I’ve been working outside a lot lately, and I miss the little boys who used to live two doors down from us. Last year, the family moved to a home with a larger yard. So this year, the little guys aren’t there, questioning me, every time they see me outside, and like all children their age, they were full of questions.
"Hey Lady, why you wearing that?" (referring to the bandanna covering my nose and mouth) "Because everything out here makes me sneeze, so this keeps me from sneezing." "Hey Lady, whatcha doing?" "Weeding." "Why?" "Because I don't want this plant to grow here." "Pruning." "Why?" "Because this shrub is to big for this space." "Trimming the grass." "Why?" "Because the lawn mower can't get to this spot." "Hey Lady, what's that?" "A lawn mower. It just doesn't make the noises you're dad's does because it doesn't have an engine." (It's a reel mower.) One of them then begins to push their toy lawn mower in the yard between our two homes and in the same pattern I'm mowing in our yard - up, down, shift to the right. He repeatedly looks over his shoulder to keep track of my progress and match my work. "Hey Lady, we want a dog like yours." "I think your mom has her hands full with you two, I don't think she needs to be taking care of a dog too." "Ain't that the truth!" echoes from their kitchen window.
Those two guys kept me entertained probably as much as I entertained them. I looked forward to hearing their little voices from across the small yard between us.
I was sad to see the “For Sale” sign pop up in their yard. We had talked with their Mom a few times about their tiny yard, and it’s quickly shrinking size in relation to the growth of the boys; when Baby Sister was born, the yard seemed to shrink even more quickly as the number of toys, balls, and wheelie things multiplied. So while their moving wasn’t a surprise, it still made me sad.
Good neighbors are wonderful. And we’ve got a pretty good neighborhood. We’ve had our share of weird, strange, or bad neighbors, too. But, we’ve also had – and have – just as many, if not more, good neighbors. The family with the incredibly shrinking yard and inquisitive little boys definitely fell into the good neighbor category.
We’ve lived in our home for over 20 years, and over those two decades we’ve had the opportunity to watch a number of kids in our neighborhood grow up.
We've been warned about learner's permits by proud parents. We've had pranksters ring our doorbell and run - a prank we only found out about years later, when the joke was on them 'cause our doorbell had been disconnected long before the pranksters thought they were ringing it. We've had to help babysitters who were accidentally locked out of houses while the children were sleeping. We’ve had pet sitters; we've been pet sitters. We’ve been to birthday and graduation parties, as well as summer picnics. We've watched, and helped, as igloos were built and cars buried (intentionally) under the snow.
So, I was looking forward to watching those two beautiful, inquisitive, energetic boys grow up. I was looking forward to watching them adapt to having a little sister. I was looking forward to their questions and silly antics – basically I was looking forward to adding their growth and stories to my memories of the kids in the neighborhood growing into unique people.
Those two boys, and their, then new, little sister have been on my mind a lot lately.
I wonder how they are doing, how big their sister is, and if she’s in charge yet. I wonder how their parents are doing too. Mostly, I wonder what their parents have had to tell them about the protests, the pandemic, and the general state of the world right now. I wonder about this growing family because those two young handsome boys full of possibilities, and their new tag-along little sister, are biracial.
So I’m willing to bet, that despite their young ages, their parents have had to have very difficult conversations with those boys. Conversations that most parents of White children probably don’t have with their children of the same age, if ever. Conversations that may be doubly confusing for those little ones, as the sit there, listening, and looking at their parents – one Black, one White.
I’ll admit, part of my looking forward to watching them grow up was selfish. I had hoped that they could grow up in our neighborhood knowing that there were White people, who weren’t related to them, that were on their side. I had hoped that they could grow up knowing that their neighbors saw them, really saw them for the people they are. There was a hope that maybe our neighborhood could be a tiny piece of a movement forward, at least for these two boys and their baby sister.
That thought, of course, was just speculative and hopeful. Who’s to say what would have happened? And that’s why it feels selfish to me. I had hoped that we – our neighborhood – could have proved that we are better than society at large.
