by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Meera Bowman Johnson
I never thought I’d raise my children in the country, but when my husband was offered a professorship at a well-respected liberal arts college in upstate New York, we nixed our plan for raising worldly Manhattan tots in favor of a slower pace. Ultimately it was a joint decision, but I packed our boxes with trepidation. I worried about the prospect of raising our young daughter and future children in the small, rural enclave we were headed for. I never dreamed we’d end up in a remote locale with non-existent nightlife, shockingly little diversity and no place to send my husband out for milk (or milkshakes if I was pregnant) at three o’clock am.
Without a doubt, the absolute last thing I expected was to find myself raising children in a place I’d be more likely to see a wild turkey crossing the street than another middle-class black family like mine. As a parent, I feared that our kids would be vulnerable to the type of racial slights that typically affect people of color who live in homogeneously white communities. I agreed with everyone who thought the Mid-Hudson Valley was beautiful – after all, it had inspired an entire movement of landscape painters – but I wasn’t 100% convinced that the grass was greener for us.
Having grown up in an affluent Philadelphia suburb, I’ve encountered my fair share of prejudice. Most often, it was simply things I overheard – like my third grade teacher and the elementary school principal whispering terms like “spics” and “slants” while trying to get a headcount of the minorities in the room. Or my parents mumbling about how our new neighbors put a big, black and yellow FOR SALE sign up when they learned that a black family (ours) was moving in and were worried the neighborhood was “turning”. To this day, Mr. and Mrs. Moss still live two doors down from my parents, and are perfectly comfortable asking to borrow my dad’s hedge clippers – but I guess that’s besides the point. And then there was that time Brian Duckert told everyone that the only reason I’d been accepted to the University of Maryland was because I was black and female and he was a white male (he would have really hated to know U of M was actually my last choice.)
As an anti-racist parent, I’ll share these experiences and others like it with my kids as they inevitably face similar problems of their own. But I plan to do this carefully, so as not to create feelings of victimhood or a bias against other ethnicities. I want them to have a genuine respect for their own heritage and that of others, regardless of race or religion. I don’t think that last part will be too hard for them considering their great grandmother is Irish American and they’ve got Irish Catholic aunts, uncles and cousins, in addition to several cousins who live in Japan. My husband’s step mother is Jewish and they even have a great aunt who’s both Jewish and black.Within our own family, we’ve got a bumper crop of diversity – all of it will help educate our children about the world and the variation within it.
Looking back, I’m really glad we decided to move here. I can’t take in the breathtaking Catskill Mountain and Hudson River views without pausing to feel thankful just for being alive; it’s a privilege to see my children thrive in a place that’s so connected to nature. I wouldn’t trade picking blueberries or making snow angels with my angels for anything. And if I’m lucky enough to watch them come of age with a healthy appreciation for their own culture and a genuine respect for others’, I’ll really know I got something right.
Meera Bowman Johnson is a freelance writer and full time mom who is also the former Associate Art Director of Essence Magazine. Her work has been featured in HealthQuest: The Publication of Black Wellness, Code: The Style Magazine for Men of Color, Black Issues Book Review, Mommy Too! Magazine and Honey. She lives with her husband, Mat Johnson, and their three children in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. Her online alter ego, Mrs. J, blogs about race, pop-culture and parenting.