I listen in the night for the return of my son, who is out with his friends for the evening.
I don’t worry about his non-Black friends—they’re congenial, working hard at their first jobs post-college, just as he is. I worry about those who don’t know my son, never had a chat with him. I worry that his insistence on his right not to be hassled, arrested or beaten by police without cause, will be seen in and of itself as an act of aggression. I fear any interaction he might have with police officers who lean more toward the warrior code, than their public service mandate.
As the daughter of a Black man, the widow of a Black man and the mother of a Black man, I have lived in a state of anxiety about the safety of the men in my life, for my entire life.
I’ve had to teach my son that whenever he goes into a store, even if it’s raining outside, he must slide his hoodie off his head and leave it off until he leaves the premises. He has to take his hands out of his pockets while waiting for the cashier to ring him up. He must put his purchases in a bag—not walk out of the store with them in his hands—and always, always, get a receipt and don’t discard it until he gets home.
I tell him that people are so blinded by suspicion of all Black males over the age of five, they can’t tell the robbers from the fraternity guys, the shoplifter from the man who doesn’t want a bag, because he plans to immediately drink the bottled water and eat the chips he’s just purchased, but someone might challenge him, calling him a thief.
I remind him that he has to think, not only for himself, but for people who will assume he’s a criminal or just up to no good, because that’s what they’ve been told. You’ll be considered dangerous until you’re well into your seventies.
About the police, I say: “Make sure your phone is on and fully charged before you leave the house. If you see the flashing lights of a police vehicle behind you, activate your phone, pull over and place your hands on the steering wheel. If you’re a passenger in the car, at all times, keep your empty hands where the police can see them. Again, make sure your phone is recording.”
He says, “Mom, you worry too much.”
I think, I hope I haven’t left anything out.
There is such a thing as beautiful loving sons like mine, just as there are such things as Tasers, lethal weapons, centuries-old assumptions and racism. Racism handed down casually, and yes, sometimes intentionally, by millions of other moms and dads. I know that after he’s received a graduate degree, married and had children of his own—even then I will worry, because his Blackness will not have faded.
When the downstairs door finally opens and the hushed steps to his room recede down the hallway, I take my first deep breath of the night. Relieved, that at least on this night, my son’s name will not be preceded by a hashtag.
Uneasy lie the heads of all Black mothers.
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