“I just can’t imagine living without him. But I can imagine life without a revolution, without world socialism, women’s lib … I have a child. My responsibilities have changed.”
(Conversations with Nikki Giovanni, p. 66).
Much like Nikki Giovanni, I cannot imagine life without my son. The day he was born my responsibilities change, my outlook on life changed. As I watched him grow, I have come to know all too well what my mother meant when she always said to me, “Just keep on living” whenever I asked her why she worried about my sisters and me so much. My mother worried about the friends we made. She worried about the influence of young men whose main interests were sexual. She worried about us being presentable, decent young women. She worried about us going to college, having careers, and not depending on a man to take care of us.My mother’s worry, to my knowledge, was not focused primarily on whether our skin color and racial identity would impact our safety. Growing up in rural Alabama, there were always some minor racial tensions; but those tensions were, for the most part, limited to stares, a few racial epithets and a refusal of/poor service. There were no guns involved. My mother did not have to worry about us falling victim to gang violence. We had some young people who participated in gangs (or so they said), but in such a small community, everyone knew everyone and the likelihood that a ‘gang member’ would do a drive by shooting was minimal. My mother did not worry about our family members abusing us. We were always surrounded by family members that cared for us authentically and dared not let anyone harm us. My mother’s worry was genuine, but it is possible that her worries were much different from mine. Raising a child in not-so-post-racial America where ‘Stand Your Ground’ and lack of gun control are bosom buddies; where economic and educational disparity promote community violence; and where those who should protect you are suspected to harming you has marred my experiences of mothering while Black with worry…and FEAR.
All mothers worry about their children; but in a society that has demonstrated (especially in the last year) its lack of concern for Black children, Black mothers’ worries are emphasized to point of fear. Emmett Till’s mother, Mamie Carthan, possibly feared for her child’s safety in the segregated, racially charged South. Her son’s death reminded us that this country has an innate ‘fear of the Black male’. Fifty-seven years later, Sybrina Fulton might have feared less about her son, Trayvon Martin, because we had come so far as a nation, right? Wrong. Monica McBride and Georgia Ferrell likely had the similar fears as other Black mothers. I imagine that they both taught their children to be good to people and ask for help if they needed it. However, Renisha McBride and Jonathan Ferrell both discovered that asking for help has detrimental effects…if you’re Black and in a predominantly White neighborhood. Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, mother of Hadiya Pendleton, now fears for her son because her daughter’s death reminded all of us that doing our best to raise our children in our homes is sometimes trumped by the environment. [A bullet has no name on it.] Rekia Boyd’s mother, Angela Helton, lost her daughter at the very hands of a person who should have protected her – a police officer. Similarly, Danita Leakes mourns the loss of her daughter, Emani Moss, who was abused to death [allegedly] by those who should have protected her – her father and stepmother. Where are Black children safe? With whom can Black mothers trust their children?
Every story that I hear about the senseless death of a Black child ignites my fears and sends me into meditation for the mother. When the Trayvon Martin verdict was read, I cried silently. I first thought of the anguish that Sybrina Fulton must have felt. Then, I thought, “What do I tell my son?” Do I tell him not to wear a hoodie? Do I tell him that he must submit to the pseudo-authority of someone who is targeting him? Do I tell him not to protect himself? The deaths of Hadiya Pendleton, Rekia Boyd, Emani Moss, Jonathan Ferrell, and so many others not mentioned also have forced me to wonder what I should tell my son. Do I tell him not to trust the police? Do I tell him not to ask for help from non-Black people? Do I tell him not to hang out with his friends in a park? Do I tell him not to trust his family members? WHAT DO I TELL MY SON?! And for non-Black mothers reading this post, it is not my intent to diminish your worries and concern for your children. As mothers, we all worry. However, as a Black mother, the fear I have for my son’s safety as a result of living in the skin that he was born in is likely very different from the fears you have. As a Black mother, I worry about my son being a circumstance of – Driving While Black, Shopping While Black, Asking for Help While Black, Dating While Black, Minding His Own Damn Business While Black. Black mothers have to worry about their children’s experiences of simply LIVING WHILE BLACK.
My son is 5’9″ tall, and selfishly, I do not mind that he is not a towering 6′ or more. He is a very laid back young man, and selfishly, I do not mind that he is not more of an ‘in your face’ type. Unlike his White counterparts [who would be perceived as confident], if my son were over 6′ tall and aggressive, he would be deemed a threat to someone. I worry about his voice that is deep beyond his years – and his hair. His freestyle locs are indicative of his free-spirited, loving personality; but for someone who is not familiar with him, his hair can be interpreted as a threat. That’s what we have come to in this country. Black children are viewed as threats simply for being in the skin they are in. Black children are victims of circumstance…and as a nation, we [Black and non-Black] are not outraged enough. Black lives matter. Our children matter.