I Am: Raising A Black Child
Amanda Campbell is ready when you are.
Ready to get uncomfortable. Ready to share that article on your Facebook feed about why “Black Lives Matter” is necessary. Ready to explain to you why “All Lives Matter” is not. Ready to check you on your white privilege.
“I’m so past the warm and fuzzy point,” the 36-year-old mom says, exasperated, as she leans back in the sofa in her Brookside living room. Her husband, Kenton Campbell, 33, who is black, lounges his 6-foot-3 frame on a chaise to her right.
Their mixed-race daughter, Jocelyn, 5, with cocoa butter skin and a head full of curls, lies across her lap fiddling with a baby doll. Isaac, 8, their dark-skinned, Haitian-born, adopted son, is in the sunroom around the corner toying with a video game.
“When people are like, ‘I don’t want to see (race), I don’t want to hear about it,’ that doesn’t exist for me,” Amanda says.
“Post-racial America” can try to be as blithely colorblind as it’d like. That isn’t an option in the Campbell household. Race permeates the fabric of their existence.
Amanda recalls the time her aunt, who’s also white, told her “she doesn’t see color.” Amanda began to tell her that was a load of crap. “Well actually, Aunty, being colorblind is …”
That’s when Kenton, feeling his wife about to enter “White Ally” mode, tugged at her arm to reel her back in.
“He was like, ‘Don’t go there!’ ” she says with a laugh. “But it’s like, if I don’t go there …”
The sentiment is understood: If Amanda or any other white person who gets the complexities and struggles of black America doesn’t take the opportunity to educate other whites in casual white-privilege moments, who else will?
“I’m ready to talk about (racism). But overall I would say 90 percent of America is not open to it,” she says. “I’m not a percentage as vocal as I’d like to be, but I know that if you are too much, and some people think that I am, that there’s a wall that comes up. It’s a constant balancing act.”
For the Campbells, everyday life as an interracial couple raising both a mixed and black child requires skillful straddling. On one hand, Amanda gets weary of having to educate others. But then again, as the sole white member of the family, she feels an obligation to operate as an ally and advocate, to call out prejudice when she sees it.
“After awhile it’s like where’s the line between ‘That’s enough’ and ‘OK, now I have to protect my family.’ ”
There’s the expected micro-aggressions. The weird stares Kenton gets when he’s out walking in his mostly white neighborhood. The bug-eyed “oh” responses when strangers find out who they’re married to.
But then come the harder issues. Like the oversexualization of and racism against Isaac. Amanda mentions a “pretty bad” episode that happened to Isaac when he was in preschool. One that prompted him to tell his mom that he “wishes he had skin like hers.”
Then there was the time when Amanda got a call from school because Isaac hugged a little girl.
“I hate to say this,” she says, “but I immediately knew it was one of the white girls whose parents decided to say something.” She was right.
For Kenton, it’s the fetishization of Jocelyn, how people fawn over her mixed features as a type of genetic aesthetic bonus.
“I think all girls have those issues,” Amanda says. “It’s just exaggerated sometimes when you’re of a mixed background or a background people aren’t used to.”
Kenton and Amanda combat this by focusing on nonvisual features like her strong legs or her big heart to reinforce value and self-worth not tied to her racial identity.
For darker-skinned Isaac, they talk about behavior.
“We’re constantly changing our parenting game plan,” Kenton says. “We said we were going to teach Isaac because he has darker skin, ‘OK, when you get pulled over by the cops have your ID out. Do this. Do that.’ But now you see the news, and bad things still happen to you. So what do you tell a kid?”
Kenton remembers a time when he worked in Lenexa and was constantly harassed by cops. One year he was pulled over more than 20 times.
“We just try to be as honest with them as possible,” he says. “Like, hey, these are the things we are dealing with today. This is how we got to try to handle them. Hopefully things will change.”
The key, Amanda says, is exposing the world and making sure nothing’s taboo. There’s no value in deception or shying away from reality.
“Keeping it real and telling the truth,” Kenton says. “It’s the best thing you can do for black kids today.”