Tuesday, August 19, 2014

I don't know what to say


I know there are some people who are wondering 'what is everyone there so upset about!?' There are people who are disgusted by the looting and protests in Ferguson. People who somehow, incredibly, think 'he must have deserved it.' 

To those folks, I say, then please come to my house and explain it to my young black son, because I'm having a hard time doing so. 

Yesterday on the way home I had the news on in the car. The Michael Brown story was retold. Daniel asked me "Who is that? Why did he die?"

Many, many words got stuck in my throat. I try not to lie to my child. I also do not want him, at the tender age of 8, to be afraid of the police. I do not want him, at the tender age of 8, to be scared of or hate his own brown skin. He already wants to be "white like you." 

So I told him, through tears I tried to hide, that the police in Missouri made a big mistake. That a boy died, and his friends and family are very upset because the police did not say they were sorry. *

* This child- size version of events isn't so far from the truth as I understand it. A police officer made a big mistake, somehow believing that an unarmed 18 year old was dangerous. The people in the streets of Ferguson chanting "No justice, No Peace",  are demanding accountability, answers, and due process. 

Then my son asked me (showing how a boy who loves superheroes mind works) 

"How do bullets kill you? 

What do they do? How do they get inside you?

And, "How could the police make that mistake? Why don't they just say sorry?"

And my words failed me. I don't want the words "bullets" and "my child" in my head at the same time. I have too many terrifying images of other mothers' sons in my mind's eye. Bullets ripping through them, their bodies left in the street for hours. It is far, far too easy for me picture my son in Michael Brown's place.

I have learned, as mommy to a black son, some very hard lessons. And more, I'm sadly sure, will come.

When he asks if he can bring his water gun to the park, I hesitate.

When he wants to ride his bike around the block alone, I freeze.

When he asks what they are saying on the news? why am I crying over my Facebook feed?.. my mouth is dry.

I'm having trouble finding the words to help him be safe while also holding his head up high. I want him to be a strong, proud black American man. I also want him to stay alive.

We live by the myths in this country that everyone is treated fairly, justice and punishment meted out equally, rewards given to those who work hard. They are such lovely myths. So many of us believe in them, despite so much evidence to the contrary.  Life is not fair. Justice and punishment not meted out equally. Rewards come to those who are lucky and born into privileges.  At what age do we dispel these wonderful, wholly untruthful stories for the Santa Claus tales they are? What stories do we tell instead? That is my work as mommy to these children: find the stories that will uplift and inspire them to live up to their amazing potential, while also helping them navigate the tricky, sometimes dangerous world we live in. 

I wonder what the end of this Ferguson story will be. I'm praying, I'm praying that it ends with more justice, with more wisdom, with someone saying, "We made a mistake. We are so, terribly sorry."

What would you say?

What DO you say to your black child?

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