Vital Friends: 5 Things You Can Do To Make my Black Son Feel Welcome at Annual Sessions

Judy Williams delivered the statements below as a message during worship at New England Yearly Meeting’s Annual Sessions in August 2017. The text of her message below has been edited for clarity and grammar. 

I have no concerns about the ability of the people of color in this body to nurture my son. It is the white folks in this group I am talking to right now.

  1. Do not make comments about my son’s body. White folks often feel compelled to talk about Black folks’ hair, to talk about their skin. For my son, who is 12, what he hears is “You’re different, you’re different, you’re different.” And at an age where what he wants most is to fit in, that’s very, very uncomfortable for him.
  2. Do not touch my son’s body without his permission. White folks often feel the need to touch a Black person’s hair. And that is simply not acceptable. Never touch a Black person’s hair unless you have been invited to do so. Do not ask to touch their hair.
  3. Do not expect my son to act like your image of a Black person. Do not expect him necessarily to be an athlete, to like rap music, or to fit into any other stereotypes that you have of Black folks.  Please do not expect him to be a danger to you. White folks in this country have been systematically trained to see Black folks, especially dark-skinned Black men, as innately dangerous and criminal. Please do not project those stereotypes onto my son.
  4. Remember that my son is an individual – do not ask my son to speak for Black folks. The only person he has to speak for in this life is himself.
  5. Please nurture my son’s spirit as an individual. I want you to see him as a full and whole human being, as those who love him do.

Postscript from Judy Williams, January 2018:

While I appreciate the significant attention and care that I have received subsequent to these remarks, I want to acknowledge clearly that one of the reasons that I have gotten this kind of almost reverent listening around these issues is that I am a white woman raising a Black son. There are many people of color, some of my dear friends among them, who have tried to raise these same issues around their own children, and have not been listened to. As a religious society, we need to be aware of the ways that racism and white privilege continue to be present among us, and take action to change that. The next time someone of color tries to speak up about the ways they have experienced racism, I hope and pray that Friends will listen hard, without defensiveness or fragility, and give them the same love and respect that has been given to me. 

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