A true story by a Loveland resident presented by Loveland Magazine in collaboration with the Loveland Diversity Advisory Board. Contact them if you’ve a story to share.
The family in this story has chosen to remain anonymous for fear of retaliation against their children.
You may want to read Part I first or re-read it to remember the story we are telling.
Part I of II
As the years passed our family had more brushes with racism and the talks my husband and I had with our sons became, both by choice and necessity, more regular. As they grew from children into tweens and teens, we had to remind them that in the eyes of others they were no longer perceived to be cute, unthreatening little boys. For a Black child, that shift in perception can be the difference between life and death. While their Caucasian friends were in the habit of wearing the hoods of their sweatshirts over their heads when walking around town, their dad and I recognized the danger inherent in this scenario for boys of color. And that was just the beginning. Every news story became another talk we had to have.
Still, despite the increasing frequency of our family talks and growing awareness of society’s bigotry, one can never quite be prepared when racism rears its ugly head.
She wanted to go to the park. My daughter, only five, was not yet included in these family conversations. The innocence my sons were cruelly stripped of that final day of school was still intact in her, as evidenced by her bright eyes, sweet giggles, and the ambient toothy grin she had for everyone she met. Like so many moms that day, I tied her soft brown curls in a ponytail, gave her breakfast and got her dressed before setting out for our walk to the park, just around the corner from our house. It was an unremarkable walk, one we’d taken a thousand times.
Upon arrival we encountered several boys. They appeared to be aged 12 or 13, and like so many boys their age they were roughhousing, laughing, and hollering. I half-smiled and shook my head remembering how boys that age could be, before turning my attention back to my little girl.
The rowdiness didn’t bother us, but I winced as one spewed a series of obscenities, hoping my daughter’s attention was focused on the playground and not the words her young ears were hearing. A quick glance around showed no parents or elder siblings in attendance and so apparently, as tween boys are apt to do, they were in relishing their temporary emancipation, saying things they knew better than to say.
They’ll stop this behavior now that I’m here. Kids don’t act like this in front of adults, I deduced. I’ll just keep her on the far side of the park where she’s less likely to hear them.
“ Mommy!” I was jerked back into reality by my daughter’s excitement. “Can you help me get up there?” she asked, motioning to the play structure.
I had done it a thousand times. I’d fit my hands around her waist, giving her a boost. I’d watch as her small hands smoothly and confidently scaled the rungs. But before I could lift her I heard a mocking shout coming from the direction of the boys.
“Why are YOU calling HER that? She’s not YOUR mom,” he chortled.
Now is the part of the story where I let you, the reader, know that I am, in fact, Caucasian. My husband is Black and, thus, our childrens’ richly hued complexions do not match mine. And while there has been more than one instance where children (and the occasional adult) are curious about how one pale-skinned mother comes to have three darker-skinned children, the tone in this boy’s voice told me this was not childhood confusion.
This was antagonistic.
This was unmistakable cruelty.
My daughter let go of the play structure, whipping her head around to face me. Loose curls softly grazed her cheek. We locked eyes. On her face was an eerily familiar expression. It was one I’d seen years earlier and in many nightmares since. It was the same look my sons had given me on the last day of school.
That last day of school.
“Have a good summer, you N——s!”
The feeling came rushing back, the unadulterated terror where my stomach flips, my heart drops, my breath quickens, and I can feel the color draining from my face.
Oh, not again.
“Mommy?” my daughter looked at me, baffled.
“Stop calling her your mom!” The boy scoffed. “She can’t be your mom. She’s white!” The boy sneered at us, before glancing at his buddies with a snicker and a smile, seeking approval for what he must have thought were his superior skills of observation. One of his friends joined in on the cackling. The other stood silently, head down.
The old adage of “sticks and stones” isn’t always accurate. One look at my daughter’s collapsed expression told me these words, while not breaking her proverbial bones, threatened to break her spirit.
“Don’t you talk to my daughter that way,” I snapped. “I am her mother.”
“She’s not your mom! SHE”S NOT YOUR MOM! She’s white!”
