This post originally appeared in October 2016.
When my chocolate nugget was a year old, opportunity knocked and my partner and I picked up our trifecta and moved 3,641 miles away to Amsterdam. This was May 2013. A year after Trayvon Martin was killed for being Black and young. Two months before George Zimmerman was found not guilty for Trayvon’s murder. Fifteen months before Michael Brown was murdered and the streets of Ferguson were set ablaze by righteous Black rage and pain. Eighteen months before twelve-year-old Tamir Rice was gunned down like an animal. Two years before Sandra Bland was silenced for being Black and defiant.
During our first year here, the Black Lives Matter movement was born and I longed to be in the thick of it. I felt conflicted about being in Europe during that time. There was work to do and I wanted to be a part of it. I wanted my son to witness the work of these young, brave, unapologetically Black souls putting their bodies on the line, disrupting shit and demanding justice. By living in Europe during this critical time for Black people in America, had I created a bubble around my son? How was he to learn how to be Black in the world? I wanted him to know, to feel, to viscerally understand the Black struggle. I thought that only through experiencing and confronting white supremacy and Black resistance would he have access to the true meaning of Blackness.
While Black folk righteously raged and organized in the States, my son was growing up.
He was going to school, making friends, speaking fluent Dutch, travelling Europe. I noticed a quality about him that many Black mamas notice about their boys. The purity of his joy. The way he twitches his hips and mean mugs when he’s dancing to Michael Jackson. That he wears a superhero cape just ‘cause, the way he giggles at the mere thought of ice cream. His contemplative appreciation of beauty. When he chases pigeons, when he’s awed by swans and clouds and all the small wonders of the world us grown ups take for granted.
Meditating on my son’s carefreeness and the life we’ve created for him, I realized then I had been equating the totality of Blackness with struggle.
Living in Europe, my son has been able to embody the glow of his Blackness without shame or fear. He has not had to live in response to whiteness, to white aggression. This reprieve has given me space to explore and understand the many layers of Blackness. The experience of Blackness that’s not constantly in response to whiteness and racism.
What if I could parent a Black child without having ‘the talk’? Without having to teach him to make himself smaller and less whole in the face of white authority? What if we could be unafraid?
What a concept. My son could be Black and fly, Black and beautiful, Black and funny, Black and silly, Black and nerdy, Black and arrogant, Black and wrong, Black and young, Black and poor, Black and rich, Black and driving, Black and walking, Blackity Black Black without fear of someone wanting to end his life for it.
Now let’s be real for a sec. The planet is crawling with racists, amiright? The average European would swear on their mamas that racism is an American concept that they are too evolved to have. The reality is they have plenty of racism here, institutional and otherwise. They just don’t have guns. At least that’s the way I see it. And while my class and passport privilege have shielded me from overt forms of structural racism here, I deal with microaggressions on the daily. I’ve had to explain to grown ass people that it’s not okay for them to fetishize my Black child by taking photos of him or touching his face without permission.
We’ve been living abroad for three and a half years now. We’ve done our best to instill a sense of Black pride in our son without burdening him with the reality of white supremacy. This task is hard and requires a lot of nuanced conversations customized for a five-year-old. He knows he’s Black and that that makes him dope. He doesn’t yet know there are those who’ll find his very being threatening and something to smother. We’ve built a community of loving people around him from across the Diaspora. He speaks fluent Dutch and his Black vernacular game strong. I know that if we were in the States I would raise him with a more radical consciousness. And I still want him to have that, but not yet. I’m appreciating being able to raise him outside of the “Blackness is struggle” context but within the Blackness is rich and beautiful and fly one.
One morning not too long ago, I was putting on makeup in the bathroom mirror. My son comes in and asks if he could have some makeup, too. I pull out my blush brush and powder his little nose and cheeks with gold shimmer. “You’re Black gold!” I exclaim. He loves this and his shimmery cheeks and proceeds to skip around the house shouting, “I’m Black Gold! I’m Black Gold!”
Yes, baby, you sure are.