Getting Schooled … Private versus Public

Written by CocoaMamas contributor Tracy B.

My oldest son is getting ready to go back to school. He will be starting fourth grade at a public school near our home and the anxiety and anger that I feel are difficult to articulate.

I grew up fortunate enough to be able to attend private schools up until high school, when I decided I wanted to go to public school. Where I came from, the public school system had a reputation for brokenness and in my neighborhood, especially, the public schools were frightening. Because my single mother was able to send my older brother and me to private schools, I decided that I, too, would make this a priority in raising my children. I saw the difference first-hand and I wanted to give my children the best opportunities possible.   

When my husband and I started our family, I made it clear that I wanted our children to receive a private school education. At the same time, we took up residence in suburban areas of Georgia where the public schools performed well. Since my oldest began school in pre-kindergarten, he attended a Christian school that we loved and he thrived. And while paying for it has at times been a bit of a struggle, the compliments we received about his above-average intelligence and the results we saw made the struggle worth it.

But, to be perfectly honest, it seemed that the struggle began to be mine alone and my husband no longer shared in the vision I thought we were collectively working toward. Having grown up in public schools, or maybe because he felt that the schools in our area are just as good as the school we were paying for, there was not the fervor to continue to make the sacrifices so that our son could stay in a school he’d grown in. And so, at the end of the last school year, I was faced with the task of telling my child that he would be going to a new school, would have to make new friends and things would be changing for all of us. My sensitive boy fell into tears and I held him as he told me through sobs that he did not want to go to a new school and did not want to have to try to make new friends. I reassured him the best way I could, uncertain that what I told him was right – hoping that this would be a decision that would work out for the best.

As a loving parent, I want to shield my boys from everything in the world that may cause them even an inkling of discomfort. If it were up to me, I’d home-school them and supervise every minute of their life for the promise that they’d just live long enough to become men. But that’s unrealistic. And yes, I do know how valuable it is for children to be exposed to different experiences and environments.

Living in suburban (or closer to rural) Georgia and entrusting someone to teach my children without inserting their racial bias or other ideas into the lesson plan is a definite concern. Only time will tell what the transition will mean, but I am hoping I will be pleasantly surprised. I hope my son attends school close to home and is relieved when he finally makes friends that live close to our home that he can play with. I hope that his advanced abilities will translate well and be nurtured so that he continues to thrive academically at his new school. I hope. I pray. I worry.

At the end of the day, I’ll put it in God’s hands and trust that it is all as it should be. Deep down I know he’ll be fine. We’ll be fine. After all, I know that I won’t accept anything less.

Childhood Independence and Child Murder

A few weeks ago, my son asked for permission to walk around the neighborhood by himself.

When pressed for details about where he wanted to go, he couldn’t state his planned route, and couldn’t name the streets and avenues he would be walking.  I encouraged him to lower his sights from taking a stroll around the block to just walking to the corner, crossing the street by himself, going to the next corner, and coming back home.

Even this abbreviated route gave me pause. I live in a very busy section of Harlem. My teenage daughter goes out alone with her friends, but my son, at 10, is not nearly as street-savvy as she is.

But I let my son go on his excursion. The joy on his face when he returned, safely, was palpable.

“I did it!” he shouted.

The illusion of independence fell with the news of Leiby Kletzky, the 8-year-old Brooklyn child who was murdered and dismembered by a stranger the first time his parents let him walk home alone from summer camp. My son greeted me with the news when I came home from work:

“Mommy, a boy my age was taken and killed.”

My son knew all the details of the case. He even compared it to the case of Etan Patz. A family friend, Lisa Cohen, wrote the book After Etan, about the abduction and murder of 6-year-old Etan Patz in New York City in the 1970s. My son learned of the Patz case through Cohen’s book. Two cases, a generation apart, sharing eerily similar details.

My son made the connection.

“Guess I can’t go out by myself anymore,” he said.

My son is two years older than Kletzky and four years older than Patz, but he sees the two little boys as “his age.” As a mom, it’s hard not to hear a story about an abducted and murdered child and not think of your own.

