The Burden of Black Mothers
I hate the conversations the world forces me to have with my son. It chips at his innocence, forces him to grow up too fast, and causes him to be fearful. It makes me so angry, but I just want my son to live. I can’t explain it but it is a horrible feeling. I worry so much about him. Naturally, I have many fears that come along with motherhood. I also have an entirely separate set of fears that only the mothers of Black boys are burdened with
Not long ago my son explained that he feels my husband and I limit his freedom “because of the color of his skin”. My husband corrected him by saying we are concerned with his safety. My son responded by saying we are only concerned about safety because of the color of his skin, so he is limited because he is Black.
He would like to walk to the park to play basketball and to the store sometimes with friends. While I don’t want him to feel trapped or punished which I think is how he currently feels, I am genuinely worried and terrified that something could happen. I really don’t want to be overprotective. I have raised my son to advocate for himself, even with me. I am proud of him for expressing himself respectfully and candidly.
But he is just a year older than Tamir Rice was when he was shot in a park. I’m sure his Tamir’s thought he would be right back. I’m sure Trayvon Martin’s dad thought he would come right back from the store with his snacks. Neither of them ever came home.
Black people have been murdered because they are Black, targeted because they are Black. Even our children risk their lives every day, just by being Black. Why are we comfortable calling the targeted attacks on police injustice, but the targeted attacks on Black people are just a consequence of being Black? We should not just accept this.
The world forces me to tell my son that to me he is everything, but to some people he is nothing. What does that do to his sense self-worth? How can he be everything in one instance, and nothing in another instance?
I realize that the older he gets the less I can protect him from the world. I just want everyone to see the boy I see when they look into his eyes. It worries me that people will judge him on sight before he has a chance. My greatest fear is that no matter what I do the world will see James for someone other than who he is. I’m afraid people will see his skin and not hear his voice at a crucial moment and it will be too late. I don’t want to clip his wings out of fear, but I don’t want the world to clip them either. This is the burden of Black mothers.
I want more than survival for my child, I want him to thrive. I want him to live a carefree life, as children should. I want the world to see the potential in him, the way I do. Safety means that my son, my beautiful and intelligent Black boy can walk to the park and the biggest concern would be a scrape on the knee, not a bullet to his chest. Safety would mean I could let him walk down the street to the store with his friends and only worry about him wasting money on junk, not predators lurking, hunting Black children. Safety means that Black children get to be children and experience the wonders of the world as other children do. Safety means I don’t have to have that re-occurring talk with my son, the one that steals the light in his eyes.
It is not enough to hope and pray for change. I must be an active participant in the movements that bring about change. That is why this year I am participating in Night Out for Safety and Liberation where we will talk about re-envisioning public safety in our community together. Please join me at the Organization for Black Struggle’s Night Out for Safety and Liberation Block Party on August 1st 6:00 to 10:00pm located at 1401 Rowan Ave, St. Louis, MO.
Jessica Estes — Organization for Black Struggle