RIISE Guest Blog – Dual Citizenship, by Debbie Belle

After a recent text discussion regarding Washington Post article by Lawrence Otis Graham, I taught my black kids that their elite upbringing would protect them from discrimination. I was wrong., fellow indy school mom, Debbie Belle shared her own experiences with her sons and their self identity…Thanks Debbie!



I remember last winter my youngest son coming into an awareness of the differences between our neighborhood of Bedford Stuyvesant and the Upper West side of Manhattan where he goes to school.

As we skidded, and slogged our way through the once beautiful white snow of Christmas cards, it now looked like Thing 1 and Thing 2 had gone wild with black, yellow and brown paint. He asked “Mum why is there still snow and ice on our streets but its clean when we get to Manhattan?” I looked at him for a few seconds contemplating whether I should gloss it up or give him the real deal. Wiping the sandman’s dust from our children’s eyes whether it is debunking Santa or the tooth fairy is never easy. Do we become the bubble busters of reality or do we allow them to stumble upon certain truths alone? I decided that 7:30am and 30 degree weather was not the time to get on my social injustice soap box, so I opted to sit on the fence and tell a half-truth “well it’s because most of the city’s money is made in Manhattan and folks need to be able to move around quickly, without falling”, he was satisfied.

Since then both my sons, who go to independent schools in the city, have seesawed the highs and lows of what I like to call dual citizenship (living in predominantly black middle class neighborhoods and going to school with monetarily rich families).

As they walk through Bed-Stuy with their Lacrosse sticks they do get curious looks from children and adults alike, some folks venture to ask “what game is that? “My youngest loves the spot light and will spin that lacrosse stick cradling the ball with ease to admiring on lookers whereas my older son would rather stay under the radar.

They high five and give nods of recognition to friends and boys they know from around the way as we head Uptown on Dukes “A” train . Like most teens, my older son has his headphones on playing some ambient 10 million beats a second song, pumping hard through his veins fast and furious like the train we are on.

They are my mini supermen, my pioneers. Clarke Kent has left the building, as they emerge in Manhattan bold and ready to take on the day.

They are brave, holding their own in an environment that is not always kind, patient or understanding (more so for my older son). Some may say Bed-Stuy isn’t always kind, patient or understanding, but there is a commonality when people look like you or have the same social and economic background that gives you a sense of comfort.

My sons are emerging from boys, who in their first year of independent schools wanted to merge and be clones to fit in with their peers, to boys who are taking ownership of themselves and standing more comfortable in their skins, realizing their peers want to be like them talk like them, dress like them, high five and give nods of recognition just like them.

Our black boys do not understand how powerful they are.

They (not all) sag their pants,  the world sags their pants , they spin on their heads, the world spins on their head.

Being able to exist and compare both worlds, I’m hoping will be a plus as they grow into young men who dance life’s dance on both sides of the border.



debbie belleDebbie Belle is the mum of two independent school boys of color. She likes to write children’s books , listen to poetry , dance , roller-skate and hang out with her boys!


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  1. Ava Griffiths
    Posted November 12, 2014 at 3:03 pm | Permalink

    This was a poignant, yet gentle and honest piece of writing. It begs to question how do we sacrifice for our children to get the best while not allowing them to also forget that they are indeed living a dual, dichotomous life, and not to mention the pedagogy of a system so different that what lies across the Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. Job well done Ms. BELLE. WE SALUTE AND APPRECIATE YOU, YOUR ROLE, YOUR MOTHERING AND NURTURING OF AMAZING STUDENTS!

  2. Judith
    Posted November 12, 2014 at 3:26 pm | Permalink

    What better way to teach your kids, the many angles of the octagon!
    How fortunate are your boys knowing you are taking the time to teach them, all the while giving them the facts of where they live, how you strive, all the while staying grounded amongst your own.

    You have the torch, keep it lite, hold it tight, and pass it along with all your knowledge and understanding.

    You have my applause Ms. Belle.

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