The Fear of Raising a Black Child in America

As time progresses, the number of African Americans killed by the police continue to rise. The circumstances are so uncomfortably frequent that it comes as no surprise when someone of color is seen being harassed or killed by white law enforcers. Every time a parent is exposed to images of those who have died in the hands of the authorities, they have the innate feeling of worry and overall fear. Fear is defined as “an unpleasant emotion caused by the belief that someone or something is dangerous, likely to cause pain or a threat.” There are many fears that arise when someone is parenting a child of color. One specific fear that has an everlasting impact on the mental health of parents is the fear of their child being targeted and killed by police. 

Many parents constantly worry if their child (or children) will be the next to suffer simply because the people who are there to serve and protect “fear” the color of their skin. I’m not limiting this to black parents exclusively because the problem includes many others (those who foster and/or have adopted black children and those raising bi-racial children) are just as important in the conversation because they, too, will feel that fear. Someone that is blinded by prejudices will not see circumstance when they see your child (e.g. age, whether they are adopted or raised by another race, or if they are bi-racial) they will only see them as being a threat because they are black. 

I’ve always wondered… if someone is so fearful of a man with his seatbelt on, in the car with his family OR the only way that they know how to detain a man is by putting him in a deathly chokehold…then why are they even a cop in the first place? Cops endure months and months of training which supposedly teach them how to handle certain situations but for some reason when they come across a black person they become too “fearful” to remember their training. 

But, this is more than a race issue. This issue is causing lasting problems in the mental health of parents raising black children. Systemic oppression is already a lot to deal with…pair that with worrying about if your child will be killed or not...the feeling is earth-shattering. 

Research indicates that as a parent of a black child, you have reason to believe that your child has an elevated risk of being killed by a police officer. There will always be a constant threat of racial profiling that ends in violence towards African Americans. Ultimately, these traces of fear affect the way parents bond with their children and limits their child’s freedom. 

According to Erlanger Turner, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Houston-Downtown, who studies racial trauma, this ever-present fear has dire consequences on the mental health of parents raising black children. Trauma and anxiety are common in those who have continuous negative interactions with the police. For black parents specifically, rates of ignoring mental illness are higher than any other demographic. Mainly because black parents find mental health difficult to discuss and let’s be honest…there is a lack of access to mental health services in the black community. Studies also show that if you are a black parent raising a black child, the terror that you feel is deeper because it’s generational. 

Recently, I noticed that the nervousness that black people get when they are in the presence of cops are warranted. The other day a police car was driving behind me for a bit longer than it should have been --- making every turn that I made and switching into every lane that I switched into. I began to prepare for what I was going to do if I got pulled over (not because I had done anything wrong) but simply because I was scared of the possibility and the 'what if'; the what if I do something to anger him/her and the possibility that this routine traffic stop can result in my death. Nervously, I began thinking....more so plotting to myself, “If they pull me over I’m going to place my phone on the dashboard to record it….if things escalate I should get on Facebook live…” What seems to be the most outrageous things to think about, I thought of it as preventative methods. Luckily, the cop car ended up going away, however,  those five minutes of fear that I felt were REAALL. This incident, and others like it, really got me thinking how worried we have to be for our brothers, sisters, cousins, uncles, friends, etc... of color in the presence of those who vowed to PROTECT and SERVE. It’s outrageous. 

All things considered, this constant worry of imminent danger for their child affects the way that parents are able to parent their children effectively while preserving a nurturing relationship. When raising a child of color, having an authoritarian style of parenting seems essential. As stressful as it may seem on the parent and child end of the spectrum, there is nothing that can truly rid someone of that fear completely. The only thing that we can do is work towards managing the fear and stress…talking about it and seeking help if needed. 

This fear is like no other and can only be felt by those who are raising children of color. So, next time you see a parent with their black child and it seems as if they are hugging them tighter, lingering a little longer while watching them leave the house, calling their phone repeatedly, or even spoiling them a little much, just know that it’s probably their way of fighting the fear that sits inside them every moment that they are away from that child that they are raising.