Why My Children Are Never Allowed To Play Unsupervised

by Rachel Garlinghouse
Originally Published: 
Rachel Garlinghouse

A nine-year-old black boy goes to the store with his family. They walk past the check-out counter where a white woman is standing. And the next thing you know, the woman is claiming the boy grabbed her ass, thereby sexually assaulting her. She pretends to call the police, and then declares to onlookers that she’s a police officer herself.

Store video surveillance shows that 53-year-old Theresa Klein, now deemed “Cornerstore Caroline,” was not sexually assaulted, but was brushed up against by the child’s backpack when he walked past her.

Klein apologized, but an apology doesn’t erase the trauma and embarrassment she inflicted upon an innocent little boy.

Cornerstone Caroline joins the ranks of Permit Patty and BBQ Becky, adding to a list of rules that black people must follow in order to make white people more comfortable.

So black people cannot have a barbeque, sell water, hold a business meeting at a coffee shop, enter their own apartment complex, get lunch at a Subway, and certainly cannot go shopping with their family.

These should-be-ordinary situations are turned upside-down and inside-out, exposing white fragility and privilege at its finest, all because black people dare to exist. And it is because of these exact situations, and countless others, that my four children are not allowed to be unsupervised.

This isn’t about being a helicopter parent. I was raised in the country, my family home sitting on two acres of land complete with a one-hundred-year-old barn, a treehouse, and lots of green space. My childhood can be summarized as play-in-mud-puddles-and-don’t-come-in-until-the-sun-goes-down country. Free-range accurately defines how I was brought up.

Though my children aren’t being raised in the country, but instead in a suburb just outside St. Louis, I never allow them to run around our yard by themselves or look at toys in the store while I’m a few aisles over grabbing a few groceries.

If my kids are outside, I’m outside. If they’re playing at the park, I’m standing on the sidelines. If they’re invited to a birthday party, I’m sitting in a corner scrolling through social media on my cell. If we’re at the store, they’re within watching distance.

I know that even if I’m nearby, things can happen. I’ve shared the time a young white man drove past our driveway and hurled the n-word at my older daughters who were riding bikes, and the time an acquaintance called my two-year-old son a “cute little thug” right in front of me and him.

Certainly, racism is unavoidable and has a long, brutal history. But its boldness never ceases to shock me.

What the 9-year-old boy encountered was unavoidable. He did nothing wrong. But thankfully, his mom was right there, as was the man who videoed the encounter with Klein outside the store, and other onlookers, all able to come to the aid of the boy.

And as long as my children are vulnerable to the snares of audacious, privileged, fragile white people, I’m going to be right there, doing the job I was chosen to do. I’m unwavering and unapologetic in my commitment to supervise, protect, and guide my children.

Some fellow white people have ignorantly advised me that if I raise my children to be well-dressed, polite, respectful, and educated, I will not have to worry about racism. Others will see how good my kids are and respond appropriately.

I beg to differ.

My kids’ rules, because of the melanin in their skin, are quite different from the rules white children have. For example, when we go shopping, I teach my kids they must always get a bag for items they pay for and keep their receipt in the bag. They can’t walk through a store with their hands in their pockets or the hood up on their sweatshirt. While many of my friends allow their children to open packages of food to enjoy while shopping in the store, promising to pay for it when they reach the checkout, I never let my children open food before we are in the car. My kids know you must pay for an item and exit the store before they can open and enjoy what they purchased.

And what about the obsession with all-things-Nerf gun? My children are only allowed to play Nerf guns in the basement of our home. That’s it. No taking Nerf guns outside, and no taking them to the park, in the car, or to a friend’s house.


My children will be profiled and labeled. They will be deemed suspicious. Even if they “play by the rules,” even if they are very young, even if they are appropriately dressed and well-mannered. And it sucks. It’s not fair, and yes, it’s infuriating that it’s 2019 and people of color are still dealing with racism.

But the truth is, not all kids can “just be kids.”

Many moms of white children have the goal of keeping their children safe. But me? My goal is not only keep my children safe, but un-traumatized by white America, and above all, have them come home alive.

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