My Brown Baby: On the Joys and Challenges of Raising African American Children
by Denene Millner
I have to be honest. I purchased this book in an absolute panic. Over a year ago, my husband and I almost had a baby. A surprise baby. An old friend of mine had a friend who had an unwanted pregnancy. She was starting to go through a divorce, could not afford another child, nor did she want one. Her husband (ex-husband at this point, I assume), shared similar sentiments. She had put the child up for adoption, but the adoption fell through in her eighth month of pregnancy. That’s when my friend contacted me. We were in a tizzy. We dropped everything to plan for this unexpected baby that could arrive any week. We were in contact with the mother, lawyers, and adoption agencies. And then nothing. We were ghosted.
In that time of panic, I went to Barnes and Noble and purchased every baby book I could think of and pretty much cleared whole shelves. I am not sure when I thought I would have time to read all of these books three weeks before our potential child was to come home. But I was hopeful.
It has now been a few years since that time. The loss of this unexpected child was hard to bare and for a year I put everything on the back burner. A month ago, I picked up My Brown Baby by Denene Millner. I have to say, it was probably one of the wisest, impulsive book purchases I have ever made.
The book is comprised of several curated blog posts from Ms. Millner’s My Brown Baby website. So everything is clearly in her voice. This makes the book very personable. By the end, you feel like you know who Denene is as a mother, person, and wife. You know her values, and for me, personally, I am in admiration of her.
In this book she tackles all sorts of issues, from discrimination at the hospital, fears for our black boys, issues with the media, self-esteem, logistics of raising a child, and being a working mother. She discusses and unpacks each of these topics directly. There is no beating around the bush. But also respectfully. Her opinions show a balance of recognizing the desire to want the best for her children, and quite frankly, all children, while also recognizing the realities of what parents actually have control over. She sprinkles nuggets of wisdom throughout her blog posts, but does so without neon signs and flashy lights that scream “Do as I do!”
That is another aspect of this book that I like. There is no advice giving. There are no mandates. Ms. Millner seems to very intentionally only speak to her experience. This makes her wisdom much easier to digest without triggering one’s defenses. In fact, Ms. Millner has on a few occasions even qualified her statements in order to calm down fragile white readers that may be reactive to some of her statements regarding race (and I think it’s unfortunate that she felt the need to do so).
Many of the issues that Ms. Millner raises in her book, I have been well aware of. But here’s the thing, it is one thing to read about it and a completely separate thing to experience it. A good friend of mine has asked me if there is a difference between my generation’s understanding of 911 and the understanding that my teen clients have about 911. To this there is a resounding “YES!” And so too, it is different for me as a white gay male to fully understand the complexities of being an African-American mother. With that said, Ms. Millner’s approach to her writing does invite others to sit at her table, hear her experiences through her lens, and makes it almost impossible not to empathize with her and many other mother’s struggles.
One of my takeaways from this book has to do with childhood. All of my reading, lectures I’ve attended on being culturally aware, and discussions I’ve had with my friends of color did not seem to penetrate past the idea that these injustices only happen to adults. They don’t. It became clear(er) to me as to how all of the racism, sexism, and other isms may rob my future child of their childhood. I’m not sure how this will color my parenting, but it yet another aspect that I certainly need to keep in mind as a white parent trying to parent a (likely) child of color.
Pick up the book. Read it. Metabolize.