To be a mother is to live in a state of heightened emotions: more joy each time you see your child smile, more excitement than you ever thought you could feel watching someone tie their shoes. There’s also more fear. Fear that the part of you that goes off into the world every day could meet harm. In the United States, where police brutality is among the leading causes of death for Black men and boys and racism has been linked to poor mental health outcomes, that fear isn’t a hypothetical for mothers of Black children. It’s a daily reality.
The following conversation between two moms in Durham, North Carolina—Natalie Minott, a business owner and Black mother of both a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old, and Jessica Slice, a writer and white adoptive mother of a 3-year-old Black son—discusses the reality of raising Black children in the South before and during widespread protests over systemic racism.
We met in North Carolina at the family-friendly café that Natalie and her husband own. We are both moms to toddlers at a wonderfully adorable and precocious stage—obsessed with Daniel Tiger, unanswerable questions (like why frogs have four toes), and critically specific snack requests. We are also both moms to Black babies living in Durham, North Carolina—a liberal city floating in a sea of conservatism and evangelical Christianity. Our first conversation involved a thorough discussion of the best diverse schools in Durham.
We are a Black and a white mom who live with a constant ticker of background worry—for our country, our community, and our children. We discussed what it’s like to raise these small people to be confident, strong, and most important, safe in the South—a region that we love but that is also steeped in a history of slavery and Jim Crow laws, and a present of mass incarceration, racial sterilization, extreme racial wealth inequality, and dramatic educational disparities.
I worry that if I mess up as a mom and don’t do every last thing perfectly, my son won’t be safe.
It’s vulnerable to share our deepest parenting worries and reflect candidly on the place and people that feel like home to us. That said, meaningful cultural transformation grows from our complex and intersecting stories, and we are honored to share ours.
Fear for our Black children’s lives living in America
Jessica: Of course I’m afraid for my son’s life. I’m scared every day. He’s a toddler—loud, funny, sensitive, high-energy, and stubborn. When I am correcting and teaching him, for example, to listen or be empathetic, I feel a tremendous amount of weight and pressure. I agonize that if I make one mistake or one wrong decision, and then he goes into the world and is too loud, or talks back, it could put him in danger. I worry that if I mess up as a mom and don’t do every last thing perfectly, he won’t be safe. And even if I do it all exactly right, he wouldn’t be safe. I never stop feeling afraid—it’s heavy and constant.
When Trump got elected in 2016, I was six months pregnant—I held my belly and cried.
Natalie: I have always been somewhat afraid to have Black children in America, but that fear got very real when I found out I was pregnant with my first child. When Trump got elected in 2016, I was six months pregnant—I held my belly and cried. I knew what his win meant for America, for minorities, and for my unborn child. Even worse, I knew that most of my white evangelical friends in the South had voted for him.
Jessica: Christianity is the water we swim in here, and the cultural influence of that voting bloc can’t be overstated. I grew up in this culture as part of an evangelical family, and now having been personally impacted by people I love hedging on racial justice work, I’ve been fixated on what is behind their desire to avoid political activism that could be construed as “liberal.”
Evangelicals argue that babies are innocent and precious and that abortion is murder and to allow that murder must be antithetical to God’s will. Why, then, is it permissible to allow and even perpetuate a society in which we incarcerate one in three Black men, white families have 10 times the wealth of their Black counterparts, medical racism kills Black women so that they die four times as often as white women, and that police violence kills one in every 1,000 black men?
I wish that I could convince every person who pushes back on the policies that would protect my son’s life that doing nothing to fight racism isn’t neutrality—it’s the choice to perpetuate life-threatening injustice.
Parenting amid the protests
Natalie: I have cried multiple times seeing allies killed, beaten, and teargassed for peacefully protesting on television.
This matters. And it’s changed me.
I am no longer keeping silent about the evil truths of racism for fear of hurting the feelings of my white friends. White fragility—“the tendency among members of the dominant white cultural group to have a defensive, wounded, angry, or dismissive response to evidence of racism”—has been very real in a lot of my relationships, but it feels like a worldwide door has finally been opened to talk about racism. Not only have I been able to voice some hard truths that needed to be voiced, but some of these conversations with white friends have been healing. To have deep relationships, you need authenticity—even if it’s hard. It was easy to be authentic with other BIPOC friends, but not with my white friends who couldn’t talk about racism.
Jessica: I think similarly what changed for me with the protests is that I started seeing many of my white friends talk about how racism manifests in society and our role in its perpetuation. My Instagram feed changed, friends checked in and wanted to talk about how I have seen racist structures impact our son, they showed up at protests. The conversation entered the rest of my life—not just the supportive areas that I’ve deliberately sought out as my son’s mom.
Before parenting, I was doing a lot of self-reflection about white privilege and white supremacy. But because of my white privilege, I was able to take a break when it became too painful. Until I started listening with less defensiveness and being open to change, I believed the lie of white supremacy that my childhood was typical, neutral, or the default. And that’s not the case at all. My cocoon of privilege was built on the oppression of others.
