It was a fluke Midwest, winter Sunday. We woke up to climbing temperatures and blazing sunshine. Seemingly the entire town decided to take the opportunity to hit the park, including my family, after spending months cooped up inside with nothing to do but argue with each other and binge on Netflix and carbs.
The parking lot was nearly full when we arrived. I steered our minivan into an empty space, barely putting the car in park before the kids were jumping out of the sliding doors and preparing to charge down the sidewalk to the playground. I nodded at the older three to go ahead, after reminding them that they must be mindful of the smaller kids, while I took my three-year-old by the hand. I watched my kids bolt for the slide while the baby and I trailed behind. We plopped our bag of water bottles onto a park bench and proceeded to get our play on.
We’d been playing for about ten minutes when another family arrived. They were two white parents with two white daughters, probably about four and six years old. The mom held a cup of coffee in her hand and told the girls that while they played, she and dad would be walking the lengthy, distant track that circled the playground. The girls simply nodded in response and then dashed off to play tag with some other kids.
Satisfied, the mom and dad strolled off until their figures were nothing but blurs. I caught a glimpse of them slowly making their way around the pavement, stopping to talk to another couple who was walking their dog. Meanwhile, the four-year-old started looking around, becoming increasingly panicked. Before I could step up and ask her if I could help, she power walked to the track and headed in the opposite direction as her parents. She made her way to the bathrooms, which were unfortunately closed for the winter.
Meanwhile, the parents were still chatting away, oblivious to their kids. Should I frantically wave my arms in an attempt to get their attention? I couldn’t just ditch my own four kids and go after the little girl. As I’m trying to figure out what to do next, the parents glance up and spot a little figure darting even farther down the track. They bid the other couple goodbye and begin strolling back toward the playground. It’s like I’m watching a white privilege music video.
I’m completely flabbergasted. Because never in a million, bazillion years would I ditch my kids at the park, not even if I was nearby-ish, squeezing in a workout. My children, two tweens, a first grader, and a preschooler, are black. It doesn’t take a genius to know that black children in America are not safe from stereotypes and racism in nearly any space. Every time we visit the park, I think of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old black boy who was tossing snowballs and playing with a toy gun in a Cleveland park when he was killed by a police officer.
I observed the racist realities during the exact same park trip of the absent white parents. My son, five-year-old Asian twin boys, and one white boy began playing together. They started pretending to be dinosaurs, growling at each other while perched on top of a plastic rock tower. The white boy’s father, who readily ignored his son while he squeezed his body through monkey bars and scaled a tree, was suddenly on notice. He approached the rock tower and called his son’s name, urging him to play elsewhere. The boys were doing absolutely nothing concerning, which isn’t the issue. The real problem? Boys of color are being loud and having fun, which immediately indicates threat to the father.
Despite how this may sound, I’m not at the park to watch and mentally throw shade at other parents. I have my hands quite full with my own kids. However, I can’t help but observe the stark differences between how the parents of children of color closely circulate the park parameter, keeping a watchful eye on their kids.
Meanwhile, some of the white parents have their faces buried in their phones or are nowhere to be found. It boils down to the fact that white kids are safe by default. Children of color, like my own four, are not. They never have been and they probably never will be.
My kids have many rules that their white peers do not. We don’t allow any toy gun play outside of our home—even neon-colored dart guns that are clearly not real weapons. They always must get a bag and receipt when purchasing anything from a store or eatery—no matter how inexpensive or small the item is. We’ve reviewed, several times, the appropriate response when they encounter a law enforcement officer. When we go into a place of business, my kids aren’t allowed to have their hands in their pockets or their hoods up.
Are these rules fair? No. Are these rules necessary for my children’s safety? Absolutely.
Supervising my kids isn’t about hindering their independence, limiting their fun, or not trusting them. It’s about keeping them safe from all the Cornerstore Carolines and Barbeque Beckys out there who are just itching to surveil kids of color. Of course, I won’t be with my children forever, which is why I’m teaching them the rules now—rules that will hopefully keep them safe.
Moms and dads of white kids, like all parents, have fears about social media safety, bullying, and child sex trafficking. Some of them also worry about the seven-year-old black boy who is playfully growling and giggling on top of the rock wall. Meanwhile, parents of kids of color not only have all the shared and typical parental fears, but also the most likely reality of them all. Our kids are subject to one of the greatest dangers—fearful white people.