“But What if I Need to Protect Myself?”

I wiped my face, took many cleansing deep breaths, oriented myself to my physical space and began my text.  It went like this:

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Our son, my biological nineteen-year-old, is not what we call in the psychology world “neurotypical”.  Amongst other interesting behaviors, focus is something he has been putting in many amounts of effort to maintain.  So, through a lot of work on his part, he identified that if he has important information in text and has the verbal in person discussion of same information, things stick better.  He references his phone for notes and reminders.

I read and re-read the text to ensure it covered everything.  I sent a copy to my white allied husband for review.  What would my black son remember when confronted in person by an inappropriate police officer?  What should I drive home even harder when I reinforce the text in verbal discussion?

My son and I both agreed to review the text and discuss prior to him leaving for work that afternoon.  Looking at his beautiful face, I felt nothing but helplessness and sorrow. 

“Son, please remember if you are pulled over, no sudden movements.  Keep your hands on the steering wheel.”

“I know Mom.”

“And, if the officer asks for license or registration, please – “

“I know. I keep my hands visible and ask if I may reach for what they are asking for.”

“Right. And when you do get permission to move to reach for those items, do so very slowly.  Again, no sudden movements.”

“Got it.”

“And do not wear a hoodie over your head in public.  Don’t walk around with your hands in your pockets.”

He nodded solemnly.  “Are we reviewing this again because of Mr. Floyd?”

“Amongst other things, yes.”

He thought for a moment.  I could tell he was trying to be as present as possible to capture everything I was saying.  This was not a ‘time to get off of the fucking video games because it is 4:00 AM’ conversation.  This IS a life and death conversation. His next valid and understandable inquiry left me speechless:

But…Momma…what if I need to protect myself?  You taught me the only reason to lay hands on anyone is to protect myself from being harmed.”

– Elijah, My Nineteen-Year-Old Black Son

Fuck.

He stared at me waiting for my next sentence.  I stared up at my only biological child, my beautifully skinned, courageously unique, creative, and curious young human. All I could hear is Mr. Floyd crying out for his momma. 

“Son,” I said as the tears slowly began to flow again. “Your mission is to make it home alive.  At all costs. Stand down, no matter how awful you are being treated, make it back to us alive, and we will fight like hell to sue or whatever.”

“I need to make it home alive,” He reflected.

“Yes. Alive.”

I am a black mother trying to reconcile how to move forward in this world “per usual”.  I am guiding my black son, encouraging my white children to not be discouraged, remind all of my children that we cannot live in fear.  Fear cannot be the driver here; for we must bravely face the difficult discussions to render any amount of positive change. 

On the very opposite of the same stinking coin, I AM scared.  I AM fearful that my son will die for no other reason than because he’s black.  I AM fearful that my white children may be harmed or killed in the process of trying to defend their brother.

I am fearful that this shit may never change.  That generation after generation black folks are telling their children the same message I received from my grandparents and parents –

You are black.  You are already a step below the rest of the world.  You will never be seen as equal to your white counterparts.  You must fight to show you are smart enough, important enough, and worthy enough to be here.

Welcome to one of the reasons I am a recovering perfectionist.

I thought that if I did all of these things –

Be smart: I’m working on my third college degree (PhD) now.

I’m respectful.

I’ve honorably served my country with pride in uniform.

I was taught to move in this world as to not be categorized as troublesome, angry, illogical, oversexualized, or aggressive.

Yet, in 2020, I am teaching my son how to stay alive while black.  I still get looked at sideways when I am met in person after spoken to on the phone.  I still have to remind those I thought were allies why certain wording is offensive.  How certain verbiage re-opens generationally traumatic wounds.  How certain silence feels so isolating, and even worse complicit. 

I am encouraged by the bravery of the peaceful protestors.  I am encouraged by the grass roots movements happening everywhere – the peaceful and respectful ones – with different races together fighting for a basic human right: to be treated equally, because black folks are human beings TOO. 

I am also encouraged by the conversation I am having with my allies.  My white brothers and sisters who have no idea what to say, just ask me how I am feeling about seeing someone that looks like me being treated so unfairly.  Even stating how fucked up this situation is – even without a plan to fix means so much. Because frankly, I honestly don’t know what exactly to do either.  I’m trying to figure out each day how I can be more than a social media responder in the times of COVID-19 and social distancing. I’m trying to figure out how safe it is to be outside protesting, because my mission too is to make it home ALIVE. I’m researching, and I know I’m not the only one.

This can’t be our nation’s forever.  I refuse to believe that.

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