will grow up to be police officers, judges, business owners, teachers? What are we perpetuating in our own homes and families? Our children watch us and learn and very often emulate what they see. Will they become people that promote unity or sow discord?
The second rallying cry came from Amy Hunter who is the Director of Racial Justice for the YWCA Metro St. Louis. She suggested that this time in our city could be an opportunity for the WOMEN in our community to lead the way in working across the colorline. "Let's do something different," she urged. "This could be a defining moment for St. Louis. One of pride and not of shame. We can be known for taking care of each other OR we can be Dred Scott and Ferguson." I, for one, am ready to do something different.
Practically, that difference might seem subtle at first. Much of it is probably work that needs to be done in our hearts and homes. It entails more listening than talking. It means accepting another's reality as her own and not trying to force her experience through the filter of mine. It takes bearing witness to another person's heartbreak or frustration or victories without appropriating any of the spotlight for myself.
A few of you have heard me say what a heavy, life-changing summer I've had. It's one of those seasons of life in which I feel God telling me to pay attention. I'm grateful to have been chosen to participate in a summit back in July for lactation professionals that included a lot of reading and watching and listening and being uncomfortable about topics such as racial inequity and white privilege. That experience and others prepared my heart for the events in Ferguson in a way that I couldn't have expected. And I have by no means "arrived" in my understanding of these issues. I believe this will be a lifelong journey, one which we are all on but at different points and with reroutes and detours and shortcuts along the way.
Shall we travel together?
Due to the overwhelming response for the first Mother 2 Mother event, the organizers have planned a Part II to take place on Monday, October 13, 2014, at 6:00 p.m., at the Missouri History Museum in Forest Park. The details can be found in the graphic below.
Read more about Part 1 of the Mother 2 Mother conversation with this piece from St. Louis Public Radio.