The Beginning of Her Undoing

First Day of School My Mom Front Right

Before I shared my last post, I called my mom and read it to her. Years had past since we last shared a genuine conversation and I was worried how she might react. After I finished reading, the line went silent. My heart began to beat as if it were about to erupt from my chest. I took a deep breath, waited for my mom to respond, and as my pulse slowed to normal I could hear her silent, muffled sobbing. “This was everything that I wanted to tell you, but I didn’t have the words,” she said. “I think of that day all the time and about how I wasn’t able to protect you.” I asked if I had her permission to share, and she said, “Yes, share it with anyone you like.”

I was glad to have her permission, but was worried that she only agreed because she feared that I may stop speaking to her again. Trying to understand my mother has not been easy, and when things get too difficult I resort to ignoring her calls. It is not something that I am proud of, but if you ask the few people that trepidatiously roam the fragile halls of my inner circle, being “ghosted” is par for the course.

There are many things that I need to work through, but my belief in a higher power has kept me, so I write because I know that I was not given this life to remain silent.

God Bless the Invisible Black Woman was initially written as a response to the latest surveillance video released regarding Mike Brown. Watching the video and reading the subsequent articles made me think, what if information about my mom was suppressed by the police? Would my life be different if the tiny community I grew up in rallied together in support of her?

All of these questions combined with my lack of sleep due to the nightmares of the police raiding my home were causing me to fear for my mental well-being. My first thought was to seek counseling, but instead I chose to write. I’ve been through years of therapy and firmly believe that I would not be alive today without the treatment I received for PTSD and depression. But, at this point in my healing I feel the need to integrate the horror stories that I have shared in the confines of the offices of white women with the public at large.

Throughout my life I’ve experienced unsolicited advice about what I should and should not share, and quite frankly I am tired of sacrificing my freedom for others discomfort. Yes, my telling of spending summers in crack houses may be difficult for to hear but that was my normal and it is the normal of many young Americans.

When people choose to encourage the censoring of my experiences, they are in effect telling me that I am not human, but little do they know that their inability to simply listen serves as a horrifically violent act. Who suffers more, the one that experiences trauma, or the one that silences the traumatized?

My grandmother had seven kids before she raised my brother and I. My mom was the youngest, and although my grandma was too proud to ask for help, she took it when necessary. She tried to repay, but sometimes it simply wasn’t possible.

Most families were better off financially than ours. One of the families, the Smith’s, had girls my moms age. She became friends with them, and they frequently bought things for her. She has shared many stories about growing up with the Smith’s over the years, but it wasn’t until I released my blog that she told me about a not so fond memory of back-to-school shopping. After a long day at the mall, her friend ran over to a man giving away balloons. The man gave a balloon to her friend and her siblings, but overlooked my mother as if she were invisible. Mrs. Smith asked the man, “Why did you not give Mary a balloon?” He said, “I don’t give balloons to niggers.”

She said that Mrs. Smith promptly had her girls release their balloons. They did not need them anyway. The girls released their balloons and with it their short lived feelings of discomfort, but my mom was not able to so easily release the color of her skin. No one asked her how she felt. No one listened. This was the first humiliating event of many to come, the beginning of her undoing.

My mom was my real life Superman. She was the strongest, fastest woman around and I told her all the time that I wanted to be just like my mommy when I grew up. She told me that I could be anything that I wanted, but made me promise to not be like her.

Superman had his kryptonite, and my mom’s was crack. She was a super human mommy, but when she smoked she was a much weaker version of herself. Her super hero power of love for me weakened, but she felt alive for the first time.

Much like how kryptonite was created as a means of humanizing the Man of Steel, the war on drugs was created as a means of dehumanizing people like my mother. It was as if the world knew that black and brown folks, even in the most horrific conditions, were destined for greatness. That knowledge terrified the white man, so he did everything to break us.

The white man is legally killing us, and it all started in the 1930’s at the hands of a man named Harry Anslinger, the First Commissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics. He was given a place of power, henchmen, and federal funding to eradicate drugs, but he was also responsible for the creation of the war. Harry realized that a problem was needed in order to suggest a solution and so he reached out to police, quack doctors, and utilized the media mogul William Randolph Hearst to spread his sensationalized falsities.

For example, a highly publicized case that defined the evils of marijuana use for Anslinger and America was that of Victor Lacata**. Vitctor was a twenty-one-year old boy that purportedly smoked a little bit of cannabis, entered a smoke filled haze, and then proceeded to hack his family to death with an axe.

Although doctors repeatedly wrote to Anslinger with evidence proving that such stories were unfounded, he remained relentless in his crusade. Why? Johann Hari, in his book Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs wrote,

“The main reason for banning drugs- the reason obsessing the men who launched this war- was that blacks, Mexicans, and Chinese were using these chemicals, forgetting their place, and menacing white people. … Many white Americans did not want to accept that black Americans might be rebelling because they had lives like Billie Holiday’s- locked into Pigtowns and banned from developing their talents. It was more comforting to believe that a white powder was the cause of black anger, and that getting rid of the white powder would render black Americans docile and on their knees once again.”

I was three when I took my tiny fists and banged them upon the officers knee, but little did I know that when my mom was not much older than me she began her own fight. Every day of her life, she took her bloody, battered, war torn hands and beat them against the powers that be. She fought as hard as she could, with all of her might, she survived so that I might one day see her for the hero she is. She had a habit, she knew it was no good, but it was the one thing that made her feel free.

*The name of the family was changed.

**Victor surname and age vary based on the source.