What white women raising Black children can learn from Sheri Forde
Updated: Sep 7, 2020
This week, a white sports anchor named Sheri Forde wrote an article about the anti-Black racism she’s witnessed all her life and her experience being married to a Black man. The piece featured the n word. Twice. Both with the hard r.
People slammed Forde for her use of the word, causing her to lament over the fact that this article that took her “20 years to write” has been minimized by readers to her use of the word and that people weren’t seeing the importance of the message she was trying to send.
But to Sheri, I ask her to imagine having a conversation with someone, and mid-sentence, they punch you in the face. Then they continue talking as if nothing had happened. And at the end of the conversation, when you rightfully ask, “Why did you punch me in the face?” the person gets upset that your focus is on the punch and not the conversation. How can you pay attention to the rest of the conversation when you’re still reeling from the punch?
So Black people, rightfully, will tell people like Sheri that it’s not our job to see past a white person using the n word. Twice. Both with the hard r.
One of those Black people was Kayla Grey, the first Black woman to host a major sports highlight show in Canada. Grey responded to the article by saying no white person should ever use the word and pointed out that it can be very triggering for Black people who read it.
What unfolded next between Sheri, her husband Duane and some bozo named Tim was a stunning display of misplaced blame, privilege and just sheer ignorance that points to the larger issue of what white women raising Black kids need to learn, and the lessons to be learned by white men who repeatedly insist that they should have a say in how women govern themselves and how they should feel.
In a series of tweets, a man named Tim McClure, who, for unknown reasons advertises himself as a Brand Consultant in his Twitter bio, called on Kayla Grey, as well as her employers, to have a meeting where they (him included) can all discuss the situation at hand. McClure also urged her to issue a “sincere apology” to Sheri, Duane and their children.
Depending on your experience with white men, this might seem awfully familiar. Inserting yourself into an issue that had nothing to do with you? Check. Coming after the livelihood of a Black woman? Not uncommon. Trying to dictate how someone else, as a person of colour, should feel about the use of a derogatory word? Check. Suggest we all sit in a circle and sing kumbaya? Whew! Yasss, Tim. CHECK!
But it was Sheri’s response that had me scratching my head so hard I thought I might have fleas. In her series of tweets, she accused Grey of reducing the issue.
There is so much going on here. Let's dive in.
First, you have the explicit referral to her "Black husband" and her "Black children" in her first tweet. By her last tweet, she's urging readers not to make her story a "Black/white thing."
Using race when it's convenient? Classic.
Then, you have her employing the angry Black woman narrative as if that's the reason she was called out by Grey. "It was only met negatively by one person." As if Grey is an outlier - which is categorically untrue. Sift through the comments and you'll see that there were a lot of people that not only didn't agree with her use of the word but were genuinely hurt by it.
Third, you have the classic "I am the victim!" where she writes, "instead of being inclusive to what a white woman is doing to hel(p), I found her to be divisive in her comments on my story. I took that incredibly personally."
Sheri - how is your story going to end racism? It's the written equivalent of Kendall Jenner handing over the can of Pepsi in that commercial a few years ago. Also, do you think Grey didn't take it incredibly personally that the white wife of her coworker used a derogatory word that targets her and her community?
Next, you have her listing her preference as to how Grey should've handled it. "I would have preferred her to use professional courtesy to reach out to either Duane or me but she didn't." It's both sad and telling that for Sheri, this is chalked up to a professional squabble. For Grey, this is deeply personal. And it's issues like this that often pit Black journalists between their careers and the other aspects of their identities. Sheri - did you use professional courtesy to reach out to Grey when you decided you were going to be using the n-word in your article? No. You only checked with your husband to make sure that it was okay, because his word is the only one that matters, is that right?
But by far - the most stunning thing about all of this is the blame she casts on her husband. As if he is the ambassador for the use of the n-word, her first tweet says her "Black husband insisted I use the offensive word."
Think about this. We'll come back to it in a minute.
There’s this disturbing behaviour non-POC engage in where they make it about race when it’s convenient, and then turn around so fast you’d get whiplash to talk about how race is just a concept.
We saw it with Amy Cooper in Central Park that day when not only did she weaponize both her race as a white woman and Christian Cooper’s very own race against him, knowing that he’d be at a disservice if the police came and looked at the optics.
