Being a mother is hard – there are so many things to know about how to nurture a young child, emotionally and physically. But one of the greatest difficulties I’ve faced in being a mother is having to patiently explain racial injustice and the concept of white privilege to my mother.
Kids are such a challenge. By the time they learn to sleep through the night and get over their teething pains, they’ve learned how to throw tantrums and tell you to “shut up” while they refuse to put on their seatbelt. It’s maddening. But it’s nothing compared to trying to convince my sixty-something mom that the legacy of 400 years of slavery hasn’t been entirely erased and that “these people” shouldn’t “just be happy for what they’ve got” when they’re being imprisoned at rates higher than anywhere else in the world. I guess it’s true that when you’re a mother you just never stop being a mother to your mother.
My many worries about whether I’m doing things right as a mom keep me up at night – am I feeding my kids the wrong foods? Am I sending them to the right school? But what really causes me to lie awake for hours on end, is wondering how I can teach my mother not to say, “I just don’t think we should have to give them handouts” in front of my children, especially when white people make up the majority of people on food stamps in this country. I knew being a mother would be challenging, but I never thought the hardest part would be my racist mom.
It’s tough trying to figure out the right balance as a mother in setting proper boundaries for your kids, while also letting them express who they are. I agonized over whether to let my son wear nail polish to school, for fear of him getting bullied, but at the end of the day I just had to let him be him. But I really can’t seem to find a way to find any kind of comfortable balance in reigning in my mother as I try to teach her that Black Lives Matter is about asserting black people’s right to live and is not in any way an attack on white lives. Why can’t she believe that? Why can’t she just read their mission? Why is she so fucking hard to have a rational conversation with about this? I’d rather be trying to potty train the most stubborn three-year-old on the planet.
At the end of the day, as a mom, you know that you’re going to make some mistakes and you’ll have to try to forgive yourself for it. And if you’re like me, you’ll also have to try to forgive your mom for being willfully blind to the long and storied history of racial injustice in this country, while trying to remain mindful of your responsibility as a privileged white person to try to ration with her, while also wondering if it’s worth it, if she’s capable of basic human empathy, or if any act of yours could possibly change her. Seriously, what the fuck? We’ve been over this so many fucking times. Should I threaten to cut off contact with her beloved grandchildren? Because even that tactic seems optimistic.