I Don’t Give My Kids “the Talk.” But I’m Still Terrified to Have My Son Walk the Dog.
To walk and live and breathe constrained by White threat is not to be free at all.
He didn’t complain when I told him we’d be taking a weekend trip, an opportunity to change our surroundings. He’s newly 15-years-old, a man-child in all ways: loves yelling at video games but finds his 8-year-old brother’s similar behavior immature and thinks it’s nutritious to eat only French fries for dinner but also thinks he’s qualified to question how I let his brother only eat one broccoli spear (“When I was his age, you made me eat all of them!”). He’s also an introvert. During the day, he moves from (1) his desk, next to his bed; (2) to his actual bed; (3) to his place at the dining table. The other four of us are loud, we spend a lot of time in our home’s common areas, and we enjoy company. He’s an introvert in a house of extroverts.
He didn’t complain when we reached our hotel once he saw the king bed (which he needed to share with the aforementioned little brother) when he realized for the most part we were going to leave him alone. While our dog, Hope, made the car ride down, she had some strikes against her for participating in our weekend plans. First, well, she’s a dog. There are places she cannot go. Second, she likes to talk shit. She’s that dog that barks all big and bad at any other dog she sees. Of course, like all little dogs with big mouths, as soon as the bigger dog gets closer, her big mouth turns into a small mouth, and her barks turn into passive “ruffs.” We love our Hope, but you can’t take Hope to many places.
Hope also loves my big son. She gravitated to him the day we brought her home. He did not even come with the other four of us to pick her out; he had no desire for a dog. But as soon as she walked into our home, she saw him and went directly to him. She crawled in his lap and on his bed. When we need to find her, we ask him, “Where’s Hope?” He usually knows.
So the introvert had no problem having, for the vast majority of a vacation day, a room alone to himself with Hope, who loves him anyway, and the responsibility of an occasional walk.
But I didn’t want him to do so, that occasional walk. I was too afraid.
Our change of scenery was a community that was 85% White, and barely 1% Black. I typically avoid said places, as there are other areas in California where the racial imbalance is much less stark. But as far as geographic beauty goes, some predominately-White places are hard to beat. There was a beach where my children slid on rocks, found beautiful ones to bring back home, and threw others in the ocean. I don’t remember seeing such a thing in LA.
But I felt White stares when we went to eat lunch our first afternoon. We went to a restaurant where we didn’t know if we needed to make reservations. Indeed, the restaurant’s Yelp profile specifically said they did not take reservations. But we arrived, and went inside to order. I inquired about the arrangement, and was told to sit wherever we wanted, that every table was available, and the big one in the middle, which we passed on our way in, was big enough for the five of us, the only available option that could accommodate us all.
But from the time we arrived I felt … unwelcome. While the table was large enough for us, we were told after we sat down that it was reserved for a 5 o’clock party. It was 4:30 pm. I felt the eyes of the other diners on us, as we’re rebuffed by the service staff. As we milled around a bit, I caught the eye of a White man watching our situation. A table opened up that could be combined to be good for the five of us. We sat and ate, but I watched what happened at 5 o’clock. At 5:15 pm, who sat down were two White women. No party that needed the table we did.
That night, when our family decided to try some outdoor dining for dinner and could not take Hope, my 15-year-old agreed to stay at the hotel with her. It was 8 o’clock, and as we left, my husband told my oldest son to walk Hope while we were gone. This is usually his chore, together with taking out the trash, black hoodie over his head and floral-scented doggie bags in his pockets. I stopped. “No,” I said to my husband. “You should walk her when we get back.”
Now, of course, my husband is quite annoyed. My son walks the dog around the block at home all the time, and I am not a night-time walker (I have issues about the suburbs at night.) So it’s between the 42-year-old and the 15-year-old. And the 42-year-old has a lot more power in this situation.
“Why can’t he walk the dog?”
Many Black parents have written — pages after pages on Google — about “The Talk” where they explain to White people that Black parents have to tell their children about all the bad things that can happen to Black people and how White people consider us to be lesser than, especially in the context of the police. The Talk for some also includes telling your children that in order to succeed, they need to be twice as good to get half as far and that they will not get the benefit of the doubt the way their White friends will.
I do not want to give my children “The Talk.”
I understand the practicality of it. I understand that Black parents are trying to make sure their children are aware of their Blackness and the forces against it. I understand that not knowing to have your Black hands visible at all times during a traffic stop can cost you your life. I understand that teachers in White schools “see” misbehavior in Black kids more than they see it in White kids.
I want my children to feel free — “the absence of necessity, coercion, or constraint in choice or action.” While anti-Blackness is real, the anger at Black freedom is even more so. Free Black people harken the dismantling of White Supremacy. Black Freedom includes moving in the world as fully human; to be fully human must be to be fully free; and fully free must mean to move and act and be as one pleases. Black Freedom must be able to make the kind of mistakes that all children make, with no need to feel as though they need to be exemplary to be worthy of human respect. Black Freedom is them walking with their friends to the Target or the coffee shop or the taco stand around the corner from their school without looking over their shoulders, seeing if employees are following them or security guards are eyeballing them. To walk and live and breathe constrained by White threat is not to be free at all. As long as we allow White Supremacy to constrain our children so they cannot walk the damn dog, the more we accede to our subjugation. I want my children to be free.
Of course, I’m being idealistic. My children are no more free than any other Black child in America.
But my child should be able to walk our dog.
So while I give the “Talk,” I am very clear about its racist nature. Rather than, “You must put your hands on the steering wheel if pulled over,” it’s, “This is some racist bullsh-t, but Mommy really wants you to come home at the end of the night. But it is only in this context — life or death — that you must EVER make yourself small to appease White people.” Only to save your life. Only in the face of deadly force. Only. Only. Only.
I am afraid that the Talk becomes less about saving their lives to being more about making middle-class Black children palatable to White folks, ready to welcome them with the crumbs of Whiteness thrown at them — walking while Black, integrated schools, elite higher education, fancy jobs at Wall Street firms.
Now, if those are the things my children aspire to one day, okay. I once worked at a Wall Street firm and I loved it. And if my children want that experience for themselves, I want them to have the experience. But not by making themselves palatable to White people in a way that is against who they are. Of course, growing up middle-class in university areas, they already have the “ways of White folks” because they have been around middle-class and affluent White people their whole lives. Whiteness is not a foreign concept to them; they have White friends and our lives have traditionally been within the purview of White people. Their father and I have chosen this path as it was the one created for us. I want them to create their lives either along this path, or another. But as fully free.
Despite my reservations, despite my fears, I allow my husband to deputize my son to walk the dog. And we are here at home, in LA, and I’m writing this story with my son, alive and well, in the next room.