One of my first duties as First Lady was to have breakfast with the Bishop of our church’s international fellowship.
I know what you’re thinking. Pause. Hold up. What do you mean ‘First Lady’, Malaka??? First Lady of WHAT?!?
Just give me a few days and I’ll explain in delicious detail. I don’t want to rush through the telling of that story.
As I was saying, I was having Belgian waffles and egg whites with the Bishop and my husband this morning, when a little boy of about 11 years walked by us wearing a silver backpack and a blank expression on his face. His blonde ‘Leave it to Beaver’ hair was perfectly brushed to the side, and he appeared to have been wandering the dining room looking for assistance as we arrived. His presence at the venue – a posh country club in the city of Norcross – at that hour truck me as odd… But who was I to say who belonged at the club at 7:30 am and who didn’t? I mean, this is burp ‘n scratch Malaka we’re talking about here. I checked myself and let him pass without interrogation or further scrutiny.
And so did everyone else at the country club…
…Which is really the point of today’s discussion. How did a boy of no more than 13 find himself eating breakfast unaccompanied at one of Atlanta’s premier country clubs without getting the police or CPS called out to the scene? As a Black woman and mother of Black children, this was just beyond my level of comprehension! So I did what any woman in my position would do – I eavesdropped on every word the unnamed boy said in order to learn as much as I could. I wanted to understand!
“Can I get the chocolate chip pancakes? And I have to be in class shortly, so can I get a rush on my order?”
The waiter, a sturdy man with a reddish brown beard, replied that he would be happy to get it as quickly as possible for the young man and strode purposefully toward two oaken doors to place the order. I had my back to him, so I was unable to observe him as keenly as I desired. However I did hear his cellphone camera take a few shots, and since there was nothing but a yellowing golf course outside of the window to his left and an empty dining room to his right, I think I can safely assume that he was taking pictures of me …or my intricate cornrows. I’ll have to scour Reddit tonight to see if I’m right.
Beaver’s pancakes arrived before our food did, despite the fact that we’d put our order in first. Which was fine. I didn’t want him to be late for class. We passed a school that was about a 10-minute walk from the country club property and likely his final destination. Within 15 minutes he’d finished his plate, gathered his massive backpack and offered half-hearted thanks to the waiter for his help.
Judging from the rhythm of their interaction, it was obvious that this was a fairly regular occurrence; something the waiter confirmed.
“Yeah. He comes in here somewhat often… Just for breakfast before class.”
(He didn’t divulge any information beyond that, which as a mother, I appreciated. I wouldn’t want anyone discussing my children’s eating and migration patterns with a stranger.)
But then that’s what had me stumped: Why were his parents comfortable with sending Beaver down to the country club’s dining room for breakfast unaccompanied in the first place? Is this one of the benefits of privilege? Because honestly, I can’t see any one of my lower middle-class peers sending their 5th grader to the McDonald’s or Dunkin’ Donuts on foot and alone without drawing the attention of the police or some “concerned” citizen. Not unless we had no other choice. Kids are hardly allowed to play in their front yards without the watchful eyes of an adult roving over them for fear of some overbearing municipal authority reporting said adult for child endangerment. So I repeat, the entire sequence of events left me baffled!
There’s no doubt in my mind that people who live in and are reading from other countries like Australia, or Japan, or Nigeria, my confusion seems absurd. Children who live and grow up outside of the United States (or its urban centers, specifically) enjoy much more latitude and physical freedom than their American counterparts. The culture and the laws simply do not lend themselves to the type of independent development and exploration that make human beings – well – better. A lot of American parenting is being performed and executed from a place of fear. There’s a lot more I want to say about how this breeds the homogeneous American that finds him/herself at the butt of international ridicule, but I’m a First Lady now and I’m trying to find a new leaf to turn over. I will say that I was amazed by the ease with which the young man navigated the entire situation.
To be sure, there is not much difference in the situation that privileged country club kid found himself in, and that of say, the oft-disparaged inner city boy who probably had a pop tart before school. Neither had the luxury of a parent preparing their meal. Neither had the pleasure of their parent’s presence to coach them through the day or indulge in conversation. Both took a solitary trek to school. Only one was guaranteed to have a community to look after his well being, since he does not live his life under a cloud of suspicion and innate fear. Despite their twin scenarios, it is the former who will discover that the world will deem his solitude as “brave” and “responsible”, whereas the latter will be likely be considered a “thug” from a “broken home” with “no parental supervision”. One is being groomed to take over the world, and the other to fear it. Both mindsets are being developed subconsciously.
I couldn’t help but wonder if my son could rock up into a swanky country club dressed in a black tracksuit and burdened with a 13 lbs backpack and received the same treatment or results.
We’ll probably never know. I don’t have $40K a year to fork over in club fees in order to find out.