Editors Note: We are thankful to have a guest post today, by Emily, sharing her family’s story of dealing with racism in Green Bay. I think it’s easy to think that it doesn’t happen in our town, but her story shows the horrifying reality that it does.
The last few weeks have been difficult for my family. The images of police brutality and the bitter reality that racial injustices are still very much present within our society make me outraged. I can’t help but fear for my children’s future.
First, let me tell you a little bit about myself and my family. I grew up in Green Bay and met my husband at UW Madison. My husband is a first-generation Nigerian American. He is intelligent, kind, loving, and compassionate. We have two beautiful children, ages 6 and 5. As parents, we do our best to instill love, self-respect, and kindness towards others. We teach them the difference between right and wrong. They don’t know the full extent of the challenges that will face them because they are black, but they do already know that they feel ‘different’ living in our predominantly white neighborhood and school system.
My daughter started Kindergarten this past school year. She was the only girl of color in her classroom. The other girls wanted to touch her hair because it was different from theirs. I understand the other girls being curious about this. But, since then, my sweet daughter says she wants ‘straight yellow hair like the other girls in school.’ My daughter has the most beautiful curly black hair; I want her to feel proud of who she is and comfortable in her own skin. We call my son, ‘Mr. Handsome’. He is the most loveable boy a mom could ask for. At what age will my son go from being ‘Mr. Handsome’ to being viewed as a threat? When is the right time to address the challenges that face black men in this country – including how he will need to dress and act in public to prevent unwanted attention from the police? Will my children be made fun of for having Nigerian names?
These are the things I struggle with as a white mom raising biracial children in Green Bay.
My husband teaches for the University of Wisconsin school system. While teaching and living in a small Wisconsin town, his car was vandalized and waitresses would ignore him at restaurants as if they didn’t want to serve him. We bought our first home in Green Bay. One morning, shortly after our son was born, we woke up to find animal innards spread across our front porch. The next morning, animal feces had been left in our mailbox. One of our neighbors had done this at night when we were asleep – it made me wonder, what else would they do with our two small children at home?
On one late-night trip to the store, my husband was followed from the parking lot by a man from a pickup truck proudly donning a confederate flag and tracked throughout the store. What if my husband had confronted this man about the reason why he was being followed? Would this have resulted in my husband being arrested for standing up for himself? How different would the story be?
This is racism we experience in Green Bay.
The kids and I were at the Zoo Boo last Halloween. While we were inside warming up and enjoying our hot cocoa, I received a call from my husband saying he had been pulled over on his way home from work. He wasn’t sure why, but he wanted to let me know where he was and that he was pulled over in the event something happened, or we didn’t hear from him. There was a pit in my stomach because you just don’t know how that interaction will go. I told him to make sure he gets out his University ID, so they know he’s a teacher – as if that somehow makes him less of a threat. I called him 5 minutes later to make sure he was OK. Luckily, his headlight was out, and he got off with a warning. This experience was a good one, but I know he’ll always feel anxious and scared anytime there’s any sort of encounter with the police.
What is perhaps the most painful for me is knowing that my husband will never be truly comfortable in his own skin in this country. He didn’t realize he was ‘Black’ until he came to the United States. In Nigeria, this simply wasn’t an issue. He doesn’t feel safe taking a walk in our predominantly white neighborhood alone. We have great walking trails and sidewalks by us, but he feels it’s too risky for him to go without either myself or one of our children accompanying him. When he’s in public, he makes sure he’s wearing a nice shirt and pants, so he appears to fit the part as a non-threatening, educated black man. In fact, he always dresses up for work so that his students will respect him and believe he is qualified to be their teacher.
I recently shared some of the acts of racism in Green Bay that my husband and family have experienced with friends and family on social media. A lot of them were shocked to hear these things happened in our community. I wanted to share my story so that they understood that racism, hate, and bigotry impact all people of color, regardless of your socio-economic status, level of education, or how exceptional of a person you are. If you have remained silent on this issue, please speak up. Talk to your families and children about racism. Be an advocate for people of color and condemn acts of hatred and brutality.
As moms, we have the power to shape the minds of future generations; let’s do our part to make positive change and stop this type of racism in Green Bay.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve realized how important it is to have a community of support. Families and children of color encounter experiences of racism that we can’t ignore, and I feel there is a need for moms to be able to share their family’s stories in a safe environment. I also think there’s value in children connecting with other children who may share similar experiences growing up in our community. If you are raising a child of color or if you are interested in joining in the conversation and showing your support as an ally, please contact me at [email protected] I’d love to hear from you.
Emily is the mother of two children and resides in the Green Bay area with her husband. She has a bachelor’s degree in International Studies and African Languages and Literature from the University of Wisconsin Madison. She works as a Business Systems Analyst for CONNECT, powered by American Family Insurance in Green Bay. Her husband is originally from Nigeria and she loves learning about African culture and food.
“What I love most about this area is being close to family and friends. I also love being outdoors and exploring nature with my children.”