Cohen wrote an op-ed for the New York Daily News, in which she encouraged parents not to change their parenting solely because of the Kletzky case. Because I know Cohen not just as a writer and filmmaker, but as a caring mom, I spent a few days thinking about her op-ed. I thought about how scary news stories about child murder help parents explain “stranger danger” and many other evils.

When I was in middle school, an old perv in the apartment across the street from my bus stop would shake his penis out his front window at us schoolgirls waiting for the morning bus. We told our parents, and for a few weeks, our dads waited with us for the bus. But we had to keep taking the bus to school. We had to learn how to deal with it – and to stop looking.

And so I decided Cohen was right. Kletzky’s death, though tragic, was no reason to stop letting my son go out alone in the neighborhood. I talked to my son about not living in fear. But I also decided he needed to know his surroundings better.

Now, I make him listen to and repeat subway announcements. I point out to him the subway express and local stops. I grill him on neighborhood landmarks. I have told him how to know when he is facing north (uptown) and south (downtown).

Recently, I let him go to the neighborhood drugstore by himself. I made sure  he knew what to buy, reminded him to count his change, and gave him responses to some basic “what to do if” scenarios. I was nervous until he came back safely, with correct change and no horrible experiences to report.

It’s too soon to let him go completely. He admits he’s not ready to take public transportation by himself. We have time to prepare.

The best we can do as parents is arm our children with information and the tools to develop good judgment. We have to teach them to be responsible, and ready them for independence. We can’t always protect them from the consequences of their choices.

And we can’t destroy ourselves with guilt if the bad thing we are afraid might happen, actually does happen.

When Vitamins and Exercise Don’t Work

Mental Illness is a problem. Not the one you probably think, though. Mental illness is a problem because of the stigma. Yes, it’s tough, but must it be embarrassing? When people are stigmatized because they are depressed, bi-polar or schizophrenic, it decreases the chances they will get the help they need.

 

If you break your leg, people feel bad and do what they can to help you. If you have cancer, people offer to bring food over or take your kids to school. If however, you are depressed, people may start to act funny around you.

 

I haven’t experienced mental illness myself, but my brother is experiencing some issues. He’s not someone I talk about usually, because I don’t want people to think I’m crazy. However, when I do open up about him, it turns out LOTS of people have a family member suffering from a mental illness.  Why don’t we talk about this?

 

There’s such a stigma surrounding mental illness in this country, it prevents an honest dialogue. When my father passed away, I saw a therapist. Do I tell people about this? Not really. Especially among African-Americans, it seems mental health it a taboo topic. Some of it makes sense. African-Americans were abused and taken advantage of in supposed “health studies” such as the Tuskegee Syphilis experiments. These types of practices, along with higher than average institutionalization, has caused mistrust of the medical field.

 

However, we have to get help where we can. African-American women often take on too many responsibilities and don’t take care of themselves. See a counselor? That’s wimpy and weak. That’s for white people. I’ll pray on it. I don’t need to talk my problems out with a stranger or air my dirty laundry. As a consequence of this (and other things, like you know, racism) African-American women suffer higher rates of stress related medical issues. According to SAMHSA, a part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, “6.0 percent of African Americans age 18 to 25 had serious mental illness in the past year. Less than half of these (44.8 percent) received treatment in the past year.” Our young people are not getting the help they need.

 

There’s nothing wrong with getting help. You can be a Christian and see a therapist. You are no more being a bad Christian for seeing a therapist than if you took a Tylenol. It’s not self-indulgent to get the help you need. It’s not a luxury, but a necessity to address mental issues you may have.

 

We need to talk to our kids about feelings. We need to lessen the stigma associated with mental illnesses. Too often we tell little boys to, “man up!” Why? He’s four! Let him feel sad. Let him feel disappointed. Give him the words to talk about his feelings. Let our daughters know that there is no shame is taking care of themselves physically and emotionally.

 

The isolation and loneliness of mental illness are perhaps some of the worst consequences of mental illness. Many mental illnesses are in part genetic and not an indictment of the individual. My brother has mental issues. He is still my brother, and I love him. I want him to be able to get help. I don’t want to feel like I have to hide his disease. I don’t want my son or anyone else’s children to feel that having a mental illness is so bad or so wrong that they cannot speak up and get help for it.

