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Each morning between the hours of 4:30 a.m. and 6 a.m., I have the pleasure of cuddling with my 7-year-old son. During that time I usually pray for him, his happiness, his development, his life journey with Down syndrome. I pray that he finds joy in this world. I find that being a mother of a black son sparks within me the desire to protect him. I want to protect him from himself and the ways he might not understand the world in which we live. I want to protect him from other boys who may not have a love for life or the guidance of elders. And I want to protect him from a system that seems to throw away and kill black boys.
Growing up, it was common to hear black boys and young men saying they didn't expect to live past 25 years old. I met my son’s father when he was 22 years old, and there was a fear behind his eyes that he would die an early death, a sadness that couldn’t be gathered up and disposed of. I’ve watched black men go silent and limp when encountering the police for no good reason. Their heads down to avoid eye contact, arms locked behind their backs, face down on the ground — quietly waiting to be released back into their manhood.
I've witnessed the humiliation of what happens to a man when a white man with a badge subjugates him for no reason. I can recall the first time I noticed a white woman grip her purse as she passed my brother-in-law walking down the street. She has no idea he grew up in Malibu, the son of an Academy Award-winning actor. I watched in horror as she moved quickly, holding her purse tight to her body. He didn't react or adjust himself. As a matter of fact, he behaved as if it is something he's used to.
It was then that I realized I don't have a clue what it's like to walk this planet as a black man. Being a black woman is different because we are not hunted outright. We are the survivors who wail for our young who are killed just before they get a chance to really live. We sit silently and listen to our men as they recall stories of being harassed. We rub their backs attempting to make them feel better, kiss their faces and go make dinner.
When the doctor pointed out my son’s penis in the ultra sound monitor ... I went into my car and cried for my son’s safety and what it would mean for me to raise a black son into manhood.
Ferguson is not surprising to me. My son’s father is from St. Louis and has shared countless stories about racism and growing up in the Mid-West. As I watch the news coverage and text him to ask if his brothers and family are safe, I'm not surprised when he says he hasn't spoken to them. It's very difficult to work to create a peaceful, productive life and also live with the fear of being killed too soon or harassed because of the color of your skin. It's a funny world we live in now where people who look like me and my family members are being murdered by cops and think, that couldn’t happen to me. I am different. It's a trick I play on myself so I can get through the day. Kiss my baby, walk away from him and hope to see him when I return. That's not my life or my circumstances, I'm different, I tell myself. I'm safe. My child is safe.
In the early days of my pregnancy I hoped I was having a girl. When the doctor pointed out my son’s penis in the ultra sound monitor, I took a big gulp of air. Afterward I went into my car and cried for my son’s safety and what it would mean for me to raise a black son into manhood. I wondered how I would protect him. A few weeks later my genetic testing showed that my son would have Down syndrome. In that moment I felt horror but also relief. It's rare that you hear of kids with special needs being gunned down by police. I realized then how crazy the thought was but I allowed it.
Just the other day in South Los Angeles, where I reside, a 25-year-old unarmed man was murdered by the police. The family says he had mental illness and was not a threat to the police. They are planning a community vigil this weekend in the community where I walked my son each day when he was an infant.
When I see and hear stories of black children being murdered by cops, those who are hired to protect, I automatically think of their mothers, who like I, probably pray for their son’s safety each day, cuddled them, dream for their happiness, kiss their faces and send them out into the world, hoping they will return.
Even as I try tricking myself into believing my son and I are different. I can say, honestly that it doesn't feel different. We are not special in the eyes of someone who doesn’t know our plight. We are just a number with a brown face. I don't focus on the fear but I know that we are not different than the mother in the TV looking like a strong black woman who will never cuddle her son again, kiss his face and send him out into the world hoping for his return.
I fear something hot is brewing among the innocent. We are tired of our sons going and not returning.