As mentioned, we’ve lived in our home a long time, as have a few other families in the neighborhood. But, there are still a number of rentals – which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, as well as a number of “starter homes”, and a few homes with older residents. These three types of homes tend to change over fairly frequently, meaning new neighbors are regular occurrences.
That means, the people who watched those cute kids mow their lawn with toy mowers, play ball in their yard, and race their scooters up and down the sidewalk, might not be the same people who would watch them mope up the street after a bad day at school, take their dad’s car out for a spin (with, or without, permission), get into a loud argument with a sibling, sneak out after curfew, ride their bike home from their first job, offer to shovel snow for a few bucks, or stand on their porch waiting for someone to unlock the door because they lost their keys.
All of these things happen regularly in a neighborhood with teenagers and young adults; hell, most of us probably did them ourselves. And they’re all things that often make for great “remember that time…” stories later on – if you’re White.
Because truth be told, they’re all things that White kids are able to do with out suspicion. (Mostly. We did have one loose cannon in the neighborhood, but that’s a whole other issue.) Yet, they are just some of the things that those little boys and their sister will learn are on a long list of things they shouldn’t do – things that will make them look “suspicious” to others, to White people.
I don’t know what’s on that list. Or rather, as a White person, I can’t understand what, or how, certain things make that list. Quite frankly, it embarrasses and shames me that such a list even exists. I mean, really? Why can’t people do everyday things, regardless of skin color? As for the ever popular “looking suspicious” accusation – what does that even mean? I’ve seen toddlers “look suspicious” right before they run off with a tater tot they’ve swiped from someone else’s plate.
Walking on the “wrong side” of the street. Saying “Hello”. Not saying “Hello”. Buying or selling cigarettes. Making change. Dancing to the music you’re listing to in your earbuds. Carrying anything – anything- in a pocket that may be mistaken for a gun. Jogging in your neighborhood. Walking your dog. Sleeping in your bed. Bird watching. Really?! Bird watching?
But most of the time, in these instances, when someone is accused of looking “threatening”, “suspicious”, or “dangerous” while doing something mundane, what is really being said is that the person is Black, or simply not White, in a White world.
And that’s just plain dumb.
I don’t mean “dumb” in the “they need to fix that and not act suspicious” way. No, I mean dumb as in,WTH is wrong with people? We should be better than this.
And that is precisely why #blacklivesmatter . Because everyone deserves to be treated equally. We should be better than this.
We say we’re an equitable society, while our actions are telling the world something all together different. And society, White society, hasn’t noticed this disparity; or worse yet, is pretending everything is fine.
But everything is not fine.
Our society is built on generations of lending laws and practices that have prohibited groups of people from owning their own homes or starting businesses. We have seemingly just laws designed to protect society, but that actually target specific demographics. Zoning laws and housing plans are created to discriminate and limit social mobility. Neighboring school districts have drastically different resources and student opportunities.
You’ve probably heard the expression, “Do as I say, not as I do”. Yeah, we’re pretty good at that. We say we’re an equitable society, but we practice prejudices and racism.
I’ll be the first to admit that I can’t relate to the struggle non-White people face everyday. I won’t try to put words, or feelings, to what an entire group of people feel, especially when I’m not a part of that group. That would be like a sighted person telling someone who’s been blind from birth what it’s like to be blind. It’s belittling and I simply don’t have the experiences, words, or emotional responses to adequately come close to what they experience.
My own skin color puts me on the Goliath side of this particular David vs. Goliath situation. That means that I sometimes don’t even realize something is racially biased – like a loan or job application. Or even statements I make.
But when I do notice racial bias or racism, I can call it out. I can sympathize and try not be part of the problem; and for those of you who think to many people are “soft” and need to have thicker skin, sympathizing is not coddling. I can listen and learn. And I’ll admit that I’ve got a lot to learn.
But I’ll do it. I’ll do my best to learn, and to do better.
I’ll do it for those two little boys and their baby sister, for my high school friend’s daughters, for the business owner in the building next to my own, for the man we used to sit next to in church. For every POC in my life, even if I don’t know their names and our paths only cross at the store, or on the street.
Because they deserve better. Every one of them.