 

Do you or a family member have a mental issue? Is it being treated? How did your family react to the news? Did the old vitamins and exercise work for you?!

Hair Weaves For Little Girls

I don’t know if it rises to the level of an epidemic, but lately I’ve seen a number of little girls – as in, girls under the age of 12 – wearing hair weaves, wigs and lacefronts.

As black women, our hair issues begin at birth. We black mothers study our girls’ hair texture, waiting to see if those fine baby curls are going to “nap up.” Some of us start putting that baby hair into plaits, cornrows and ponytails as soon as our baby girls are able to sit up. If there’s not enough hair to comb, we brush it as best we can and put a headband on our girls’ heads, so everyone will know the baby is a girl and not a boy (strangers still get it confused, though).

I didn’t really know how to take care of a girl’s hair when my daughter was born. My mother did my hair until I graduated from high school. Although I didn’t relax my hair until law school, I wore it pressed from age 12. I had decided my girl’s hair would stay natural, but I had no idea how to style natural hair.

I was lucky to find a wonderful babysitter, a Mexican woman who taught herself how to care for my daughter’s hair. She styled my daughter’s hair in elaborate beaded cornrows and two-strand twists. Even after my daughter started school and we no longer needed her babysitting services, our former nanny still styled my daughter’s hair.

It never occurred to me to consider letting my daughter wear her hair out, loose, free. I was brought up that only white girls and girls with a certain hair texture – what we used to call “good hair” – could wear their hair out all the time. I shunned the term “good hair” but was still trapped in its mindset. I believed not combing my daughter’s hair would result in it getting tangled, matted, and eventually falling out.

I said complimentary things to my girl about her hair. I told her how wonderfully thick and curly her hair was and how much she should admire it. I bought all the right books and said all the right things to combat my girl’s jealous feelings towards classmates whose blonde and brunette locks swung down their backs. But my actions spoke to a different belief – that her hair wasn’t the right texture.

My daughter and I began having hair battles. I kept her hair washed, conditioned, combed and braided, but I could no longer fit trips to the nanny into our schedule, and I didn’t know enough cute natural hairstyles.

I gave up and took her to the African braiding shop. I thought I’d found the answer to all my prayers. Their cornrows were so perfect! Even without extension hair braided in, the style would last at least two weeks. With extension hair braided in, they would last even longer.

And so we continued down that steep, slippery slope of “your hair isn’t good enough.”

Continue reading “Hair Weaves For Little Girls”

being black

Written by CocoaMamas contributor Mikila.

I just read an article about a woman named Sandra Laing who is a black South African born to white South African parents.  The problem for her is that she was born in Apartheid South Africa, 1966.

Yes, you read that correctly, a black girl born to 2 white parents.  She was biologically linked to both of them.  It was found that a latent gene from black ancestors popped up and Sandra was the winner of the “look totally different from your parents sweepstakes.”  Unfortunately for Sandra, her visible differences resulted in disconnect from her parents, domestic violence, and many years of guilt and anger.  Today, she is happier and proud.  Reading the article made me think about race and raising my own children.

I recall 2 years ago, my son had just started first grade at a local catholic school.  He didn’t know anyone at the school, and he was not strong at meeting new people.  He mustered enough strength to ask a child if he could play with him, all to be informed that he was too brown to play.  Yes, my little 6 year old son had his first experience with racism.  My initial response was to march down to the school and rip the child’s head, the parent’s head, and the teacher’s head right off.  My husband had a different reaction.  He asked my son, “What did you do?”  My son responded, “I walked away and found someone else to play with.”  Yes, majority of the children in this school are white.  Trust me, I was livid.

Many people probably feel we responded in too passive a way, but as a person who grew up in a posh resort town, I know a lot about dealing with white people on a regular basis.  I thought about my husband’s reaction, and realized, my son will deal with ignorant people throughout his life.  He might as well learn how to handle it in first grade.  We explained to him that his skin color is just fine.  His classmates’ skin color is also fine.  He moved on and life went on as normal.

