On Monday night my husband and I couldn’t stop scrolling through social media and following the tragic story of Mike Brown. Mike Brown was an 18 year old boy from Missouri who was shot multiple times and killed by a police officer. He was unarmed and the only thing he was doing wrong at the time was walking in the street instead of on the sidewalk. And oh yeah, also, he was black. But maybe you guessed that already. This story did not get much (any?) press until the protests began to escalate into rioting.
I don’t write about race. I don’t know of many white people who write about race. It’s a big, emotionally charged topic with a lot of history behind it, and I don’t feel qualified to write anything smart about race. But I think about race. Often. And I’m writing about it now because it sickens me to imagine how many more boys have to die before people start to speak out about racism. Not just black people, everyone. Maybe I’m not qualified to write about race, but I’m doing it. Because I care.
We live at the outskirts of North Omaha (“North O,” it’s called, and that it has that nickname tells you something all by itself), in a working class neighborhood. This summer my two sons, who are white, have played outside almost every day with a boy down the street, who is black. Often with his cousin as well, who is also black. My boys are 2 and 4, the neighbor kids “D” and “T” are 2 and 3. They’re kids, so they have their scuffles over toys sometimes, but mostly they get along great. Miles sometimes lurks outside his house hoping D will come out to play. We’ve met D’s mom and grandma (who often babysits while mom works). We’ve invited their boys over to play in the kiddie pool on a hot day, they’ve invited our boys over to play in the bouncy house at T’s birthday party.
I know a lot of parents like to talk about having a kumbaya feeling when they see their children in a mixed race group, playing happily without a care for what anyone’s skin color happens to be. But when I watch them play, I don’t feel an indulgent sense of colorblindness; I feel like there is a train barreling down on us. It might be far away, I hope it’s far away, but it’s there. Our kids come from different worlds even though we live on the same street in the same city. And their paths WILL diverge. I know this. Even if we all live here forever and they go to the same neighborhood schools and, hell, even if they stay friends for years. There is going to come a time when these four boys walk off our street and they are going to be two white boys and two black boys. And that means everything.
I worry about my kids. I have a million and one worries about them. But not one of them is about them walking down the street in a hoodie and getting shot by a vigilante. Not one of them is about them getting arrested because they simply walked in and then out of a store without buying anything. Not one of them is about them saying one wrong word to a police officer, saying one smartass remark because that’s what teenaged boys do sometimes, and dying. DYING. I don’t worry that they could be murdered one ordinary day and the whole world would just keep turning like no one even cared. I don’t worry about that. I don’t have to. Because my two kids are white.
When I read the stories about Trayvon Martin or Michael Brown, I just keep coming back to their mothers. How they could do it, giving birth to those little baby boys and loving them every day and KNOWING what they’re up against. And then the worst happens, and a community pours out its grief and rage and anguish, and we have the nerve to condemn them for rioting. That’s lazy thinking, friends – a convenient thing to focus on to avoid dealing with the horror of the real story, which is that a boy was murdered. I don’t know how these mothers keep going when things just keep rolling forward, the same as always, as if what happened never did. If someone killed my son for no reason – shot him several times to make sure he was dead – I would want to set the entire WORLD on fire, I promise you I would.
I don’t know what to do about systemic racism or police brutality, but I know what WON’T help, and that’s staying silent. I was glad to read this post by Danielle at Mamademics urging white moms to speak up about murdered black children. I’m a white mom and I don’t know much about race, but I think about it, and I care.