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As the mother of Black sons, this is what I’m feeling in the wake of another killing

November 2, 2020 Category: ColumnFeaturedLongPurpose
I remember the moment I started to feel fear as a mother. Real fear

It was February 1999 when Amadou Diallo, a 23-year-old West African immigrant reached for his wallet and was greeted with a hail of bullets from four police officers who thought he was a suspect in a rape case. Forty-one shots later, an innocent man was dead.

I haven’t had a really good night’s sleep since, because that killing taught me a painful lesson. I could never take for granted that my three boys would return home each night. They are men now, but I still don’t sleep.

That’s the problem with racism. It robs parents of Black children of their peace of mind.

I tell my white friends that I live in a world where police protect your sons and police mine.

The summer following Diallo’s death, my oldest son, home from his first year of college, was anxious to get a “real” job. He had an interview for a teller position at a bank.  I should have been happy, but I wasn’t. The interview was somewhere in Bucks County and I was afraid for him traveling alone into a white community. We had the talk — again. He didn’t get that job and I breathed a sigh of relief.

I also remember the moment when I started to feel outrage as a mother. Real outrage.

It was two years earlier, in 1997.  Abner Louima, an immigrant from Haiti was physically attacked and brutally sodomized by two NYPD officers in the bathroom of a Brooklyn police district and spent months hospitalized. It was the cruelty of it all that floored me.

Now, sometimes, I tell my white friends when my anger comes unsheathed, that I live in a world where police protect your sons and police mine. It upsets my white friends to hear this.

My middle son was accepted to Jefferson University when it was still Philadelphia University. He wanted to be an architect and I wasn’t happy. Only 2% of licensed architects are African American. I worried about the physical and emotional toll it would take on him trying to move up in a field so obviously inhospitable.

That’s also how racism robs you. Every consideration is painted in black and white.

But we purchased an old Ford Explorer and he made his way up Henry Ave. It was a long time after he graduated that he said he had been stopped at least 17 times. Driving while Black. He didn’t want to upset me so he never told me.

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And I remember the moment when I descended into bitterness. When I became an unapologetically angry Black woman.

It was Feb. 26, 2012 when Trayvon Martin was killed.  The next August, my husband and I joined protestors marching in Trayvon’s name in Washington D.C. It was also the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. Unfortunately, Black children are still being judged by the color of their skin.

Now I am resigned. America cannot change.

My youngest son got home from work. I can’t remember his job at the time but he wanted to borrow the car to go to Wendy’s, about five minutes away, to go through the drive-thru to get a burger, some fries, a coke. We had a luxury sedan then and I worried. A Black boy, after midnight, in a luxury car… should I let him go?

That’s what racism does — it robs you of simple answers. Every request from a Black child becomes a complicated risk calculation.

I let him take the car. It wasn’t long before I saw blinking police lights outside my bedroom window. I had gambled and made the wrong choice. I went outside — walked slowly towards the officer — and explained indeed it was my son, my car. Blah, blah, blah.

And yet, I’m lucky. Each of my sons continues to come home at night. That’s now the extent of my American Dream for them.

We have had over 400 homicides in Philadelphia this year. That’s 400 mothers whose luck has run out. That’s the thing about having Black or brown children. No matter what you do, they can be killed at any time.

I feel weary too.

I knew what Walter Wallace Jr.’s mother was going to say. That she hopes no mother will ever feel the pain that she now feels, but we all know that this prayer will not be answered. There will be another shooting — soon. Another mother’s luck will run out.

The rest of us will drown in her tears, despairing in our knowledge that Walter could have just as easily been our own child.

The rest of us will drown in her tears, despairing in our knowledge that Walter could have just as easily been our own child. It all seems so cruelly random.

Living with racism takes its toll physically. I joke that there should be a question on every primary physician’s intake — Are you raising Black children in America?  Although, I am not really joking. My blood pressure escalates easily now. Outrage, bitterness, fear are all hard on your heart.

However, with resignation has come new-found practicality. We drive a Honda now.

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