Three years later, along comes my daughter.  Girls really are wired differently.  She began to pay attention to color at a much younger age.  I had to literally brainwash her at one point, because thanks to Barbie, she told me many times at the age of 3 years old that she wanted to be white with blonde hair.  My little girl went from being a wannabe to “Angela Davis” in mere seconds.  I then had to add another layer to the issue of color.  I explained to her, just as I did to her brother, that her skin is beautiful.  I also had to tell her that other people’s skin color was beautiful to, but for them not her.

This is a complicated issue, because you want to raise well-rounded open-minded individuals.  The question remains, when do you deal with color, and how do you answer those difficult questions?  I was devastated both times I had to face the fact that racism as well as color issues, is something I had to explain to my children.  I realize now, both experiences opened the door for me to show them in small ways how to be proud of their color, heritage, past and future.  It was nice to see even through all the heartache that Sandra Laing found that out too.  Being black is truly beautiful, no matter what someone else will have you believe.

Mikila is a 35 year-old mother of 2 beautiful children:  an 8 year old son, and a 4 year old daughter.  She graduated from college in 1998, and will be attending Law School August 2011 to study Child and Education Advocacy. She is very passionate about helping parents of special needs children, as she is learning more about how to help her own daughter navigate this world.  She has a super supportive husband who is a very active participant in their children’s upbringing. Mikila is also a partner in a debt management consulting firm. A born-again Christian, Mikila also enjoys volunteer work, music, and helping her children grow into the people they are destined to become.

Don’t Talk To Strangers

Written by CocoaMamas contributor Tracy B.

I have two beautiful Black sons. And, yes, I am biased – but they are also truly beautiful. Like most parents, I love when they receive compliments, and like most parents, I teach them never to talk to strangers. But, because they are handsome – their curly black hair and smooth, deep cocoa skin seems to attract attention wherever we go. I try to take it all in stride; after all, I don’t want my boys to grow accustomed to special treatment. I don’t want them to begin to believe that they are special just because some people think they are attractive. In fact, as much as I lavish attention on them and do my best to help them know that mommy thinks they are the most beautiful and special sons any mother has ever birthed, I’m not all that moved by strangers’ curious commentary – just the opposite, actually.

For instance, there was the time when my husband, sons and my younger brother and I were out having dinner at a neighborhood restaurant and the young ladies in the establishment kept coming to our table to comment on how beautiful my youngest son is. The first couple of times, it was flattering, but when a crowd gathered in the kitchen and a small group formed at our table, it was a little much. By the time we were ready to leave, one of the young ladies mustered up the nerve to ask if she could give him a lollipop and pick him up. My husband, who thinks this attention is cute, obliged before I could object. No harm done until another girl took out her camera phone to take a picture of the other girl holding my baby. Needless to say, dinner was over and we have not been back to that restaurant since.

And just yesterday, while shopping at a home furnishings store, the older woman associate comes to greet us and begins to tell me how handsome my two sons are. I thank her and continue on my way as she kneels down and beckons my youngest to hug her. I stood in shock as he hugged this stranger and listened as she asked him, ‘would you like to come home with me?’ When my child nodded ‘yes,’ I was overcome by so many emotions I could barely contain myself.

I wondered – ‘why does ANYONE think it’s appropriate to walk up to someone else’s child and hold them? WHY would anyone ask a child if he wants to go with them and WHY did my child have to say yes?’ Truly, the woman was harmless, and to her, she was just a lady who loves children. She simply saw two beautiful children and did what she probably always does. And that’s all right – except … it’s really not.

It is one thing to compliment someone and tell them they have a beautiful baby, or whatever other form of flattery a stranger wishes to verbalize during a casual encounter. It is another situation entirely when a complete stranger walks up and caresses another person’s child and asks if that child wants to go home with them.

I know what you’re thinking – you’ve heard this same phrase uttered a million times. Maybe you, too, have watched as your child betrayed you by telling some stranger they want to go with them. And you probably think that I am over-analyzing this harmless situation. And, you might be right if millions of children weren’t lured away from their parents by some seemingly nice stranger who wished them harm, instead of good. Because there is no way to distinguish between good strangers and bad, we teach our children to be safe and not talk to ANY strangers because there’s no way to be sure who’s a good guy and who is not so much.

