5 Moments in the Life of a Black Mother
by Hope Wabuke
1. At library storytime, the white librarian comes up to you and says that she has the best picture of your son making a craft, and, excited, you ask her to show you. So the white librarian flips through her iPad and then finally, triumphantly, shows you a picture of the only other black boy who has ever been to storytime who looks nothing like your son, who is two years older than your son. And you realize that, to this white educator, all black boys look alike — are to be equally, interchangeably, dismissed in the classroom — and you suddenly understand that the preschool to prison pipeline is very real and just how many black boys in prison are there because they have been falsely accused, misidentified as someone else.
2. You walk into the 7–11 to buy yourself and your son some water. You pay. As you leave the store, the clerk accuses you of trying to steal other things in your son’s stroller. You tell him to check the stroller. There is nothing in it. The clerk does not apologize. He says this is standard procedure. As you pause, digesting this, a white mom pushes her son, also in a baby stroller, out the door of the store. The clerk says nothing to her.
3. It is your next door neighbor’s birthday, and you and your son take her a present. She says thank you, and adds that you are not like the others. You think that she means that you are not like her other friends who have forgotten her birthday. But then she says that you don’t have fake hair and fake nails; you are not stupid and loud, yelling in booty shorts and big earrings like the other black people she knows. You are different and that is why she likes you. And you understand that to her there is only one kind of black and that is ghetto and you are supposed to be happy that she thinks you do not fit the stereotype.
You do not tell her why this is horrible — Jesus be the grace to hold your tongue — and you stand politely and leave with your son, resolving not to visit her again. You wonder how your son will navigate moments like this in the future — whether he will be silent, safe and friended but upset, or speak up and risk, at best losing friends, at worst his life if confrontation escalates. Because you know that the police will shoot the black boy over the white one when they are called any day of the week. You wonder which behavior it is your responsibility to teach him. But right now all he wants is to play with your next door neighbor’s son because they are the same age and both love dinosaurs. You wonder too, what is better — missing his friend now or the eventual weight of a lifetime of racial micro and macro-aggressions throughout their future together if they remain a part of each other’s lives.
4. Leaving the building with your son, the apartment manager says that “no one wants the ugly dark.” You think about the negative perceptions of blackness. You think about the disproportionate expulsions of black preschoolers over other races, the cops admitting to seeing black children as adults instead, as more violent than white children. You wonder what you can do to make the world see your son as human, worthy of love and respect. You think about the immeasurable power of words and images. You wonder how you will teach your son to love himself and his black brothers and sisters and not internalize self-hate and false stereotypes instead.
5. When you are pregnant, a black boy walking home is killed by a white man. When your son is six months old, the killer is set free. Another black boy, while sitting in his car minding his own business at a gas station, is killed by another white man. Then a young black woman, walking with her friend. Then a black girl, looking for help. Then a young black man in a store. Then another black boy walking home. Then another young black man walking up the stairs to his apartment. It is happening every day. The most recent one is 12. Your son is 23 months. You think about how that is a difference of just ten years. Your son is your life. You are not prepared to lose your life in ten years.
The boy who was twelve was shot by police while playing on the playground. The killers go free. The judicial officers explain the black boys deserve to be shot for being black. You wonder how you will explain this to your black son. You call your father and tell him your questions, ask him how he was able to hold the worry for you and your siblings. Your son is playing quietly on the floor with his toys, until, suddenly, he runs to you and jumps in your lap. “Mommy,” he tells you, “I’m scared.” You ask him why. “I’m scared they will hurt me like they hurt the other black boys,” he says. Your son is not yet two years old and he is worried now that he will be shot by white men with guns who do not like black boys. You tell him not to be scared, that mommy is here and everything is all right and he is safe. He believes you and falls asleep in your arms. But you sit, wide awake, wondering how you will keep him safe, how you will teach him how to keep himself safe. You hold him close and breathe in his soft baby scent, hug his soft baby skin, and pray.
Hope Wabuke is a mom and writer based in Southern California. Follow her on Twitter.