Danielle North: The truth I never wanted to tell m...

Danielle North: The truth I never wanted to tell my Black sons

"The truth is, I’ve consciously allowed my children to live a lie."

danielle north and family

This story is from The Blend, a digital magazine for Detroit women to find inspiration, advice and resources, while connecting with an inclusive community of women dedicated to supporting each other.

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I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually. -James Baldwin

To be Black in America is to be in proximity to the greatest opportunities: wealth, real estate, education and employment. Unfortunately, America is also the proximate cause for the disenfranchisement of Blacks within those same institutions. To be clear, I have at this point in my life achieved what is considered success. I am a college graduate, homeowner and serial entrepreneur. I’m living the American Dream!

Additionally, being the wife of a strong Black man and the mother of three beautiful Black boys are my greatest accomplishments. My sons are 10, 6 and 1. We’ve tried to provide them with the best of everything — and we’ve sheltered them. We’ve guarded them from the present reality and residual impacts of slavery. Until two weeks ago, when it hit us like a blow to our stomachs, we could no longer allow the myth of racial equality to linger.

Eugene North Jr. is my firstborn. He’s extremely intelligent but gullible. He’s a walking encyclopedia and affectionately called Eugenius by my father. He really enjoys Black History. When he was 8, a friend brought their daughters to meet us. They shared they attended college in Alabama and he quizzed loudly, “Alabama? You guys better be glad you weren’t down there in the 60’s!” They asked, “What was happening in the ‘60’s?” He asked, “You don’t know? Segregation and Jim Crow!” In that moment, his face showed his terror. 

The truth is, I’ve consciously allowed my children to live a lie. Imagine the conundrum — to tell your children they can become anything if they work hard to achieve it; And then, in the same breath, to tell them: “You will be unfairly treated and profiled at some point because of the color of your skin. And, my sons, if you are ever pulled over by the officers that should protect and serve you — here are the steps you must take to ensure you’re not murdered.”

Instead, I’ve taught them to believe in their potential. I’ve covered them in prayer. I’ve filled their heads with positive affirmations, a legacy of ownership and a promise of a college education with an accompanying 529 plan to fund the fulfillment of that dream. 

Until a Minneapolis police officer named Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd in broad daylight, on camera, by pressing his knee in his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds. At this point I realized that it would be irresponsible and almost negligent to not give them “the talk.”

No, it’s not the birds and the bees. It’s the talk that only parents raising Black and brown children sit down to discuss. It goes something like this: never reach for your license, keep your hands where the officer can see them, respond politely. Lastly, comply with every single order — even if you haven’t done anything wrong. 

Eugene Jr. was confused as my husband and I discussed the “current events.” “Are people still mad from that long ago?” he asked. Unfortunately, he hadn’t internalized the fact that sheer hatred was at the core of our history. I had to explain to him that some people still carry these beliefs and those same people instill those beliefs into their children. Yes, parents teach their children to hate! 

I assured him that he was not in imminent danger, all cops are not bad and he doesn’t need to be afraid. See, we don’t live our daily lives in constant fear — but we are constantly aware of the danger that can ensue. 

It’s heartbreaking to be obligated to inform my children that we are still NOT viewed as equals in this country. It compels me to declare, Black Lives Matter! Honestly, I feel just like my son. I’m also asking, “Y’all still racists in 2020?”

And this is why I have to ask, what is happening in the homes of well-intentioned white families? Are they uncomfortable with teaching their children about a dark past that their forefathers perpetuated on my ancestors? Are they afraid their children will believe white people are evil or even superior in the way I am concerned my children will feel defeated by the knowledge of perceived inferiority? Maybe they’re waiting for the right time, like me, to have “the talk.” 

But I have never had the luxury to make decisions for my family that didn’t include race as a factor. We had to painstakingly review the politics, schools and even interview other Black families before we could buy our home to ensure that we would be safe. 

This work is exhausting, but I press forward. At work, I am in a position to inform policies rooted in racial equality. I have a circle of allies of all hues actively engaged in dismantling racist ideologies. Lastly, I’ve been building a network of women leaders committed to racial diversity and equity, and let me tell you — we are a force. This gives me courage and hope.

If you’re asking the common question, what can I do? I have a few suggestions: Stop pretending racism doesn’t exist and start doing the work to eradicate its existence! Don’t teach children to hate and intentionally diversify their experiences. Speak up when people make racist comments. Advocate for schools to provide a curriculum that teaches Black History all year round! Support Black-owned businesses. And my goodness, vote President Donald Trump out of office.

We can affect change. This is why I love America, it’s why I chose to open with James Baldwin and it’s why I will close with this quote from my son: “Mom and Dad, if I were to make a protest sign, it would read, ‘Land of the Free, Home of the Brave’ — but, is that really true?” Our response was, yes. Yes, you should make that sign.