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  • Helms Jarrell

How do you raise kids here?

Occasionally, folks will call and ask to visit QC Family Tree or they'll invite us to come to them to talk about our experience. Almost every visit, there's a question at the end: "How do you raise kids here?" The question is packed with some hidden meaning. Let me very quickly unpack it for you. What the question means to say is: I am uncomfortable here. I see signs of poverty and I don't want to be poor. In the American South, Poor people are primarily black and brown. I would not associate with poor black people. Poor people, and the places they live, are criminals and they are dangerous. You are putting your children and family at risk. You are choosing to raise your family in a socioeconomic culture that is lower than what you can pass for. No one who is able to live somewhere else would choose to live here. This is a dangerous people and a dangerous place. You should not, cannot, trust your neighbors or this place to be safe, healthy, or child friendly.


Until today, I would have answered the question with, "Many families raise children in this neighborhood. We have always felt safe here. Folks here take care of each other. We have not worried for our children's safety. The benefits we receive outweigh any perceived risk." After telling a couple stories of parenting wins- like the time my son asked why there aren't many white people in the world or the time my son wore a black lives matter t shirt to a family gathering- I laugh off any lingering assumptions and move on.


Before today, I thought the error (among many) of the question was pointed at my(and their) racial and socioeconomic identity and perceived capability at economic mobility contrasted with that of my neighbors. But today, I realize that the error of the question is even more offset than I thought. The error of the question lies here: Who is committing the crime? Who is making things dangerous? Who is putting our children in harm's way? The assumed, and erroneous answer: poor black folk.


The real answer to those questions came today. Today, my son's best friend of 7 years drove away with his family and all of his belongings packed into a car. He and his family have been evicted and are having to move. My son watched his best friend ride away and hasn't stopped crying since. "Mom, we just got our boys' shed and trampoline. We were going to build a house and live together."


The error is this. The enemy- the one who is making things dangerous- is predatory lenders, speculators, corporate real estate. The enemy is the slumlord and those who let slumlords exist. The enemy is the system. The enemy is we. We are complicit. We let this happen. And the enemy is putting all of us in danger, not just folks on Tuckaseegee.


The error of the question is "How do YOU let YOURSELF raise your children here?" The question could be reframed to ask, "How do WE let OUR children be raised in this type of environment and society?" I'm hoping, soon, folks will begin to ask new questions.




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