I didn’t expect motherhood to change me the way it did. I knew having a baby would change “everything.” That seems to be the universal maxim you hear from almost every parent, bestowing their parental wisdom on us newbies.
But when people said “everything,” I didn’t expect that to include me.
In the days leading up to my labor, and the months of postpartum, I began ruminating on the hard questions almost every woman of color who is about to give birth—especially to a boy—thinks about.
Mother to Son: Letters to a Black Boy on Identity and Hope
In Mother to Son, Jasmine Holmes shares a series of powerful letters to her young son. These are about her journey as an African American Christian and what she wants her son to know as he grows and approaches the world as a black man. Holmes deals head-on with issues ranging from discipleship and marriage to biblical justice. She invites us to read over her shoulder as she reminds Wynn that his identity is firmly planted in the person and work of Jesus Christ, even when the topic is one as emotionally charged as race in America.
How will society view my son? How will he fare in the tangled world of race in America (especially in the church)? And in our particular case: As a mixed-race child, will he go through a tumultuous identity crisis?
Letters of Hope and Identity
For mothers and children of color in America, we don’t get the luxury of ignoring “the race conversation.” We think about it for ourselves, and we prepare for the dialogues we’ll have with our children in the years to follow.
For mothers and children of color in America, we don’t get the luxury of ignoring ‘the race conversation.’
At its core, Mother to Son: Letters to a Black Boy on Identity and Hope compiles the hard, sweet, and sometimes funny conversations that people of color must have with their children—conversations we’ve been having for decades. We’re invited into Jasmine Holmes’s heart and home as she carefully navigates “the talk” with her black son. In her motherly yet passionate tone, we peek into a fiercely tender lesson about love and heartache—and a Savior who experienced both.
Holmes, a writer and humanities teacher in a classical Christian school in Jackson, Mississippi, writes with conviction and gentleness, joy and lament, about what it means to be black—more specifically, a black Christian—in America. Not only do black parents need to teach their children who God says they are, but also how the world’s view of who they are may be different from what God says.
Not only do black parents need to teach their children who God says they are, but also how the world’s view of who they are may be different from what God says.
The principles Holmes imparts to Wynn and Langston (her sons) are not less than the conversation about race, but they are more. She also explains timeless and biblical principles, showing how they apply to various circumstances. As parents, we long for our children to be tenderhearted in their conversations and attitudes toward others, cautious of tribalism and cliques, and careful when tempted to identify others with labels. But how hard this is when we’re contending with historical baggage.
We want our sons and daughters to grow to understand and love the actual message of the gospel and to live out its implications. But as Holmes points out, we must be cautious not to use “the gospel” (the phrase, not the substance) as a spiritual way of shying away from hard conversations about race.
Book I Wish I Had When I Was Young
While Mother to Son is written to Holmes’s two young sons, Wynn and Langston, it’s clear that it’s also written for us.
This is the book I wish I’d read growing up when I needed someone to remind me that my blackness wasn’t an accident. In those moments, I needed reminding that who I was included my earthly heritage (a good thing created by a good God) but also moved beyond it as well.
As Holmes points out, we must be cautious not to use ‘the gospel’ (the phrase, not the substance) as a spiritual way of shying away from hard conversations about race.
Holmes’s words swell with wisdom that comes from someone who’s been paying close attention to the world around her. She isn’t like a child dipping her toe in the cold pool of racial baggage in America to test the waters. In a racially charged society tempted to sidestep the harder conversations on race and racial identity (especially in the church), she dives headfirst and draws us into a deep and intimate discussion. With funny stories, heartbreaking prose, and a biblical worldview intertwined throughout, Holmes reminds us of our intentionally good Father.
Mother to Son is a book about the complexity of people, human dignity, and the hope we have in Christ’s finished work. May we read it with a sense of gratitude and humility.