Hey man, it’s nice to finally meet you and have an open discussion outside of our play group/soccer game/school drop-off/birthday party circuit. I know, we see each other a lot and it’s weird that we’re only having this conversation now. But I’m glad we’re having it. I mean, our kids really seem to like each other and I think they’re friends (or at least appear on whatever list of best friends that 6-year-olds track week-to-week), so it stands to reason that we should be more than cordial and, well, downright friendly to one another too.
Now, I’ll admit that our interactions, while limited, have been somewhat awkward and I think I have an idea why. See, I’m black and you’re not and I get the feeling that you don’t really know many black people or, at least, you probably don’t have many if any black friends. That’s cool. I get it. We’re only 13 percent of the population so we may be hard to find in your social circles. But, here I am and there you are and it looks like you’re about to make a black friend so let’s put our cards on the table and answer some honest questions. Cool?
So, what should I call you?
Well, my name is Corey, but us black dads go by all kinds of names. Some of us have names like yours, so there’s Mike, Dave, and Phil. Some of us have some more culturally identifiable names like Rasheed, or DaShaun. Hey, and some of us have some names that are just straight up, well, um, unique. Think, D’Brickishaw Ferguson (Google him, he’s real).
Honestly, you’ll probably remember our names better than we’ll remember yours because, a.) who forgets a D’Brickishaw or a Quantranelle and b.) there’s way more of y’all than there are of us and, I’m sorry, but trying to tell all y’all apart. Hey, if I see a white man in an Oxford and some Kirkland brand jeans, I’m just gonna assume his name is Dan until proven otherwise. Be patient with us on that, okay?
Can I give you a nickname I just made up for you?
Please don’t. I know some of our names might be difficult for you to pronounce or confusing to articulate, but our mommas gave us those names and that’s what we want to be called unless otherwise instructed.
Plus, y’all be giving some wack nicknames and I’ll be damned if I’m gonna spend the rest of your kid’s life known as, “C-Dawg.” Just stick with the government names at first until we work out something that’s mutually agreed upon.
Which kid is yours?
Duh, the black one. I know you’re not trying to assume or racially profile anybody, but if you see a kid with an Afro that looks like me, you can use context clues.
Can I touch your kid’s hair?
Nah. Please don’t pet my children. I know that it’s tempting (especially for your wives) to want to reach out and discover some new and exotic hair texture, but cool out on exploring my child’s head, Magellan. It’s actually quite offensive and it might give my kid a complex.
Hey, there’s another black dad in another activity we do. Do you know him?
I’d like to say no, all black people don’t know each other and don’t assume that we do, but the answer here is probably.
Here’s the thing; if you’re an African American who went to college, live in certain cities, work in certain fields, and earn a certain amount of money, the social circle is pretty small. In some ways it’s empowering, you’re never that far away from legal advice, a good accountant, or a dentist because you know black lawyers, black accountants, and black dentists. But, in other ways it’s kinda depressing because you realize that you’re fortunate to have made it to this economic rung in life where you can afford to pay for private school, or fancy ballet lessons, or the right baseball team and that there are so few of us there that all of the white people can easily identify us.
Let’s be brutally honest here, for a lot of us black folks, in order for us to have earned the level of success that’s enabling us to provide solid middle and upper-middle class lifestyles for our children, we had to work hard. There’s a saying in the black community that we have to work twice as hard to get half as much, and so when you see us and our children in your peer groups, please recognize and realize just how much blood, sweat, and tears went into getting us to be your economic equals. The scholarships we had to earn, the loans we took out, the failure traps we dodged, and other random unfortunate events that could’ve befallen us that would have kept us from being able to spend a day with you at the petting zoo.
So yeah, we know the other black dad. Even if we don’t know him, we know what it took for him to get there.
But what if I tell you that I don’t “see race”? Why do you have to bring it up?
See, now here’s where we get to the heart of it all. If you want to be my friend, you have to be willing to acknowledge my blackness and understand that what makes me and my children different is also what makes us special.
If you insist on denying that me being black and you being white doesn’t come with its own unique set of variables and cultural considerations, then you’re willfully denying a big part of who I am simply because it’s inconvenient for you. Saying that you don’t see race or wondering why it even matters is an explicit denial of my history, my identity, my hopes, my anxieties, and my dreams for my children. You can’t simply ask me to move past it when we live in a country and a society where race can be a determining factor in educational, financial, and even health related outcomes.
If you want to be my friend, you have to acknowledge that my blackness matters and respect that it matters to my kid as well. While you may want to overlook the color of our skin, understand how our ethnicity and heritage has contributed to the content of our character.
Would you like some of my wife’s potato salad?
Um, no. But that’s a whole other discussion for another time.
Corey Richardson is a husband and father of two daughters living in Chicago, IL. He’s the author of We Used To Have Money, Now We Have You: A Dad’s Bedtime Story available for download in iTunes, Amazon, and Google Play.