It is for this reason that I would prefer that strangers, look, but not touch. Thanks a bunch for the compliments, but please, keep it moving. It is quite confusing for a two year-old to understand why mommy is so upset about the hug he just gave to the nice lady. Of course he’d never want to go home with that lady, and the family inside joke about how she’d bring him right back is completely true. But, it’s still inappropriate. Because it goes against what I am teaching him when I tell him not to talk to strangers. Already, his young mind has to try and reconcile our lesson to be polite, which means he should speak when spoken to, yet not to strangers??? It’s no wonder our children are confused. But strangers could make these little life lessons so much easier by just maintaining safe, sensible boundaries.

I’m so proud to have two little ones that are easy on the eyes. Prouder still that they are smart and well-mannered, too.  Sometimes, some may say that I am a little over-protective of my boys and they are probably right. But, it’s a strange world out there, and it’s my job as their mother to protect them when I can – even if that means shielding them from seemingly innocent special attention.

Tracy B. is best known as an expert communicator and brand development professional. With extensive experience as a journalist for prestigious national publications, Tracy honed her skills and natural talent for recognizing newsworthy subject matter, topics and personalities in positions ranging from General Assignment Reporter to Managing Editor of daily newspapers as well as monthly magazines. A mother, wordsmith, world traveler and woman of many talents, Tracy B. is gifted while yet demonstrating her truest desire to leave a positive mark on the planet. Using powerful and transformational words as vehicles of communication, bridging divides and authoring an American fairytale one day at a time, Tracy intends to change the world, endeavoring to, in her own way, make each day more meaningful than the last.

From the Crates: These Are My Confessions

originally posted January 2010

The following is an abridged and edited version of a post I wrote more than a year ago, but I thought it was fitting for a Mother’s Day post.

I am not a good mother. At least not by the standards that have been set up for the current generation of a certain ilk of  mothers. A generation who is expected to place their children at the center of their universe, and make all decisions about their adult life revolve around what is supposedly best for the child. A generation that is expected to sacrifice their own happiness to make sure their children are happy. A generation that has been fed the idea that having children is a choice, therefore if you choose to do it, you must accept all the self-sacrificing consequences that go along with it. Continue reading “From the Crates: These Are My Confessions”

Is the high black abortion rate a problem?

I’ll spare you the suspense: I think not. Now read on for the rest.

Here’s my position: I’ve never had an abortion. And I don’t think I ever will. I have friends and family who have. I am staunchly pro-choice. I was kind of pro-choice before having children. I am even more so after having children. It’s a responsibility only those who truly want to do it should take on. We don’t support parents in this country. And arguments about all the people who want unwanted kids are BS. Look at how long kids stay in foster care. 

So here’s the deal. As I regularly troll the internets for stories about black children and black mothering, I came across this op-ed from Dennis Byrne, a columnist at the Chicago Tribune, commenting on the billboards across the country that try to shame black women into not having abortions. Although he is neither black nor a woman (his words), he thought it his (duty? calling?) prerogative to comment on the “high abortion rate among blacks.” Here’s the gist:

Political correctness and ideological dictates discourage discussion of the culture of some black communities as explanative of violence, ignorance, high rates of abortion and other dysfunctions. But for those communities, culture is described by the growth of a matriarchy, as displayed by the many grandmothers raising their daughters’ children. By the absence of men in child rearing. By men who prey on young women who have never learned what to expect from decent, caring and responsible men. By the collapse of the family and the destruction of men’s and women’s traditional, balanced roles in making children strong enough to resist the challenges of today’s broader culture of irresponsibility, casual sex, substance abuse and other plagues.

In this op-ed, Byrne rehashes an old, but reborn, theory: that there is something intrinsic to black “culture,” independent of any outside factors, that accounts for the disproportionate numbers of abortions in black communities.

