by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Meera Bowman Johnson
Recently, for the first time in what felt like forever, my husband and I left a child’s birthday party feeling like we’d enjoyed it as much as our kids. According to him, it was the great conversation, but I know that was only just the half. Exiting down the long, wooded driveway, I wondered why this particular, wonderfully laid-back, family-style birthday party felt different than so many others we’d attended before, why my family felt so at home. And then it hit me: the hosts were antiracist. That’s rather rare where we live; I’m not saying most families up here are racist (at least not the ones we know) I just can’t say with any certainty that they’re not. The birthday boy’s parents might not even label themselves “antiracist” and there weren’t any diversity books or the like on the built-in shelves in their farmhouse or anything, I just had this nagging suspicion. If you asked them to define themselves, they’d probably say they were photographers before anything else…or former New Yorkers. Artists. Teachers. Parents. But just like a person of color can sometimes get a “feeling” that someone’s probably a bigot, I’m pretty sure these folks were also antiracist.
The first clue was the fact that they’d invited a diverse group of friends to celebrate their son’s milestone with them. In our group of friends, we’re generally the token blacks. It’s not an indictment of our social group, just the reality because of the demographic up here. I was very impressed by the fact that this particular family has lived in this homogeneous area for less than a year but managed to invite a variety of people of various ethnic backgrounds (both new friends and old) to their celebration. Unlike some folks I’ve heard about in the city, they weren’t trying to show off (“Look at our diverse group of friends! Look at how cool we are!”). It just seemed like the guest list was comprised of friends and family they felt would make their son’s special day complete (special bonus points for an adult, mixed race, cousin who came up from New York City to celebrate). In my opinion, a truly anti-racist family has friends that aren’t made up solely of one ethnic group — they make a conscious effort to expand their circle to include a diverse group of folks as possible. Not just for the kids’ sake, but for the family as a whole.
When we got home, I was struck with a wave of sadness that we wouldn’t have the chance to get to know them better, due to the fact that we’ll soon be relocating to Houston, Texas for my husband’s new job. I’m thrilled that my kids will know others kids of color (at five years old, my oldest daughter has never met an Asian child, Indian child or an African American boy, but living in Houston should rectify that), but I also hope that they’ll still have some white friends. The angst I once had over wondering if our kids would ever go to school with a diverse group of children (nonexistent up here) has now been replaced by new concerns which I know may be irrational, but 100% real. What if fellow ARP columnist, Karen Waldron and I are the only anti-racist moms in Houston, TX?
What if my family ends up in a subdivision where we’re flanked by not-so-anti-racist ( or just plain racist ) neighbors on both sides (as if the idea of a family of Obama supporters moving to a suburb in a red state doesn’t scare us enough)? And what if the new school our daughter will attend for the next year while look for a permanent home isn’t as good as it looks on paper (or online). Given its setting (downtown), its philosophy (progressive) and its demographics (mixed), we could easily find ourselves in a similar situation to what fellow ARP columnist Jae Ran Kim recently mentioned a place where parents of white children are happy to have their kids learning alongside students of color — provided that’s as far as it goes.
I guess there’s no such thing as utopia, but I always hoped that once we left our current location, my kids would grow up in a community where race doesn’t matter so much. Yet the more I talk with other parents and engage in conversations here at ARP, I realize that place might not exist. Even in a very diverse city like Houston, Texas (please, Karen, say it isn’t so!). I guess that’s neither here nor there for the moment. Right now, I need to worry about buying bubble wrap and the best way to make sure my Russell Wright pottery doesn’t get broken on the trip down. I need to make a trip to the Salvation Army to get rid of things I have no idea why I purchased to begin with. I need to hit up Target for trinkets to whip out on the plane ride so that the kids don’t get us thrown off before takeoff. In the scheme of things, there are several, gargantuan fish to fry, at least in the time being. So I’ll try not to stress so much. I’ll just hope that if we’re lucky, we’ll know plenty of white people who don’t have a lawn jockey on their lawn — or the best case scenario: they know better.
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.