I am the mother to three amazing children, three beautiful boys. They are full of light and fun and love. I look at them and see my whole world, my heart truly living outside of my body.
To the world, they are not just three boys.
They are three Black boys.
So much about that sentence and the way the world we live in makes that heavy in ways that break my heart. Currently they are 14, 3, and 2. My toddlers are still at a point where they are so young, and the worries have not started to creep in quite as much. My oldest, though? He has developed a man’s voice and a man’s body so suddenly in the last year.
My oldest son will soon be a Black man, who many will see as a threat
But sadly even Black boys are seen as such too.
He was eight when I had to explain to him why he was not allowed to play with toy guns, and especially not outside of our house. This was in 2014, the year twelve year old Tamir Rice was murdered in a park, carrying a toy gun. A mere child, in a park like my child might have been, seen as a threat and not a nervous kid when the police came and shot him. His older sister witnessed his death. That makes two Black childhoods that were stolen.
He was twelve when I had to explain to him why I didn’t want him wearing hoodies with the hood up, which was something that he liked to do. I couldn’t help but think about another Black boy who wore a hoodie; Trayvon Martin. A young Black boy who lost his life at only seventeen, murdered because he was perceived yet again as a threat, and being somewhere he did not belong according to the individual who shot him. Murdered wearing a hoodie, carrying a pack of Skittles. Things that my oldest son had done plenty of times, but things that I cannot bring myself to let him do anymore.
Those are things that should be commonplace for children to do, yet as a Black mother I ask myself every day “Is this something that could get my child killed?”
Being a parent of any child is not without its own unique set of worries and fears. Being the parent of Black children comes with not just the general worries about breastfeeding versus bottle feeding or if you will send them to kindergarten too early or too late.
There is the knowledge in the back of your head that you always have to keep yourself alert and your eyes clear to the fact that there are many people who do not see your sweet children as human. That there are many people who do not think that your child’s life matters.
Every Black child and Black parent are familiar with ‘The Talk’
‘The Talk’ is a sad rite of passage for Black youth; it’s when we sit down and have a conversation with our children about the dangers that they face. From racism to unjust and unfair treatment they could possibly receive at the hands of law enforcement or other authority figures.
The hope is to arm our youth with the knowledge that they need. Like their rights, and how to de escalate situations. The hard part is knowing that in many ways, all of this preparation and awareness might not even make a difference.
Philando Castile was murdered by a police officer in 2016 during a routine traffic stop with his partner and her daughter. He did all of the right things; he informed the officer that he had a firearm, which he legally carried. He said he was not pulling out his firearm, he was trying to pull out his registration. He was shot five times anyway. His partner’s daughter witnessed his murder. Yet again, another Black childhood stolen.
It’s enough to make a Black mother feel helpless sometimes
I am not looking forward to when I have to have these conversations as my toddlers as they grow older. Knowing the hard lessons about racism and pain their father and I will have to teach them, the same way we have had to do with our oldest son. That knowledge settles deep into your bones and while it makes you want to recoil and hide you know you have to turn it into being your children’s greatest protectors.
Deep down, I know that there is only so much that I can do to protect my children from racism; until there is radical change in the United States it is a part of life for BIPOC people. What keeps me going is knowing that while I cannot change the world on my own, I can do everything I can to make sure the hearts of my boys will be as ready as possible for the world outside our walls, the good and the bad.