‘Breathing Racism’ and the ‘Adultification’ of Young Black Americans
By ANNI REINKING
Author of ‘Not Just Black and White’
“I am a 30-something, middle-class, privileged, Christian, heterosexual, anxiety-ridden, exercise-instructor, chocolate and peanut butter lover, social media addict, early childhood professor, dedicated educator, wife, step-mother, mother, daughter, sister, auntie, granddaughter, niece, sister-in-law, friend, blunt advice giver, equity-advocate, tattooed, world-traveling, female, and white. My biological son is black. My son is much more than people’s first impression; he is much more than the color of his skin. He is a yellow-belt Tai Kwando student, bow-tie wearing, competitive swimmer, wrestling-lover, video-gamer, animal fanatic, caring, pizza-loving, funny, weird (it’s a good thing), brother, son, grandson, cousin, nephew, friend, and biracial, but to the world he is a black male. But in the world’s eyes we are not those characteristics. What are we? I am white. He is black.”
Excerpt from my memoir, Not Just Black and White
My book invites readers to join me on my journey as a white mother raising a socially perceived black son. By writing a book that places me in such a vulnerable place, my friends, colleagues, acquaintances and strangers have reached out with this question:
“What can I do now?”
The question usually is prefaced or followed by: “I am mad as hell!”
Some of us are learning. Some of us have experienced the impact of racism in our lives. Some of us are constantly reflecting on racism in our country and how our brown and black brothers and sisters are tired of the daily harassment. And, for some of us, the concept of racism only is present while watching the news.
Given the power and grassroots nature of this tidal wave we have witnessed in recent days—people in all of these groups are asking that question:
“What can I do now?”
Many scholars, writers and community leaders have made lists. When looking through these suggestions, consciously reflect on the information that is being presented. Does it throw up red flags? Does it suggest something that is beneficial? Is it for my growth, my child’s growth, or for society’s growth?
You have to find your level of comfort and then take the next step because the line between comfortable and uncomfortable is where the growth begins. I am not presenting my ideas as “right.” I’m telling you what I know to be helpful because it’s what I am doing in my house, with my son, who is a Black 11-year-old in America.
What I Have Found Helpful—
1. Read and discuss my book Not Just Black and White, which welcomes readers to join me in my journey as a white mother of a socially perceived black son in America. I read this book with my son, my family, neighbors, friends—and people I do not know—in order to engage in respectful, and sometimes tense, discourse.
2. Read, listen, and learn from prominent voices today. For example, work by Jordan Peele and Spike Lee from Hollywood. Nikole Hannah-Jones’ work: The 1619 Project. Ta-Nehisi Coates‘ books, speeches and other pieces of writing.
3. Engage in discussions through literacy. Find books that are age-appropriate to discuss the Civil Rights Movement, this point in time and other current events. On my Instagram and Facebook pages, I constantly share and re-share lists for all ages, from young children through adults (@ReinkingEducationConsulting and @AKReinking)
4. Listen to NPR. Why? Because it is often kid friendly, is a great starting point for discussion and reflection, and provides warnings if anything is going to be playing that may not be appropriate for young years. Some frequent shows we listen to include Codeswitch, Up First, and We Live Here.
5. Have open and honest conversations. This also includes welcoming questions and reflections. This step is imperative. And, if you do not know, say so. It is okay not to know, but then to research and find out. Some great YouTube clips include: Systemic Racism Explained and Implicit Bias in Action.
6. Provide options for social-justice interactions with purposes and procedures. This could include participating in a #BlackLivesMatter march/protest or writing letters.
7. Whatever you do—
Grow to learn by moving from comfortable to uncomfortable.
And remember, no matter what skin color your child has, they are never too young to talk about reality, racism.
Many parents, specifically white parents, say to me, “My children are too young to have these conversations.”
My pushback to them? “The children who are dead were not too young. Millions of children who face it everyday are not too young. Why do your children get the privilege of ‘being too young’ but others don’t?”
Care to Learn More?
Read the Rest of This Story—
This is Part 2 of our Cover Story, this week. If you missed it, please, read Part 1: What Now? Dr. Anni Reinking reminds us it’s ‘Not Just Black and White.’ This column—which includes helpful links to other scholars as well—explains the long legacy of America’s “breathing racism” in the air of our collective culture. It also explains the problem black families face when their children suddenly face an unfair “adultification” by authority figures, including police. There’s a lot in this column to share with your friends, or your small group, to spark helpful discussion.
GET A COPY OF ANNI’s BOOK
The book, Not Just Black and White is in stock at Amazon in paperback, hardcover and eBook versions as well as other online retailers.
WATCH A VIDEO TRAILER FOR THE BOOK:
WHO IS ANNI?
Anni K. Reinking is a former professor and current education consultant located in Illinois. She specializes in early childhood education, multicultural education, and trauma informed practices. She currently provides training in topics focused on poverty, trauma, multicultural education, and developmentally appropriate practice. Her research agenda has consistently focused on multicultural education and social justice. She has published or presented research in the areas of multicultural education, challenging behaviors, trauma informed practices, and creating positive school cultures, and more. She is a member of multiple state and national organizations focused on multicultural education and education.