I’m a White Mother Raising Three Black Children, and Here’s What I Mean When I Say Black Lives Matter

Image Source: Rachel Garlinghouse
Image Source: Rachel Garlinghouse

Here’s my once upon a time: I’m a white woman, born and raised by a white family, who grew up to marry a white man. When my husband and I married, we decided we wanted to achieve a few life goals before having kids. And so, together we designed our future: I graduated college and then went on to grad school, while my husband began climbing the corporate ladder in the financial industry. Then the magical plan came to a halt. I got sick — really, really sick — and ended up at death’s door. Just in the nick of time, I was diagnosed with a chronic autoimmune disease, and I knew within days of my diagnosis that we would adopt.

Two years later, our first child arrived. Two years after that came our second child. And like clockwork, in another two years, we welcomed baby No. 3.

I understand that many people aren’t in our position: the white parents of black children. So please allow me to explain it to you. If you’ve never experienced being gawked at by patrons at a restaurant or ignored by a cashier — only to have her politely greet the white man standing behind you — I get it. If you’ve never had someone whisper your race in a conversation, as if it’s a curse word that cannot be overheard by nearby children, I get it. And if you’ve never had your ethnicity be the subject of a joke or the center of a stereotype, I get it.

Because for 27 years of my life, I unknowingly basked in privilege. I was never pulled over for no apparent reason or offense, my driver’s license and registration demanded of me. I was never passed over for a job because of my name or my skin tone. I was never questioned or followed by a security officer while goofing around with my friends at the mall. I have always been believed, trusted, and respected by most people I meet, simply because I have peachy colored skin.

But this has not been my children’s experience — and since becoming a transracial family, it hasn’t been the experience of my husband and I, either. When my daughters were 4 and 6, they were riding their bikes in our driveway when a young white man hurled the N-word at them while driving by. We later discovered that the perpetrator was the father of a child who attended school with my oldest daughter. On another occasion, my 2-year-old son was called a “cute little thug” by an acquaintance. This was shortly after Michael Brown died in nearby Ferguson. My children are now almost 8, 6, and 3-and-a-half. And as they get older, we know that there will only be more situations like these that arise. More suspicions and more stereotypes; more frequent and more troubling.

I know I’m not alone when I say this past week has been heartbreaking. For me personally, I feel as though I’m emotionally suffocating. In fact, I made the decision to suspend any posts on my beloved blog and social media pages and purposefully not watch or read any news. Because with each passing video, op-ed article, and social media debate, I grew even more anxious, infuriated, and honestly, confused. I couldn’t help but notice that many of the same friends who had quickly remarked on Facebook “I stand with Paris” suddenly had nothing to say about Philando Castile or Alton Sterling. Likewise, they didn’t make a peep last year about Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, or Eric Garner.

I know that some believe, based on their own words, that if black children such as mine grow to be adults who are well-dressed, well-educated, friendly, and polite, harm will not come to them. If they obey the rules, they will be safe. But recent news has proven that this isn’t always true. There aren’t any hard and fast rules, assurance, promises, or guarantees.

So where does that leave us? I think the answer is really very simple.

When someone is obviously hurting — no matter how that hurt is expressed (usually through anger, depression, anxiety, or aversion) — just ask yourself, “When has it ever been helpful or uplifting to tell a person why they shouldn’t feel as they do? When has it worked to say how my perspective is better, more appropriate, and truer?”

I do not want my children’s names to ever become a trending hashtag. I do not want them to fear for their safety every time they leave home. I do not want them to question their life’s value and significance.
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If I tell you that Black Lives Matter, instead of responding with a “but,” followed by an explanation of your perspective, based on your experience as a privileged person, consider this: When I say Black Lives Matter, my first point of reference is my children. The three beautiful, intelligent, funny, smart, interesting humans I have been chosen to raise to adulthood. I do not want my children’s names to ever become a trending hashtag. I do not want them to fear for their safety every time they leave home. I do not want them to question their life’s value and significance.

I want my children to have the same opportunities your children have. I want them to pursue their passions. I want them to freely play in parks and when they are older, go to the mall with their friends. I want them to learn to drive, I want them to go to the college of their choice, I want them to snag their dream job and do whatever it is they are destined to do in life. I want to dance at their weddings and snuggle my grandbabies. I want all parents want: children who are safe, healthy, and happy.

My children’s lives matter. And when I or another parent shares this with you, your response should be simple: yes, absolutely yes.


Hear more from Rachel about her family’s experience with racial intolerance over on CNN:

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