Fighting my husband’s deportation: Reflections on being a white mother in a mixed-race, mixed-status family
I stumble down the driveway with our five-week-old infant in my arms, in the hushed quiet of dawn. My eyes are gritty from interrupted nights and early mornings. My baby’s eyes widen to take in the contrast of dark trees and sky. Already, the sky is sullen with forest fire smoke and the anticipated heat of another 100 degree day.
Soon, my husband will wake, and sit at our kitchen table to wrap his hands around his coffee cup and these few moments of silence before his day fills with both the brute sounds of roofing and those of our four and six-year-old sons.
He has pushed right through this heat wave. If he and his crew stop and rest at midday, it is only because the shingles will melt and distort from their weight, and not for the sake of their bodies.
On a recent holiday weekend, I binge-watched Stranger Things and relished every throwback to the 1980s that the series pays homage to such as when we used to ride our bikes to friends’ homes, played Dungeons and Dragons for hours, listened to the Clash on our Sony Walkman, or rode our skateboards. For a Pakistani woman growing up in the 80s in a small New England college town, Stranger Things is more than just a walk down memory lane to a simpler time when there was a conspicuous absence of technology and today’s pervasive cultural anxiety. There was also a refreshing absence of turban-clad, villainous bearded men dressed in black, sporting machine guns, and shouting “Allahu Akbar!” The bad guy, thankfully, was not a Muslim terrorist in the series, but a scary other worldly monster.
An EmbraceRace Community Conversation
Professor Amber Williams
The challenges we face as a country and as communities around racial equity and racial inequality won’t be solved simply by increasing the number of cross-racial friendships among children (and adults, for that matter), but it certainly would help! Our guest for this Community Conversation was Professor Amber Williams who researches the why and how of cross-race friendships among kids.
In this hour long conversation, first, Professor Williams presented what she’s learned and discussed the implications for raising kids. Next, EmbraceRace Co-founders, Andrew Grant-Thomas and Melissa Giraud, facilitated the Q & A with the community. Resources are included in the edited transcript that follows.
In the darkness of the very early morning of November 9, 2016, my husband and I lay awake in our bed. By 3 a.m., we realized that neither of us would sleep again that morning, and we turned to each other and began talking. During those fraught early morning hours, we cycled through grief, anger, numbness, disgust, and then back through them again as many of our worst fears about our country became much more real.
My white husband cried at the now all-too-real prospect of nuclear conflict and of our now ten-year-old son and his peers going to war. Stunned, I replied, “You’re worried about THAT?” While nuclear war seemed much less far-fetched than it had the previous day, it was nowhere near the top of my list of immediate concerns. Rather, as a woman of color, I feared that overt acts of racism and hate crimes would be perpetrated close to home in our progressive, left-leaning Boston neighborhood.
When I explained this to my husband, he replied, “You’re worried about THAT? That won’t be an issue here. I don’t think you need to worry about that.”
The need to thrive in toxic times
On June 19th, I was looking for local activities or celebrations that could introduce my daughters to Juneteenth, the occasion on which Texans learned of the Emancipation Proclamation two years after it was decreed. While browsing my Facebook feed, I instead came across the news story about Charleena Lyles, a black woman who was shot by police inside her own home in front of her children after calling the police because she believed her house was being broken into.
One of the many plusses of teaching 3rd grade is that you get the opportunity to observe children figuring out who they are.
In a classroom full of black students, racial stereotypes definitely came into play. Some students readily assumed familiar roles and interests: D’Jenique, an outspoken girl who rejected any semblance of disrespect. She was quick to check anyone who mispronounced her name. Quintrell, a confident boy who adopted a tough persona and would not be caught at recess without a football.
It felt the familiar buzz of my phone in the pocket of my jeans as I walked with a friend back to my dormitory. A Snapchat? A GroupMe message? Maybe even a Facebook message? I fumbled for the slab of connectivity and glanced at the screen. Nothing. An email, I thought to myself, as I opened the phone with my thumbprint.
I have a friend who works at an elite private school here in SF. We talk a lot about race and children and talking to kids about race. As a White person, she is doing her best to make sure the children she educates are aware of the impact of race in their lives, especially as most of the children she teaches are White children.
She told us about a recent episode that happened at school. As part of an after school activity with a group of 3rd graders, kids were asked to describe their skin color. She told me the list of colors went something like this:
Peach, Peach, Tan, Chicken(!), Peach, Tan
Dispatch from a "progressive" college town.
I am an immigrant — a brown-skinned, Muslim, South Asian woman, a minority, a U.S. citizen. But I am an outsider. I have spent a large part of my life feeling this way. I was born in Pakistan to Bangladeshi parents.
When I was four, my father was transferred to Delhi for work. I grew up in India, and my family relocated to Bangladesh when my father retired. I was 18 and angry with my parents — I didn’t want to leave the country I called home. Now, I proudly say I’m Bangladeshi but have never felt I belonged in my country; I visit because my mother lives in Dhaka. And though I’ve been in the U.S. for 25 years, I don’t feel American.
I am accustomed to feeling like an outsider, but in the current political climate, I am more afraid here than I’ve ever been.
When I was three years old, my mother took me to visit the attic hiding place of Anne Frank in the Netherlands. My family was in Europe not for a trip, but because my father, a Bangladeshi Muslim immigrant to the United States, was stationed in Germany while serving in the US Army. I have no memories of the trip, but for my mother visiting Anne’s last home was very intentional. She wanted to bring her daughter to the home of a young Jewish girl who, generations ago, hid with her family in a cramped attic hoping for a peaceful world amidst one of the most brutally violent and xenophobic periods in modern human history.
ADVOCACY & ACTIVISM
PARENTING & MENTORING
RACE + ...
RACIAL & ETHNIC IDENTITY
SCHOOLS & EDUCATION
TALKING ABOUT RACE WITH KIDS