Natalie: I want a better country for my Black children, so like many others, I am trying to funnel my energy into fighting for change through protesting, learning, voting, and supporting. It’s time to uproot the old racist system and build a new system that works for everyone. We desperately need to rebuild an America that allows Black people and other people of color to thrive.
Jessica: My family has definitely benefited from those unequal systems, and it’s hard to reckon with that. The child welfare system has a long history of disproportionately separating Black children from their families. It has been and is currently often racist and oppressive—but it was within that system that we met our son, as his foster parents. When it was clear that our son needed an adoptive family, we knew the choice to adopt was thorny, and we questioned the ethics of transracial adoption.
Our privilege as white adoptive parents was never as apparent as the afternoons in the courthouse hallway where we watched predominantly Black families meet their attorneys minutes before their five- to 10-minute trials, during which their right to raise their children was determined.
Despite our reservations, we felt that it was best to say yes to going from foster parents to adoptive parents. We were already our son’s mom and dad, and we love him. When we tell him his history and story, the child welfare system, and what it has meant in America, will be part of it. It is hard and complicated, and it’s also true.
Chad Goller-Sojourner, a transracial adoptee, speaks about his experience as a Black man being raised by white parents. He said that when you’re a transracial adoptee, the “source of love and hate comes from the same well.” My son’s home is with white people, and he will experience discrimination and possibly violence at the hands of white people. One of my roles as his mom is to ensure that the white people who I allow to be close to him—whom he learns from, believes, and develops his identity in the context of—are safe.
He is three, and his entire life has already been profoundly impacted by systemic racism.
Talking to our kids about racism
Natalie: My earliest memory of racism happened when I was about five years old. A white lady followed my mom and me around in a store for no reason at all. She actually followed us out to our car and accused us of stealing something. My mom was angry, and I was confused and scared.
As a Black mom, I have always known that I would have to talk to my children about racism at an early age. All Black parents know that it is imperative to have these race-related conversations, because unfortunately, in America, our kids need to have a sixth sense that could save their lives: awareness. I had my first conversation about racism with my toddler when she was two because a white kid asked her why her hair was “like that.” No, he wasn’t intentionally trying to be mean, but when this happens over and over again, as it did to me growing up, you start to wonder if there is something wrong with your thick beautiful curls.
A couple of months ago, I took my three-year-old to a Black Lives Matter protest and used the opportunity to talk to her about racism again. Naturally, she had so many questions and didn’t quite understand. She’s three. These conversations are hard and absolutely necessary. I am passionate about instilling confidence in my Black children and making sure that they are aware that they come from a long line of leaders, inventors, entrepreneurs, and world-changers.
Jessica: I’ve been following the lead of my Black mom friends, like Natalie, and they are talking to their kids already.
I remember when we were living in Oakland, California—our son had just turned one and was attending a predominantly Black day care. When I came to pick him up, the day-care provider was reading this book about places we visit in the community. On one of the pages, they visit a police station, and she stopped and said, “Now kids, we did not go there. That is not a safe place for us.” I learned from the way she was already protecting these babies from police brutality. It was automatic for her to know to stop and say that. It drove home that I have so much to glean as a white parent of a Black boy. And I need to rely on the wisdom of Black parents.
About six months ago, Mocha Moms—a nationwide support group for Black mothers that’s been a welcoming and vital community for me in North Carolina—hosted a discussion on public education with the mayor, members of the school board, and city council members. During the conversation, the white officials present repeatedly assured the mothers that their kids would be okay in public schools because we, the moms in this group, care so much—that our engagement with our children’s education would insulate them from the disciplinary and test score disparities Black children face.
I sat listening, feeling angry and uncomfortable, but still politely nodding. And then one of the moms stopped and said, “That is not true—my caring will not protect my son. What you’re saying is true for a white boy, but it is not true for our children.”
I have learned so much from watching the way Black moms defend their babies. It was potent and pointed, and it changed the tone of the room. I sat witnessing her speak truth to power and seeing how I need to be advocating for my son.
Natalie: I co-own a small family-friendly café in North Carolina, and we offer numerous story times and kid-friendly events. We have a diverse following: families from all backgrounds. Since George Floyd’s murder and the start of these protests, it definitely feels like a lot of our white families have stepped up to educate their children and themselves on racism through books and conversation.
We are really hoping that these conversations are sustainable. Right now it’s trendy to support a Black business and post a black square on social media, but we are hoping to see ongoing radical change. We don’t want people to support us just because it’s cool or out of guilt. We hope that people will choose to support us—as equals.
Natalie Minott is Black. She’s a mother, business owner, graphic designer, and freelance writer passionate about living her best life. When she’s not writing, you can find her doing mom stuff, crafting, running, and drinking all the coffee.
Jessica Slice is white. She’s a mother, a disabled wheelchair user, and a recent graduate with an MSW from Columbia University. She thinks and writes about accessibility, gender-based health care disparities, parenting with a disability, poetry, pain, divorce, and transracial adoption. She is a contributor to Alice Wong’s 2020 anthology, Disability Visibility.
Originally Appeared on Glamour