Over the past three weeks, outrage over the murder of Trayvon Martin has swept the nation. The Department of Justice is now involved, President Obama has addressed the issue and millions have mobilized. Though the facts have slowly come to the surface, one thing is undisputable: the life of a young boy was tragically and unnecessarily cut short. When I reflect on the situation that thought is what chills me the most. All the protests and petitions in the world will never change that.
As a human, as a mother and as a Black woman my heart hurts deeply for the family of Trayvon Martin. The case has made me revisit the fears and thoughts that I carried when pregnant with my own child. Some of these thoughts are quite ugly and might even be shocking to my readers. But those thoughts were borne out of America’s dark and troubled history with race, and unfortunately such thoughts are part and parcel of my life as Black woman in America.
It was Spring 2004. After nine months of morning sickness, heartburn, running to the bathroom every twenty minutes and various other discomforts, the time was at hand. I was in labor. I didn’t know the gender of the child that I was carrying. For the duration of my hour-long ultrasound the umbilical cord never budged from between my child’s legs, so the sex was a mystery. My labor proceeded very slowly and my midwife finally decided that Pitcocin should be administered to speed the process up. Three hours later my child came into this world. I felt such a rush of emotion when my child left my body. I was happy and exhilarated, glad that I could finally meet this little person that had been growing and moving inside of me for what felt like forever. And when my midwife cheerily yelled out, “It’s a girl!”, I felt yet another emotion: relief. I was glad that I’d had a girl, for while pregnant I worried about the challenge of raising a Black boy-especially by myself-in this country. For even though I’ve had to confront the ugly reality of race in my own life, I knew that existing as a Black man is something different and something that even I can’t fully understand and relate to.
To be a Black man is to always fit the profile of the suspect, regardless of the actual physical description. To be a Black man is to be viewed as guilty until proven innocent. To be a Black man is to live with the fear that your very presence will challenge and terrify others for no reason. To be a Black man is to sit through ‘the talk’ before you hit puberty, where your family and elders tell you that you do not have the liberties and privilege your white peers take for granted, that you must always remain docile and compliant when dealing with law enforcement, that you must go out of your way to not come across as “threatening” or angry to outsiders, lest you be viewed as a threat to be dealt with. To be a Black man is to be told that if you wear a hoodie and are subsequently murdered in cold blood that part of the blame will be on you for choosing to wear such a suspicious item of clothing. To be a Black man is to live with an anxiety and fear that millions in this nation will never be able to relate to, to live without the liberties that others take for granted and to always have to prove your worth.
It pained me to think that a son of mine would have to go through such pain. Fate gave me a daughter instead, so I don’t have those same worries now. My daughter-being Black, female and the first generation of her paternal side to be raised in the USA-will have her own cross to bear. That doesn’t phase me, because I’ve mostly traveled those same roads myself and can prepare her for it. In my heart I know that had providence given me a son I wouldn’t have loved him any less. But I would have worried and feared for his life and safety much more.