I walked toward the boys slowly, the soft earth yielding beneath my sandaled feet.
Imagine, for a moment, you are standing in my shoes.
What do you do in a situation like this? Do you unleash your wrath on someone else’s kids? Do you completely lose your composure in front of your daughter who is already visibly shaken? Or do you ignore such a blatant and dangerous transgression? And where did these kids learn this behavior anyway? Why would they think this sort of racially-charged rhetoric is acceptable? What emboldened them, still children, to speak this way around me, an adult? And of all places for this to happen, why did it have to be on a playground, a place of childhood innocence? A magical place meant to foster youthful wonder and unbridled imagination?
The questions rang in my ears while a whirlwind of emotions bubbled to the surface. Though seemingly intertwined, my feelings were in direct juxtaposition with each other. I felt sorrow, but also anger. Despair, but also rage.
“You know,” I began, measuring my words carefully, “I wish your moms were here so they could see how you’re behaving.”
I didn’t know what else to say. I still don’t. Would you?
I took my daughter’s small hand and led her out of the park, back to our house, back to the embrace of the four walls that felt comforting and familiar. The sun swelled in the sky, casting shadows as it fought to rise above the clouds.
As we walked, my daughter begged insistently for answers.
“Mommy, why are those boys saying you’re not my mommy?” The loose brown curls now stuck to her face, plastered in place by tears. “You are my mommy, right? You’re my mommy?”
Explaining a nuanced topic like racism to my school-aged sons felt like too soon and even then I felt guilty somehow. Like I hadn’t broached the subject enough and had somehow failed them. But my daughter was five. How do I explain this situation to a five year-old? And why should I have to? I resented those boys. I resented the situation. I resented everything that put me in the position of having to reassure a five year-old little girl that I am her mother, to explain why she and I look different, and to address how that will be an issue for her in the future.
If I have learned anything from the events involving my children it’s that everyone, regardless of the color of their skin, needs to be having conversations about race with their families. These talks, whether organic and casual in nature or full-fledged sitdown discussions, must happen regularly. Not only that, but the topic needs to be addressed in a manner that honors and celebrates our differences while still acknowledging our similarities. And because so much of racism is learned behavior, modeling acceptable treatment of others can’t start and end when the conversations do. It isn’t the sole responsibility of families of color to teach their kids about prejudice and racism; Eradicating hatred is a group effort that has to include everyone to be successful.
I have replayed that day in my mind a thousand times.
Fortunately, in the years since, my daughter’s memory of the incident has somewhat faded. I’m thankful that she doesn’t have to carry that burden around anymore, a veritable boulder on her tiny back.
But I carry it everyday.
I carry it when I see the news.
I carry it when I think of my own school experience. The cruel taunts of classmates calling me a “N—-rlover” leave me wondering what onslaught the teen years have in store for my own children.
I carry it when I see comments on social media that assert prejudice does not exist in Loveland, or does not exist in Loveland today, or does not exist with “my child.”
I carry it when I’m sitting on my porch watching my daughter play and from a yard within earshot I hear someone commenting on the election. Well I hope all those dumb Black people are happy now that they got what they wanted.
Racism is here, in Loveland, whether we want to admit it or not. It’s here today and everyday, and it’s all around us whether we want to admit it to others or to ourselves.
But what gives me hope is that once we acknowledge the issue, we can unburden ourselves of this unnecessary weight. By taking that first step, we can commit to doing better. We can do what is needed to learn and to grow, and we can do that learning and growing together. I hope that by sharing my family’s experiences others will be empowered to take that first step.
In Part I of this Diversity Story, we see that the trouble was only beginning.
Read our first installment of a true story by a Loveland resident presented by Loveland Magazine in collaboration with the Loveland Diversity Advisory Board
For more information on talking to your kids about race and racism:
For engaging story times on diversity (including race) for young learners, join the Loveland Diversity Advisory Board and the Cincinnati Hamilton County Library the 2nd Monday of every month for Bedtime Book Talks.
Support for those feeling fearful, vulnerable, or uncomfortable upon reading these accounts: