Thursday, February 23, 2017

A Glimpse into a Day of Raising a Black Boy: I See the Moonlight Where Some Only See Darkness

By Ayisha Karim
Kids 3 yrs ago: "Frozen" on the Green
Let’s just say that the lives my kids lead are drastically different from my own childhood, especially up until now. For example, my daughter traveled to four towns in Italy at the age of five months: She witnessed the Trevi Fountain, Michelangelo’s art at the Basilica in Rome, and sat adorably in a gondola as we crossed the canal in Venice. Also at five months, my son had his first trip to Disney World, yet it was Mommy’s first time. He even went a second time on a plane to accompany me at the fancy Disney Wedding complex to witness one of my best friends from Brazil and her husband renew their wedding vows of ten years. That was a luxury which neither me nor any of my siblings had ever had, and I bet you none of my three siblings have made the trip yet, even though we’ve all lived in Georgia pretty much all of our lives.

Bottom:Vatican, Rome, Italy; top: Disney World, Orlando

I’ll give you another example of this vast difference in childhood experiences. Last week, as my daughter had a meltdown the minute I was trying to get out of the door to get us to school, where I teach, and she attends Kindergarten, just to get her a few feet away into our fairly new Honda sedan, I had flashbacks of my own mother. In this memory,

My mother was rushing us across a busy street to catch the bus—she, dressed for work, was leading three children behind her (her eldest son walked or caught a ride to the neighborhood public high school). But, I, elementary school age, wasn’t running fast enough that particular morning. And my mother, who had already made it to the other side with my older siblings, noticed with her third eye that I was in the path of the car quickly approaching. Being the superhero that she was, she turned around, focused her eyes and energy on me, ran and grabbed me like a running back, and carried me to safety. The thing is, she and we went through all of that before even starting our school and her work day.

A few years later, my mother got her first car as an adult: a used, clean, long station wagon that she’d carry as many people in at one time as possible, especially single mothers with children, who were in a similar situation to the one she once found herself. God bless every single bone in that woman’s body. 

Probably the biggest difference between the lives me and my siblings led and that of my children (4 and 6  years old) is the nature of their education and school environment, which gets to the heart of my storytelling here. After a couple of admissions seasons, my daughter has begun her first year at a wealthy, non-Muslim private school, which happens to be where I have a teaching career. I work in the high school in the next building. Well, last week, her baby brother attended a student observation, as he did last year. I apply both of them each year to hold a spot just in case we choose the private school option for the Fall. Last weekend, I sat in on the parent panel again and listened to four White moms and one Black dad share why this school is the absolute best bet for their own kids and all the kids applying in that room. Again, I felt confident about my decision to sacrifice and send my daughter there and fortunate that they welcomed her in. And with the one Black father sharing success stories of his Black children, and hearing the concerns of the only other Black perspective parent in the audience, I was beginning to feel secure in my inclination to do my best to send my four year old Black son as well.

Daughter (far left) and classmates @ school's Open House

After the parent panel discussion, I went up to the moms, introduced myself and thanked them, spoke intimately with the Black mom about her comments, trying to reassure her that she was doing the right thing by looking at our school. This time, I didn’t mention to them that I also taught at the school, or maybe not even that I already had a child enrolled. Still, as I normally do in these environments, I still feel like a bit of an outsider – a feeling not at all new to me. I continued on to the playground, where my two kids were with their dad, who made it to one of these events for the first time, and chatted with other perspective kids and their parents. I even met one who was at Duke the same time I was there and whose cousin was a student at another prestigious private school when I began my teaching career a little over 15 years ago. I thought, yes, this is where I’m supposed to be in this moment: here with my children. Even though it’s not the Islamic school that I attended or the progressive charter (free) school with more children of color, this is where we’re supposed to be, due to the life choices and advancements that their father and I have made. We both attended some of the best colleges and grad schools in the country, worked for leading institutions, and served on school and community boards. Our parents and grandparents had sacrificed in major ways as well. We’re setting our kids up for ultimate success in this rapidly changing society.

But just as I was growing more and more confident about the steps I was taking for my son’s future education, I had a reality check around what it means to be not only Black in this country, but in particular, also what it means to be a Black male, whether grown or just a baby:

We walked back to our car, the three of us. My two kids were jolly, singing loudly, as I asked that they keep their voices down. We were parked just across the street from the school in front of the park and golf course, where many take their daily jogs. My son was picking up sticks and wood chips along the way, maybe even throwing them. By the time we made it to the car, there was a tall, fit White woman approaching with a baby stroller.  Hasan, in his love of strangers phase, decides to move close to her and flick a small piece of wood or tiny matter on her. It really was more of a gesture than anything. I seriously told Hasan that behavior wasn’t appropriate…And when I looked back at the woman to show her that I’d noticed what he’d done and followed through with the appropriate parental duty of reprimanding, I was shocked by what I saw: a look of disdain on her face. Not a smile to be detected in the least. Where I, and many other parents of all backgrounds, would have smiled it off knowing it was typical four year old boy behavior, this grown woman’s face reflected a sentiment that should only be reserved for criminals, heathens, or a person much older; not a preschooler. The scary thing is, I wasn’t really all that surprised.

