I have been in a funk the past several months. I was experiencing a tremendous amount of anxiety, which is very understandable given the pandemic, in addition to lots of polarizing political talk.
But a lot of it has to do with my Black son turning 12 this year.
I am very worried about the world my beautiful, smart, hilarious and talented son, Nick, is growing up in. Sure, the virus is scary, social media can be draining, and the political rhetoric is heated, but when you have a Black child, these fears of the world he walks in are magnified.
This hit me the day of Rep. John Lewis’ funeral. President Barack Obama was charged with the eulogy. You don’t have to like him or agree with his policies to hear the message he had for us that day. The former president’s speech was timely, confronting hate and bigotry head-on, while somehow remaining positive and hopeful.
I was on social media immediately afterward and was sickened by the hate that poured through every crack. Relating to a funeral. Maybe I am naive, but it just seems like we used to have more respect for fellow Americans than that.
I don’t make a habit of having “friends” or “following” people who make hateful comments. I just don’t have the time for it, but these people can still make their way to your screen fairly easily.
That day, a former neighbor, a man with a healthy sense of humor and a heart of gold, posted something hateful and mind-blowing on social media. He had to know that there was a chance that his very good friends, my husband and I, might see it.
We did. And we were shocked.
This was a family we lived next door to for several years and they adored Nick way back when he was itty-bitty and afraid of dogs. They had a small dog, and because of this family’s kindness, Nick learned not to fear being around dogs.
When Nick was 5 and got to ride the big yellow school bus home on his first day of kindergarten, these same neighbors were there to greet him. They are on our family video of this special occasion. Seemingly, they were just as proud as we were.
This special relationship grew and evolved as time went on and my son viewed our neighbors as extended family. Fast-forward to the tumultuous world we now live in and this good family ― these good friends ― have somehow gotten sucked into the social media meme parade. I teared up on many occasions as I read and reread the hurtful, hateful and inaccurate things they shared.
Like many others in the world, I feel our family has been forced to cut ties with people who were once a part of our inner circle because the ignorance and hate that they so carefully hid finally leaked out for all to see.
The sadness I feel from this is profound.
The overall sadness I feel is a byproduct of feeling like I am unable to protect my children from evil that I can’t readily see. Even people we once trusted have given in to the culture of judgment and fear.
My son will be 12 soon. The same age that Tamir Rice was when he was shot and killed by a police officer for playing with a toy gun in a park. As a mother, how can I know who sees my son as human and who does not? And if Nick does happen to cross paths with someone who doesn’t see him as human, would someone who does still make sure my son is not harmed? Will they speak up if he is misjudged, misidentified or in danger? Would they step in between him and someone else as a human shield? Because I would do all of those things for your child.
Sadly, I wish these were the only incidents I had to share.
I am sure people in our neighborhood wonder why I follow my child everywhere he goes. He loves to run and ride his bike, but unlike the rest of the 11-year-olds, Nick can never be anywhere alone. I see the neighbors smile at me somewhat sheepishly as I follow him in our car up and down every street. (He is way too fast for me to keep up with him any other way.)
The greatest fear I think is the fear that someone attempts to pull him aside because they automatically judge that he does not belong in some space that they are in at the same time.
God help someone if they try to corner my son the way they did Ahmaud Arbery. My son is an American, just like any of them. He is free to run up and down any street and play, and no one but the police has the right to stop him and demand answers to questions. It is the reason why the 911 dispatcher specifically told George Zimmerman not to follow Trayvon Martin. Sadly, he did not follow this directive.
We are very peaceful, loving, God-fearing people, and it has been eye-opening and exhausting to deal with these exacerbated feelings and worries. This is not normal for us to feel this way. Throughout every challenge in life, my husband and I have routinely repeated to each other, “Things always have a way of working out for us.”
However, our children and the activities they participate in can no longer be left up to chance. Or the belief that we should just let go and trust all will be all right. Nope. I’m going to need to see your Facebook feed first.
No longer is the absence of any hate rhetoric enough. I need to see that you speak up. Otherwise, how can I trust that you will do the same when my 11-year-old Black boy is in your care. I need for you to already be aware that if he spends the night at your house, standard childhood games like cops and robbers are off the table.
I am so tired. I am so worried. I am so burdened. And today for the first time, as I write this, I am so angry. My children are absolutely beautiful, but our society is afraid of the color of my young Black son’s skin and what he might become. I cannot even begin to explain to you the level of anxiety I have had over the past few months once it set in that Nick is turning 12 soon.
No longer a boy.
The world will see him as a man.
Please, God, protect him.
My beautiful family should not have to live this way. To have a fear of him doing what kids all over this country do every single day. With zero room for mistakes.
The fear and the worry are overwhelming. I watch over Nick and hold him extra tight.
I really need for all of you to do the same.