NOTE: This post was written prior to the horrific shootings of five police officers in Dallas. The author would like to make it clear that her heart hurts even more because killing innocent police officers is NOT the answer to anything, it only makes the epidemic worse. The author would like to make it clear that she respects police officers for the dangerous job that they do and the five slain police officers in Dallas did not deserve their fate. Her heart aches for the families of the slain and injured officers as much as it does for the countless black people that fear for their lives. The author feels the violence over the last week is all too much and hopes that more people become vocal to fight for peace and fairness for all.
One day my nine-year-old son and his best friend insisted on having a playdate. This is something they had never done before, and I knew it meant a lot to them so us moms made it happen. We don’t tend to do a lot of playdates because we have neighbors and family in the area that my sons usually play with. I should also add that my son is black and his best friend is white. I’d like to say that doesn’t matter, but it really does.
Watching my son’s best friend play was the first time I had seen fearlessness personified. He played like he was invincible. He climbed too high, he jumped too far, he ran out of our sight often, and did it all without a care in the world. My son, however, was quite self-regulating. He made sure he always stayed within a safe distance from us, he cautiously jumped, he wouldn’t climb at all and was very methodical in his playground decisions.
That day it hit me: my son’s friend played as if he wasn’t afraid of the consequences of being a kid. It may seem strange to think those consequences even exist, but as the parent of black boys, I am well aware that they do. I know that black children are viewed as less innocent and more responsible for their actions than white children. I know that black children are more likely to be suspended from school than their white counterparts. My husband and I have always taught our children the importance of staying safe and being respectful for obvious reasons, but THURSDAY I realized how deep our lessons to them go.
THURSDAY I turned on the national morning news and saw the video of Alton Sterling being shot. I had been trying to avoid watching it because these traumatic shootings take a toll on me. About 30 minutes later I opened my Facebook newsfeed to see a still from the live-streamed video of Philando Castile’s bloody body laid across his car seat. He was shot as well, with his daughter in the back seat. I still can’t bring myself to watch that video. Police brutality and the media have forced me to accept the cold hard facts: black men between the ages of 15 and 34 are only 2% of the US population, but account for more than 15% of police shootings, and I am the mother of three beautiful black boys.
THURSDAY my heart was ripped out of my chest as I thought about every black man and boy in my life. My heart broke for Alton and Philando’s children, their parents and especially their wives who both had to remain composed as they spoke of the horrible fate of the men they loved in front of the nation. I realized this will be something I will always have to worry about.
I’m frightened for my husband as he steps out the door every morning. I fear that a traffic stop could alter my family’s lives. Worst of all, it has forced me to fear for the future and the lives of my three beautiful black boys. I dread the day my children will have an encounter with police and know this fear as well.
Sadly, after the trauma of seeing these senseless shootings over and over, my next thought is always the same: “More lives were stolen from the black community and I bet nothing will happen to those cops. Once again, taxes paid for this cop to kill another black person and then go on administrative leave.” I have lost hope, as so many others have, that justice will ever be delivered for those killed without cause. I support the police that support the community and take the time to get to know its people. All cops are not bad and black people know that. Their job is not easy and I respect then for putting their lives on the line to protect and serve. The cops that make every effort to make everyone feel protected should not be the minority. We need those officers to speak up against the ones that do not value everyone’s life.
I am hurt, I am sad, I am angry and I feel helpless. What do I say to my children? My five and one-year-old don’t understand any of this but my 9-year-old is very observant and sees that there is something wrong. I have found I’ve unwillingly had to have conversations with him about race. This is so hard to explain to a child because none of it makes any damn sense.
How do you explain to a child that his dark skin is the reason he will be judged in the worst possible way for the rest of his life? How do I encourage his relationship with his best friend, but explain that he cannot do all of the things his best friend can do just because he is black? How do you explain to your son that his best friend is disciplined in school less than he is because of the color of his skin? How do I explain that he and his brothers’ lives are on the line 24 hours a day? How do you explain that many white people devalue him as a person because they choose to believe the stereotypes of who they assume all black people are.
How do you have “the conversation” with a nine-year-old? “The conversation”, for those who don’t know, explains how to act in the presence of law enforcement. How do I tell him in that conversation that any slight misstep could be the end of his precious and valuable life? How do I explain that there are good cops, but he should always proceed with caution and comply no matter what he did or did not do? How do I tell him that even with this knowledge he may still become a victim of police brutality? Why should we have to do this?
More than anything how do I tell him to stay hopeful, stay positive, and not to give into a life of anger and frustration? HOW?!
My black children’s lives matter! Black Lives Matter! To those say All Lives Matter, why aren’t you fighting for black lives too? When broken down by race, for every million people, the police have taken 3.25 black lives compared to 1.41 white lives. To me those facts say that my son’s life is worth 230% less than his friend’s. As a mother I cannot accept that, and it is heart-wrenching that others do.
As black parents we put so much emphasis on how our children act because we want them to remain safe. As a result my children and ALL black children cannot be fearless. Why does my newsfeed fill up with enraged comments from black people trying to inspire change but the majority of white people remain silent after these killings on and offline.
The support for the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando inspired words of support. There were peaceful demonstrations everywhere and it seems like everyone changed their profile picture to a rainbow flag. When nine black church members attended bible study and were mercilessly killed at Mother Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, I did not see a similar outcry. Our community needs support, our community needs you to speak up.
I try my very best to be a positive person. My husband and I always try to make our children feel safe and happy. It is not easy. And if our children ask the tough questions about being black in America, we do not and will not lie to them. We cannot sugarcoat it because we know the consequences. They need to know how to stay safe. Tamir Rice was alone in a park with a toy gun and died because of it. He was just 12 years old, and there were no consequences for that officer. If my son’s white friend were alone in a park holding a toy gun no one would think twice.
As I watched my son’s best friend play, I longed for my boys to feel that free. THURSDAY reminded me why they will probably never have that peace in their lifetime.