“Because Black Kids Dreams in White”

black boy dreaming
black boy dreaming

I stumbled on this topic when a professor told me to study something that I knew or was really curious about, as my prior knowledge would help me to orient myself in the field. At this point in my graduate school career, I didn’t feel like I really knew anything.

But one thing I did know was parenting. Or better yet – I knew about parenting black children. I’d been a parent for only about two years, and of course, I was a novice. But I was certainly more of an expert than most of those around me, professors included. So I decided to learn about the sociology of parenting. I read Sharon Hays (and this), Kathryne Edin and Maria Kefalas, Hariette Pipes McAdoo, Jacqueline Jones, Herbert Gutman and Annette Lareau. Then I began interviewing mothers.

I started with mothers I knew. Many were other grad student mothers, women who now are really good friends of mine. But I also advertised on the parent email lists of which I was already a member. I ended up interviewing 22 mothers in the Bay Area, and learned about interviewing, coding, and analyzing qualitative data. I turned this class paper into my qualifying paper, otherwise known, in my department, as the “second year paper.”

The interview topics covered more than what is presented in this paper. Of the 22 women I interviewed, only the interviews with the black mothers are analyzed in the paper.  I found their stories of growing up and now parenting their own children to be fascinating. I saw that many of the things I was doing with my children they were also doing, all in the name of creating racially safe spaces for our very young children. In our neighborhoods, our children were such a statistical minority; they attended preschools and day cares where they were the only black child. Coming from a big city on the East Coast where black people were a dime a dozen, I thought only I was preoccupied with race because I’d been in such a black environment before. It was personally refreshing and affirming to know I wasn’t the only one grappling with how to raise my black children in such a white world.

The paper’s title comes from one of my interviewees. She was explaining how hard she works to create self-affirming black spaces for her daughter given how much of a white environment her child was in. She said that she keeps only black books and black dolls in her home “Because black kids dream in white.” I thought that was such a poignant observation that we want our children to see themselves when they dream, even when they are very young.

The importance of this paper lies with its troubling observation: that one aspect to raising black kids in white spaces is the feeling that a parent always needs to somehow compensate for their child’s blackness. While parents are attempting to instill pride in what it means to be black, they are also attempting to distance themselves and their children from popular (negative) stereotypes of blackness.