This makes my blood boil. One, because as a scholar who studies culture, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

First: on culture. Byrnes defines culture as “the behaviors and beliefs characteristic of a particular social, ethnic or age group.” Um, not quite, homie. Where do these beliefs and behaviors come from? They don’t just spring forth from the middle of the earth, waiting for people to adopt them. Culture is not “created” nor does not exist in a vacuum. Culture is both responsive to and part of shaping structure; many sociologists, such as myself, explain culture as the opposite side of the coin to social structure. The growth of a matriarchy (which is largely a myth, I believe to demonize black women) and the dearth of men available to actually father their children are events, happenings; they are not culture. Nor did not happen outside of the influences of social structure. Many factors colluded to affect that outcome: collapse of manufacturing industry; subsequent high rates of black male unemployment; mass incarceration; felon disenfranchisement; the crack cocaine epidemic.

Culture reflects options available within a given social structure. Yes, people make choices, and they have agency. But agency is not what we think it is as total free will, ability to choose anything and everything. Culture reflects what one BELIEVES to be their options, what one can do with what one is given. So black “culture” can never be defined as one thing, one way of being, one way of behaving. Because we live in a myriad of structural positions, and some of us have options that are not available to others and vice versa. And among the options, some of us choose #1 and others choose #4 and so on.

THIS is not all there is to black culture, despite the moniker...

The “collapse” of the family structure is less to do with any possible independent effects of culture than with the structural effects of class. As I’ve discussed here before, a class structure that allowed for families of any configuration to make a decent living would have more time for child rearing. A school system that did not grossly and blatantly favor wealthier children over less wealthy children would be one in which all women could be educated enough to take care of themselves, and not fall “prey” to vicious and violent men.

If you want to change how people behave, you need to change their options. You need to change what is available to them. You need to change their structural reality.

And two, if the pro-choice side is the “right” side, why should we care about disproportionality?

Making arguments about cultures connection to disproportionality makes clear that true intentions are to get rid of the option to abort altogether. For if you are pro-choice, do you even care about disproportionality? Or rather, should you? If you believe that anytime a woman gets pregnant but for some reason – any reason – does not want to go forward with that pregnancy, she should have the right to choose to end the pregnancy, then every abortion should look the same to you. Regardless of the race of the woman. Disproportionality then appears to be that black women are having more unwanted or mistimed pregnancies, but are also using this option, the option to terminate, more than other women.

This can be interpreted multiple ways, but I’ll offer two that I find the most liberating. First is that black women are more aware of their reproductive rights, are more in tune with what they do and do not want, and are more willing to choose to abort. If you are pro-choice, this doesn’t seem to be a problem – black women are, in not the best language, taking advantage of exactly the right Roe v. Wade stood for – the right to make a decision about your body without anyone else second-guessing you or interfering. Calling these numbers a problem feeds into the idea that black women are not capable, or are somehow ignorant (or culturally deficient), of making this decision for themselves.

Second, this can be interpreted as other women – white, Latino, Asian – are not as gender liberated as black women. Bryne in the article above – as do many men – lament the “matriarchy” in the black community as a disruption of “balanced” gender roles. Who said gender roles had to be balanced? Instead of considering that black women are having too many abortions, maybe women of other races are having too few. In other words, women of other races are less willing to have abortions when they actually would choose to under different structural circumstances. Again, with culture as the flip side of structure, women of other races may feel as though their options (culture) are limited, despite Roe v. Wade, given their structural position.

This is not to say that black women do not experience and live under patriarchy. They absolutely do. But the facts are that black women are less likely to marry than other groups. Not being legally bound to your oppressor is sure to make a difference.

Spoken from a sociologist who studies culture: If you want black women to stop having abortions, if that is your true goal, you need to change their world. You need to make it so that there are no reasons for why a pregnancy would be unwanted or mistimed.

A billboard does not change the world. It just pisses people off.

Past is Prologue?

Listening to talk radio today, host Warren Ballentine, made a statement that made me think, then shiver. In talking about the prison industrial complex  he mentioned that young people are allowed to drive at 16 but that they are unable to rent cars until they are 25. He cited a study done by automobile rental companies that the pre-frontal cortex (responsible for complex decision making, ability to delay gratification) is not fully mature until age 25. So in order to reduce the likelihood of damage to their fleets, most car rental companies err on the side of caution and don’t rent to those between 16 -25. Mr. Ballentine’s point was that car rental companies recognize that more mistakes are made by this group (as drivers), but that, as a society, we have decided that mistakes made at 17 or 21 should follow a person for the rest of their lives. The mistakes he was referencing in particular are non-violent felonies.

