Ebony J. Ford
#SpeakUp : Jackie Jackson
Author: Jackie Jackson, micropreemie mom and wife
"I can’t do a whole lot about the world around us. I can make an impact in my home and I can advocate. And I will. "
My name is Jackie and I am Cuban-American but present white, I have a white son (from a previous marriage), I am married to a Black man and I have a biracial daughter who was born at 26 weeks and 6 days and spent 143 days in the NICU. Las Vegas, where I currently live, is a fairly diverse community with people from all walks of life. However, growing up in Miami, it was not like that. I grew up in a suburban area of old Miami. There wasn’t much diversity in that everyone, for the most part, was Cuban. I have always been sensitive to diversity and racial injustices. I have always been attracted to Black men but spent the majority of my life growing up being told by my father that “I better not bring home a black man.”
When I was in high school, we had a lot of students bused in from an area known as Little Haiti. I was one of the few “white girls” on the Hip Hop Dance team and grew in my understanding of black culture by learning about one small part from these awesome friends and hearing their experiences growing up. When I went to college and then moved away to the University of Florida in Gainesville, it became very apparent to me just how sheltered my life really was. I wasn’t a minority in Miami but I was Gainesville. I experienced racial profiling in a store in the small town. While I present white, my Miami accent is thick and it was apparent that I was not “one of them”. I very vividly remember the experience and, more importantly,
I remember thinking, “This is the smallest sliver of what my black friends experience on a daily basis, every day of their lives.” It was a humbling moment for me that I will never forget.
When I met my husband and we began dating, I really started to see the Black experience through his eyes. As we walked through stores, on the Strip, ate at restaurants, and went to clubs I saw the looks. I saw the “concerned” white woman clutch her purse a little tighter. I saw the “ready to brawl” white man grab his girlfriend’s hand a little tighter. I saw women turn their diamond studded wedding rings around so as to not draw attention to themselves in his presence. I saw Black men shake their heads at him and Black women look at me as if I was “taking their man”. I also saw the looks of concern FOR me. Was I being held against my will? Did I want to be with him? Was I scared? My husband is about 5’10”, very muscular and dresses in a much more relaxed, “urban” way. Upon first sight, he can look very intimidating. I think that’s why all of that was very obvious to me. He wasn’t a “preppy” Black man with a white woman. He was perceived as a “thug” with a white woman. I remember getting so upset at the profiling he was experiencing and him telling me, “this is the way it has always been. I’m used to it.” That was difficult to hear. In my short life, I have done more illegal things than he has EVER done. How’s that profile, Universe?!
"But no one suspects the 4’9” white girl."
We got pregnant in August of 2018. Unfortunately, we lost our daughter at 21.5 weeks due to some genetic abnormalities. We then got pregnant again in April of 2019 and we began our journey with our sweet Kaia Marie. Everything was progressing normally until it wasn’t. I delivered her, via emergency c-section, at 26 weeks and 6 days. We knew we would have a very long journey with our girl and the unknown was terrifying. As a preface to the following, my son spends a week with us at a time and a week with his dad. Every day that my son was with his dad, my husband and I went to the NICU together.
We talked to doctors together. We worked with nurses and therapy together. We were both equally as involved in her care and decisions being made on her behalf. On the weeks that my son was with us, we would go separately so as to protect my son from the scary and also because it was Flu/RSV season and kiddos his age weren’t allowed in. The daytime nurses all had great relationships with him and knew that he was fully capable of doing her cares. He could change the diaper, take her temp, do oral cares, kangaroo with the baby and more. He also often went at night and had better relationships with those nurses than I did. Every now and again, there’d be a new nurse that didn’t know him. He would advocate for her and explain how she liked to be fed and held. One nurse told him, “no no. She’ll like it this way.” Upon further observation, she did realize that my husband knew his daughter and that he was right. She responded, “Oh, we’re just not used to dads being so involved.” He experienced some sideways glances and dismissive comments but mostly because he was a man, not because he was black. At least, he never felt that it was because he was black. We were very fortunate that we, neither he nor I, experienced any discrimination during prenatal care, in the hospital or during our NICU stay.
With that said, when I was in the NICU with Kaia, my husband often had to go out to shop or run errands with my son by himself. Here was my gigantic, Black husband with my shy, quiet, white son. The terror that I felt every time, and STILL feel every time, they go out alone together is difficult to process. All it takes is one person to call the police because of “suspicious activity” and for the wrong officer to come on to the scene to lose my husband and traumatize my son. That’s all it takes. My husband seems less concerned about it than I am but it is a very real fear for me. Even when he goes out by himself, I remind him to drive safely and not speed. Don’t get pulled over. Please for the love of God, come back home. Through all of that, I only understand the experience by proxy. I can’t possibly FULLY understand what he goes through but I’m so scared for him and for us.
The worst part of all of it? When I learned we were pregnant with a girl, I breathed a sigh of relief. A sigh of relief! Read that again.
I would never have to have a conversation with my son about how to stay alive in this world. How to act when he walked down the street. How to behave if and when he got pulled over. How to be his very best self and present himself in the very best light and all the while knowing that that may not ever be enough. But now we had a daughter.
Being a woman in this modern world is incredibly difficult. I would now have to have conversations with my daughter about how to dress, how to act, how to watch her drink carefully and never let a stranger bring her one. How to hold her keys as she walked to her car alone and how to check her surroundings. How to speak clearly and confidently. How to be a leader. And how all of that may not be enough. Why? Because she wasn’t just a woman, she was a black woman. Not white enough and not black enough. But the world would perceive her as black. And that’s scary too. As if being a woman wasn’t enough of a “deficit”, now she is also a black woman. The worst part for me? I also can’t relate to her. Not fully. I can speak to the female experience. I can speak to the minority female experience. But I can’t speak to the black female experience and I don’t know how to best prepare her for that. I don’t know how to prepare her for being biracial or “mixed”. I don’t know how to prepare her for potentially hateful and hurtful remarks.
So, what can I do?
I can raise my white son to advocate for racial injustices. I can show him to see color and celebrate it. I can teach him to be kind, accepting and willing to learn from others. I can teach him how to treat women and men properly and respectfully. I can teach my daughter the same. I can teach her how to strengthen her confidence so that hateful remarks don’t impact her too much. I can teach her how to be a woman unafraid to walk, talk and lead in a man’s world. I can teach her how to advocate for herself without fear. I can’t do a whole lot about the world around us. I can make an impact in my home and I can advocate. And I will.
Follow Jackie's family on Instagram here.