An Appeal to All of My Mommy Friends, Let's Work to Protect Our Boys

A letter to my mommy friends,

I generally write about more "universal" topics. However, I think that the safety of our sons deserves our attention.

America is a Dangerous Place for Young Black Men

Two years ago I wrote a piece entitled, “Being a Mother is an Exercise in Great Faith” in response to the Trayvon Martin incident as well as a tragic story about a Pittsburgh girl who died at school because she choked on a hot dog.  I believed then as I do now that the only way to mother and not lose your sanity is to have strong faith.  Those mothers who are able to do it otherwise are simply stronger than I will ever be.

That said, the last week has tried both my patience and my faith.  It seems like every time I turn on the television I am confronted by a story involving a young Black man who has been killed in the prime of his life. It does not appear to be safe to be young, Black and male anywhere in this country.  I have been aware of this since my youth, but it hits me harder now that I am the mother of a son.  As I look at his innocent face and he shoots me a smile that represents all of the goodness that exists in the world and holds such promise, I am scared.  I recognize that at one time, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, John Crawford III and countless other young Black men who are gone were somebody’s baby. (Some are listed above.) Their mothers believed in them. They prayed for them. They loved them. And they buried them.

It is My Job To Protect My Son, But I Will Not Always Be Able to Do So

This Saturday morning has been idyllic. My son and I hung out because his sister and father were out to breakfast.  He gazed at me, smiled, suckled my breasts for his breakfast and was happy.  I was happy too. I was also overjoyed that he was lying safe in my arms.  As his mother, it is my job to protect him, but as he gets older I won't always be able to do so.

My little guy, ready for the world

My son will have certain advantages because he has a stable home and his mother is an attorney.  Still, he will likely experience challenges that his White peers will not. My husband and I will teach him to be respectful, responsible and resilient.  He will learn to read, write and do arithmetic.  We will provide him with a good life that includes everything he needs and much of what he wants.  Still, when he walks down the street, goes into a store, tries to hail a cab and reaches into his pocket for candy in public he will be viewed as a Black man.  That scares me given what has been happening to young Black men lately in New York City, Ferguson, Missouri, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and elsewhere.

Imagine Teaching Your Son "How to Get Arrested"

I was listening to NPR last week and a Black father from Ferguson, Missouri said that he will teach his son “how to get arrested” because invariably he will have that experience even if he does nothing wrong.  Think about that for a moment.  Black parents in Ferguson and all over this country are teaching their sons “how to get arrested” because being good and keeping their nose clean may not be enough.  And Black parents understand that even if the charges are fabricated or otherwise unfounded if their sons don’t know the etiquette of interacting with the police they may wind up dead.

It pains me to think that we may need to teach our son similar lessons.  For those reading who don't have Black sons, can you imagine looking at your baby and thinking that you may have to teach him how to get arrested? I encourage you to imagine what it might be like for a mother to contemplate doing that and simultaneously teach him that he is also able to achieve any of his dreams.  If this seems wrong to do, help make this country a better place for my son and those who look like him.

Son playing on the floor in our messy house

Nobody is Safe When the Police Feel Empowered to Kill Upon Suspicion

When the police feel empowered to kill simply upon generalized suspicion and stereotype, we all have a problem.  Nobody is safe. If you are the mother of a Black boy or have a son who tans well and might be mistaken as ethnic depending on the light, he could be next. 

For those who criticize the victims for their attire, demeanor and defiance, I encourage them to think about what they were like when they were young. Perfection should not be a condition of citizenship.  And, mouthing off to the police should not get you murdered. Young men tend to be hot headed, impulsive, and brave. That’s why we recruit them into the military. They mellow with maturity. It is a rite of passage. Young Black men should have the freedom to make mistakes, exercise poor judgment and be disrespectful just like everybody else. They should also have the opportunity to grow up to be better people who contribute to society.  

Think About What You can Do to Keep My Son Safe

Now that I am the mother of a little Black boy, I am still praying fervently for my family and exercising my faith.  However, in light of all of these incidents I am also thinking about what I can do to make this country a safer place for him.  I implore all of my mommy friends, Black, White, Asian and Latina, to do the same.