We saw it with Jessica Mulroney, a prominent TV personality whose show and brand partnerships were pulled after being called out for exercising “textbook white privilege” against former friend Sasha Exeter. She pointed to her friendship with Meghan Markle in what could be interpreted as, “I’m not racist - my best friend is Black!”
In recent weeks, I’ve seen a lot of parents come forward pledging their allyship to Black people and celebrating the fact that they raise their kids “not to see colour”. But this is precisely the issue. Colour is very much a thing in our society. And it’s not enough to teach your kids to live under the false pretense that race does not inform every single experience you will have in your life – because it does. And just because you have the privilege of living a life where your race doesn’t work against you in your daily experiences doesn’t mean it’s not happening in the lives of millions.
There’s an entire generation of kids who have grown up not understanding things like privilege and systemic racism, all because their parents wanted to be surface allies by not pointing out how the hue of people’s skin could literally mean life or death in certain situations, like those involving police. So it's no wonder that when racialized people talk about their experiences, we’re dismissed, we’re told it’s all in our heads and we’re seen as radical and hypersensitive.
The thing is, you have those very people, taught to live in the bubble of ignorance about systemic racism and privilege procreating with Black people and simultaneously raising half-Black children who are afforded certain privileges depending on whose genes are more dominant. These kids grow up in households where there’s really no full understanding of the impact their race will have on their lives and being left to figure it out on their own, which is neither pretty nor easy.
Back to the most stunning admission of privilege and ignorance throughout the whole Fordeal (I’m working on my puns), which was the blame Sheri cast on her husband in naming him editor of the piece and saying she used the word because her Black husband insisted she do so.
I want to be very clear. Duane Forde saying “It’s okay, I can cosign this,” still doesn’t make it okay. It reminds me of an experience I can guarantee we’ve all had at some point in our life in following bad behaviour, where your parents would ask you “If that person jumped off a cliff, would you do it too?” But in this case, Duane had a parachute in the form of his Blackness. Sheri didn’t.
Sheri Forde knew the word was wrong. But she used her proximity to Black people as a means of justifying her use of it, hoping that she would be afforded a parachute too – and when she went falling, who was left to clean up the mess? Her Black husband. Personally and professionally - thank God we're still in quarantine, am I right?
Sheri Forde – knowingly or unknowingly fed off of some stereotypes that have haunted and traumatized Black people for centuries. The idea that Black people are scapegoats. The idea that Black people are the suspects in the story. The idea that casting blame on your Black husband is better than simply taking accountability.
And this is the crux of the lessons that white people, particularly white women raising Black children need to learn. That your proximity to Black people, whether friends, family or spouse, does not mean you’re not inherently racist or privileged. That you living in a home full of Black people does not automatically translate to a clear and concise understanding of the operation and effects of systemic racism, even though in her article she confesses to not understanding the lived experience of racism.
But her conduct in this situation also echoes the false idea that your proximity to Black people means you are not part of the problem. And as she's proven, you certainly can be part of the problem - Black husband or not.
Sheri conducted herself with a level of tone deafness that is the result of growing up privileged. It's the type of privilege you can't shake, even after standing up to your family or marrying someone from another race. But that tone deafness is something I've seen many times before.
It begs the question of what the cost of this is to her kids. To mixed kids everywhere. To me - a mixed person myself. I've been forced to question whether my white mother's privilege has seeped out in ways that Sheri's has. Pointing the blame to her Black husband. Then pointing the blame to the Black woman that had a reaction to the use of a derogatory word. It's forced me to question how uninformed I have been at times about the Black struggle because I only experienced half of it - if that.
I've watched my mother navigate around the events in recent weeks with care, consideration and obvious discomfort. She's asked simple questions, she's asked tough questions, she's been open to learning, open to conversations and open to taking accountability. But most of all - she's been open to listening. To me. To my sisters. And to my Black father.
If you are a white woman raising Black kids, I implore you to check your privilege and to check it often. You have to surround your kids with shows and movies and history that you likely didn't grow up watching or learning. You have to expose them to Black people, to Black culture, to Black music, to Black icons.
A white mother raising a Black child is required to relinquish much of the power and luxury afforded to her by the colour of her skin. And who enjoys giving up power? Who enjoys giving up privilege? No one. But if Sheri Forde and white mothers raising Black children everywhere really want a hand in "ending racism", that's a good place to start.