When I was 15 my parents decided to become foster parents, again.
It felt like less than a month after the very easy, family decision to welcome a baby into our home and Liam was there.
He was perfect. A chubby ball of joy! He was the best thing that happened to our family. He brought happiness, hope, love, but also a greater awareness. He opened my eyes to the reality that we need to keep saying black lives matter until they do.
Lessons on white privilege from Liam
As a white South African I can never claim to comprehend what any POC in this country has to go through daily. I cannot claim to know, but I can try to understand and acknowledge that it is wrong, so very wrong. Liam Titus – my absolute favourite person in the world – is coloured. Before he joined our white family, I never imagined how he would force us to face this problem head on.
My first shock came when we would go to the mall and I would push him around in his pram. Honestly, this rarely happened, he hated the thing, so I’d often carry him around in the mall. The stares! Some people approached me, asked with a very disgusted look (and already made-up mind) whether he was my baby.
It was ridiculous. It might’ve been my age, but his level of melatonin definitely played a part as well. Being the ridiculous person I am, I loved telling them that yes, he was indeed mine and that it was wonderful being a parent. The shock and horror. Oh, how I wish I took some pictures.
Even when they didn’t approach me, and I heard the whispers and saw the stares, I would say something like “Mommy loves you so much!”.
It wasn’t a complete lie. But it was very amusing to see the look on their faces.
When Liam came to live with us, he was 8 months old. He couldn’t turn over or crawl (If you don’t know anything about babies, they should be able to do that by then). We had to help him progress. I remember the joy when my dad called us to say that he had just rolled over. We all celebrated right there in the bedroom.
He soon caught up and when he could walk, he became a runner. We might’ve been the fittest we’ve ever been, because we had to run the entirety of the mall to chase after him. The amount of near-heart-attacks was crazy – Lose a toddler in a mall and you will understand. But then, when we found him, he was with some sort of store security or a “very helpful person”. Cue the questioning. “Who are you?” “You are not his parents, look at you!” “I want to see proof.” “Where is his mother?”
Because of this, we always had evidence with us. We got one of those kiddy leashes (don’t judge, it kept him safe.) which must have made a strange picture and I am sure we would’ve been ridiculed on socials: “White family keeps coloured kid on a leash”.
Eish. It was just to keep him safe, promise.
I cannot write this without mentioning the white tannies.
“Why did you not take in a white child?”
“Isn’t is weird!”
“Aren’t you scared?”
“He will have a better life.”
“He is so lucky to grow up in a family like yours (i.e. a white family)”.
This always unsettled me, and now in retrospect, I regret not speaking up more.
That is why black lives matter. Liam’s “luck” was determined as a result of him joining a white family.
But he was not lucky. He would have been lucky if his mom hadn’t deserted him when she left to “buy nappies” when he was only 8 weeks old. Life dealt him a shitty hand; we were lucky to find him. And why would we be scared? This is a person who deserves the best life because he is a person!
Liam grew bigger. We would go to the park. As I mentioned, he was a runner, and he would be up on the jungle gym before I had even reached the park. It was such a joy to watch him. All he wanted was to make friends. The unfortunate happened so many times though. He would approach, and white parents would call their kids away. This is real. I saw it and it made me cry every single time.
I would call out to him and say something. The parents would look with piqued curiosity and send their kids back to play. I cannot imagine what this must have felt like to him. That little boy being judged by the colour of his skin so early in life – As if being a POC made him less of a person, and less worthy of friendship.
He always knew there was a difference. He nonchalantly referred to the difference between us often. He was “chocolate” and we were “marshmallow”. He came up with this all on his own. I love that to this day.
He was in pre-school when he sat next to me on the couch one day and told me that he wanted to be marshmallow too. I was SHOOK. I asked him why, and he said it was better to be white. My heart broke.At such a young age, he already knew. He knew that whiteness carried privilege and black lives didn’t matter, although he couldn’t articulate it that way.
I looked at him. Put my arm next to his and asked him if his skin was beautiful. He looked at me and said it was. And I reminded him that he was perfect, and beautiful and mattered. That chocolate people mattered. I’ve had to remind him of that truth so many times through the years, and it still breaks my heart.
I’m not crying, you’re crying!
My box of tissues is finished, and I am too lazy to get up so I will just give one more example. There are many MANY more, but I believe you get the gist.
Liam had a tough time at school. He was bullied a lot and fought back (obviously). He would always be in trouble; I am not saying his actions were right. I do not condone any form of violence, and he was always disciplined when he did wrong.
My mom had a meeting with the principal, the last one before she moved him. In this meeting it was made clear that the principal and school management thought that Liam was a cleaner’s child from a township and that my mom just stood in for her at school. They said things like “If they had known he was a foster kid…”, and that they were “so sorry”.
Pfft. All the details were in his file. “If they had known” – why would that make a difference? They already racially profiled him and decided his future before knowing anything. This is unjust. Why should he be treated differently at school because of the colour of his skin, or where he comes from?
We have had to fight for him so many times. That kid had to fight battles no white child has to fight and that is a problem with society, that is why this is so important. We need to stand together, we need to shout that BLACK LIVES MATTER until no child, no person, has to ever feel this way again.
Please don’t say “all lives matter”, because at the moment, in our culture we don’t act as if they do. As a white woman and who has all the white privilege, I cannot fathom what it is like to be a POC in the world today. Based on these examples, however, I can say that I stand behind you in this battle. I am sorry for hurt that I have caused. I will continue to scream BLACK LIVES MATTER.