In that brief, painful moment, I remembered that my baby is not a baby to everyone here. My sweet, four year old Hasan (whose name means "good") is to some in this country, first and foremost, a Black man, to be controlled, feared, seen as innately guilty, and worthy of less from the start. In that moment, I remembered who our current president was, the rich neighborhood I was in, and the relevance of having the entire month of February reserved for Black history.

Monica Thompson said it best in her piece “Considering Motherood and Murdered Black Children”:

What is it to be a Black woman in this country and to contemplate being a parent?  It is having so many hopes and dreams, but also nightmares fueled by the daily reminder of the fact that hate and a criminal justice system warped by racism would put my child at risk. 

I imagine my child growing up.  He would run and ride bikes.  He would like to play outside with his friends like Tamir Rice  who was shot on an Ohio playground or Nicholas Heyward who was killed while playing games with his friends in New York.   So when I think about becoming a mom, I think about Tamir and Nicholas’ mothers, Samaria Rice and Angela Heyward. (Ebony Magazine)

So, as with many things that come along with parenthood, I’ll have to consider more deeply the path of my Black son’s educational journey. Where I look at him now and see moonlight, many others out there only see darkness.

Son under the "Super Moon," Nov. 2016

* My reference to "moonlight" is inspired by a quote from the highly acclaimed film Moonlight stated by the character Juan, played by Mahershala Ali:

"I was a wild little shortie, man. Just like you. Running around with no shoes on, the moon was out. This one time, I run by this old... this old lady. I was running, howling. Kinda of a fool, boy. This old lady, she stopped me. She said, "Running around, catching a lot of light. In moonlight, black boys look blue. You're blue. That's what I'm gonna call you: 'Blue.'"



  1. Author's Mother writes: "ASA Ayisha. Nice blog!!! One thing to always consider is that the "believers" are promised success & protection in the Qur'an, even with struggle. We just have to hold ourselves to our part of the covenant with Allah. Yes, we have to be prayerful for our black sons, brothers, husbands & men, but we have instructions in the Qur'an, in the model of our Beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and in the models of his companions (AS) such as beloved Bilal to what we need to do. Right now I think one of the best places for Hasan is Jamillah's homeschool. He is surrounded by Love, encouragement, good practice & learning of our religion and the freedom to be a happy, jovial, rambunctious, curious, exploring little boy finding self-love and self-confidence that he will need as a black man and a Muslim believing man."

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Aqueelah Rasheed writes: ASA, this very much reminds me of a PERSONAL piece that I wrote but never shared entitled "Their Eyes Don't Look Like Mine" ... written after the MURDER of our Beloved Trayvon Martin ... needless to say, my heart was aching, my heart was in pain because I knew that that could be MY son ... his murder brought back a painful memory from 2009 I believe ... I was making a payment towards my tuition for my Early Childhood Montessori Training ... I had my middle son with me who was about 2.5 - 3 years old at the time and he stood very quietly and calmly next to me ... yet, the white, female, office manager, said "He looks mischievous!" In all honesty, in my "innocence" and "naivete," I was taken aback, SHOCKED, appalled, and of course OFFENDED that she would label a "BABY" as such ... ALREADY in her mind he was "up to no good," simply based upon his melanin ... NOTHING ELSE!!! It was a much needed dose of reality that no matter how "purist" an educational philosophy may seem, no matter how much money we pay to educate ourselves at the most prestigious institutions, no matter how much we pay or don't pay to send our brown babies to the BEST public, private or charter schools, no matter how many degrees we attain, no matter the Muslim manners and morality that we exude, no matter what kind of car we drive, no matter what neighborhood we live in, no matter the pricetag on the clothes we wear, there are still going to be those in this world "whose eyes don't look like mine" - whose eyes don't INSTINCTIVELY see intellect, humanity, goodness and limitless potential in our suns ... my son is now 10, very well respected by his teachers and peers and is considered to be one of "well-behaved" boys of color at school who is described as a "quiet leader" Masha'Allah ... he's becoming more outspoken but still thinks and reflects BEFORE he speaks ... he's a thinker I thank Allah ... but I know that he is considered to be "the exception to the rule" in the eyes of some ... the same holds true as I raise another young "sun" who is now 3 as well ... the more things change the more they stay the same ... I wish that I could tell you that your story is unique or unheard of ... but 13 years into the parenting game, 10 years into raising a "sun," sadly, I cannot ... there are countless stories that are similar to yours that I could share ... stories of brown boys just existing, just simply being human and yet being looked at with "a shadow of doubt" all because of a judgement based upon external, "superficial" qualities ...