Convicted felons, in general, have a very tough time re-entering the workforce. There are certain career choices that will NEVER be open to them (lawyer, real estate agent, any position having fiduciary responsibility). This severely limits their income earning potential, and subsequently, their ability to adequately support themselves or their families. Of course this inability decreases the stability of communities that are disproportionately represented in the prison/parole system.  Which community is that? You get 1 guess.

As a mother of a teenaged boy I worry much more about him becoming involved with the legal system than drugs. We have gone over how to interact with the police should he have to (invoke his right to remain silent and then shut up. The end.). But let’s say he is convicted of having a bag of marijuana on his person (that he was *holding for a friend*) at 18. Does that conviction mean that he shouldn’t ever be able to pursue a career as a lawyer (his current aspiration)? Should checking that “Have you ever been convicted of a felony?” box on a job application automatically rule him out of opportunities when he’s 30? The way the current criminal justice system works that conviction is a forever indictment of his character, potential and livelihood.

Should it be? For non-violent criminal offenders, should their records be stricken after a prescribed period – 2, 5, 10 years? How would this impact society? All I see is upside – the ability for people to support themselves, be productive members of society.

For the prison industrial complex there is incentive in maintain the incarceration status quo, and the post-jail system we have in place doesn’t discourage recidivism. Private companies that run jails need prisoners to be profitable so the trend over the past 20 years has been to increase ways become a criminal and, once identified as such, to maintain that status.

As a community I think that we should really give some serious attention and energy to how convicted felons are marginalized. Even if the kids of the CocoaMamas never set foot in jail, somebody else’s child needs us to advocate so that they can live productively after the fact.

Media Monday

Council on Contemporary Families Releases “Unconventional Wisdom” on Family Diversity

One of the most unconventional findings was that “the darker an African American or Latino student rated his own skin tone, the higher his academic performance, academic confidence, and social acceptance.” This relates directly to the discussion we were just having about colorism, and whether what the teenagers in the video were saying accurately reflected what they thought about skin color and beauty. I’m tempted to want to spin these results to so that they can co-exist with the teenagers reflections being accurate, but I can also see how these can represent conflicting findings.

 

Minority Children Four Times More Likely to Start Poor, Stay Poor

“In Singapore, the government deposits small amounts of money into an account for each child born, Shanks said. That money can be withdrawn to cover costs such as extra tutoring for children or higher education for young adults. Or it can sit, earn interest and become the sort of nest egg or emergency fund the child’s future family may need. As a result, almost all families in Singapore–regardless of income–own their own homes.”

Yet in this country we act as if people with assets – homes, stocks, etc. – aren’t doing the same thing for their children and grandchildren. When you start life off with a nest egg, even a modest one, the monetary laws of compound interest make it so that the money grows, without you doing a single solitary thing to earn it – no bootstrapping necessary. But for poor black children? We act like their situation actually has something to do with their or their parents’ character, not with historical, systematic denial of the opportunity to build wealth according to race.

“Right now, 12 percent of white children live in poverty compared to 33 percent of Latino kids and 36 percent of black children.” And you think we live in a post-racial world?

 

Racial Politics: The “Business” of Domestic Private Adoption

On a related note, over at LIE there is an article about money and black babies and adoption. Black babies usually “cost less” in private adoptions because there are more of them than white babies and they are harder to place than white babies. They are harder to place because there are more white adoptive parents than black adoptive parents, and the norm is to match babies within the race. I say this is related to the post above because, as one commenter says, perhaps much of why there are more black babies is due to the poverty that many black mothers find themselves in when it is time to give birth. In any case, transracial adoption is on the rise, for even at “rates” as low as $4,000 for a black baby, compared to nearly $40,000 for a white baby, getting a black baby is a deal. White adoptive parents come to “prefer” a black baby once they realize how much better the black baby fits into their budget. But its a secondary consideration; the White adoptive parents “settle” for the black baby, only after having taken the price of the child into account. Fucked up, right?