I am a black woman living in the southern United States. Amidst ever-worsening police violence against minorities, and the rush of hate crimes in the wake of the 2016 election, I've made up my mind about a rather fundamental thing: I will not have children.
Here's the deal: If I did have children, the ones I would have would be black, like me. Despite my deep desire and love for children, as long as I live in the U.S., and as long as this country refuses to address the deep-seated and long-running issues around race, I can't have kids, at least not here. At least not right now.
I can't do that to a child.
In the wake of Donald Trump’s surprising election win, there has been an onslaught of hate crimes across the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center keeps a running list of all crimes since November 8, and the numbers are quite shocking. There were nearly 1,000 incidences in the first two weeks alone.
Bullying is also on the rise. Human Rights Campaign's post-election survey of nearly 50,000 kids age 13 to 18 years old found that 70 percent of them reported they had witnessed "bullying, hate messages or harassment during or since the 2016 election." And 70 percent of those witnesses said the bullying was racially or ethnically motivated.
No. Just no.
How do you explain to your child that the people everyone is supposed to think of as the good guys often enough think of them as a threat?
My friends with Black and brown babies report that their children understand, at least somewhat, the gravity of the current climate. Donald Trump’s rhetoric and eventual win galvanized many—including white supremacists—to the point where it's beyond harassment. Hate crimes have spiked and children of color and feel the discrimination—even in elementary school.
My best friend’s 7-year-old daughter turned to her in the fear-induced fog following Trump’s win and asked her, simply, “Mommy, is it always like this?"
I mean, what's the answer? Before the election, people believed that a 12-year-old with a toy gun was dangerous (and let's just ignore the fact that even if he'd been a 20-year-old with a real gun, he lived in Ohio, an open carry state). My heart still fractures when I think of Tamir Rice. What if he'd been my son?
When I hear people justifying George Zimmerman’s actions of killing Trayvon Martin, I cry. My baby sister is the same age as Trayvon was and, if some creep had followed her around in his car, believing she were a threat to our majority-white neighborhood, I would have wanted her to fight back, to fight for her life, as hard as she possibly could.
These are the burdens that black people live with every day. We fear for our family members. We fear for our friends. We fear for ourselves. We live with these fears and the ceratainty that tens of thousands of people who don't look like us will rush to justify our unjustifiable deaths.
How do you explain that to your child when you can hardly process it as an adult?
Rather than have her children continue to know brutality as their norm for the rest of their days, Garner slit her 2-year-old’s throat, killing her.
How do you explain to your child that the people everyone is supposed to think of as the good guys often enough think of them as a threat? I am not someone who avoids difficult conversations. But it is hard for me to see merit in raising a son in a world that thinks he's a problem, a world that refuses to admit this and doesn't have the will to work toward finding a solution.
Better that this child not exist at all. I'm not the first black woman to feel this way.
In January of 1856, U.S. Marshals chased down Margaret “Peggy” Garner and her family, across the frozen Ohio River. The Marshals—slave catchers among them—surrounded the house where Garner and her family, all enslaved persons, were hiding. The itention was to capture and return Garner and her kids back to where they had escaped from—back to slavery.
She would not let her family suffer any longer. Rather than have her children continue to know brutality as their norm for the rest of their days, Garner slit her 2-year-old’s throat, killing her. She wounded her three other children and prepared to kill herself before the Marshals and slave catchers stormed the house and subdued her.
Her mindset—as well as the severity of life as an enslaved person—have to be understood in order to empathize with her actions. Slavery was a brutal, harsh, violent. Slavery was an institution that victimized, rendered powerless and trapped people within it. But it was lucrative for those who ran the show—so lucrative in fact, that the part of the United States eventually committed treason by leaving the Union in order to keep it.
Already, this world and our society are generally cruel and dangerous—especially for people of color.
Infanticide is, without a doubt, horrific, but Garner's actions were done out of love. She thought her children would be better off dead than enslaved. While the 13th amendment outlawed slavery, there's a loophole in it that makes unpaid (read: slave) labor legal if the work is performed by the incarcerated. Abuse of this loophole started soon after the Civil War ended and, to this day, Black people are disproportionately the victims.
The result? Blackness has been criminalized.
Police-involved and otherwise fatal shootings of unarmed black (yet, somehow, still more dangerous than armed white) men, women and children follows this same thread. The people who enslaved black people had reasons why the enslaved deserved their fates—“proving” with science that we weren’t actually people or that we were too dumb too care for ourselves. They found excuses, and the contemporary public ate them up, internalized them, lived and breathed them.
So for now, while we are still struggling to admit on a large scale that unarmed black people don’t deserve to die just because a professionally trained police officer is afraid of their blackness, I cannot very well put aside my fear for the blackness of my potential children.
And while I very well know that anti-blackness is global, I can’t help but dream that they may fare better elsewhere.
So, at only 26 years young, in my reproductive prime, as a person who really adores kids, my current thought process is one Margaret Garner would understand: I do not feel like I can bring a child into this world. Already, this world and our society are generally cruel and dangerous—especially for people of color.
I do not know how I would live on if my little son would become the next Rice or Martin.
Because, the truth is, there is always another one.