This article originally appeared on Shondaland
Feeling afraid is part and parcel of being a new mom. We’ve all laid awake at night pondering irrational questions like, Am I going to break this baby? How can I raise a tiny human when I still don’t have my own life really figured out? But soon after the birth of my now 16-year-old son, I became palpably aware of a different kind of fear, one that was heavy and poisonous at its core: I was now responsible for raising a black child and, in America, that means my kid is always in danger.
Any time that we can remind each other that these reactions are based in reality, that’s healing.
When I talk to my friends — to other black moms or dads who are raising black children, or to friends from other racial or ethnic backgrounds who are raising black kids, either because they adopted or because they had a child with a black person — we all agree we feel more fearful than ever. That’s no surprise given the racial divisions being stoked in this country, and the exponential rise of hate crimes since the start of the Trump administration. My first instinct is to try to keep my sons safe and “fix” the problem, but how can I when racism and the violence that accompanies it is the constant background noise of American life?
I’m not alone. A recent survey from the Children’s Defense Fund found that nearly 70 percent of black adults see these as “tough” or “really bad times for black children.” The majority said life is actually harder for black children today than it was when they were kids. And two-thirds of respondents who directly care for black children — parents, grandparents, or babysitters — are worried “about their child or children they know being victimized; a large majority believe that many black children will be victimized before reaching adulthood.”
There needs to be responsibility and accountability and not just sympathy.
Given all this, I talk about these issues a lot — which, as it turns out, is actually good for my mental health. “Any time that we can remind each other that these reactions are based in reality, that’s healing,” says Phillipe Copeland, a professor at Boston University School of Social Work. Copeland, who specializes in the intersection of mental health and racial justice, tells me that as intense as it seems, there’s nothing wrong with feeling overwhelmed with worry about my sons. “We’re living in a ‘mad king’ moment,” he says. In fact, even he finds himself “thinking much more about death than I usually do — my own sense that I don’t know if when I leave the house, if I’m going to come home alive.” Couple that with being a parent, of being in a position where you’re supposed to protect your child, and fear is no longer an irrational reaction. “You have all of these forces that are not just beyond your control, but in some cases they’re actively malicious towards your children,” he says.
Liz Dwyer is the Managing Editor of Shondaland.com.