On Black Motherhood and Constantly Mourning Our Sons and Daughters
There is something about life that changes when a person becomes a parent. Specifically, for the person who carries a child and brings them into this world, the resulting event is far greater than just a physiological change. For me, I became a different person after having my first child, my oldest son. As a Black mother of Black children, I started a process of frequent mourning that I simply wasn’t prepared for.
The very publicized deaths of Black children have been constants throughout the building of my family.
My oldest son was three years old when 7-year-old Aiyana Stanley-Jones was murdered in her living room while napping next to her grandmother. When 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was killed, I had just welcomed a baby girl. And, when 12-year-old Tamir Rice was killed in cold blood in November 2014 by Cleveland police officers, I was still nursing my third child, another boy. As these Black mothers were mourning the losses of their babies, I was doing my best to preserve and protect my own amidst the constant reminder that they could be taken from me at any moment.
Then, this week, when a Ohio grand jury decided not to file charges against the police officers who shot Tamir Rice on a playground before their patrol car even came to a complete stop, tackled his sister at the scene, and refused to offer him any life-saving medical attention as he lie dying on the ground, it all came back again. All the same feelings of anger, powerlessness, and frustration that haunted me each time these children were murdered.
It was yet another reminder that Black life isn’t precious to anyone in the United States, that it is fully expendable and de-valued so much that even children don’t receive justice when they are unfairly killed. Knowing that many White people will never see my children as children, instead they’ll be seen as scary, violent, or threatening, means that each of these events just further normalizes these narratives. Whenever the murderers of Black children go unpunished, sometimes even celebrated, it changes me.
I am realizing that a good deal of my parenting is in reaction to a society that hates me, that hates my husband, and that wishes to remove all traces of my posterity. This is a reality for me as a Black mother of Black children. It’s a painful one. It’s like a tumor that I know is malignant but I am convincing myself it’s benign.
Each time these events happen, I can’t help but imagine my own child in the same situation. I try my hardest not to do it but the disregard for the lives of Black children makes me keenly aware that my family is not immune. I go through a process of considerations. I ask questions like, “how do I prevent this from happening to my sons or daughter?” Or, “What do I teach them about this particular event so that they will not feel hopeless or targeted?”
My family, too, could be on the receiving end of what prosecutor Tim McGinty called a “perfect storm of human error.” This human error is frequently deemed justifiable. And, I’m neither arrogant nor ignorant enough to believe that any good behavior on mine or my kid’s parts will protect them from the reckless, murderous hatred towards Blacks in this country.
I guess I have decided that mourning my very alive children is a part of Black motherhood. In a way, like potty-training, teething, and the first day of school each year, mourning is a process I must endure regularly living in the United States. Not only that, it shapes and contours the lessons I hand down, the behaviors I expect, and the choices I make when discussing these issues with my children.
We are collectively mourning our sons and daughters. And every breath they take feels like we stole it from the forces seeking to kill them. Each birthday feels like we have beat the system just one more time.
This is not to say that my daily experiences are equivalent to the mothers who have lost their children. Rather, this is all to say that the ubiquitous violence against Black children is a burden carried by all Black mothers. Some endure this to greater degrees than others but we each suffer from the anxiety that these murders and the subsequent injustices induce.
I’m not sure what it looks like to truly be free of these burdens. I have no way of understanding what it means to parent children without these feelings and pressures. For me, this is motherhood, a beautiful sequence of stolen moments, hopes, and fears.
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