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by C.K.

As a White woman, when I married a Black man 20 years ago, I promptly inherited a piece of the history of Black wives in this country: concern for my husband’s safety at the hands of law enforcement. His 6’2”, 280 lb. frame seemed to factor by inches and ounces his vulnerability to being perceived as a threat and therefore victimized. When, 2 years later, I gave birth to a Black son, I was quickly reminded of the tragic mythology of even that totem of racism. From Emmet Till and George Stinney, Jr. to Tamir Rice and Tyre King, slight boys, half my husband’s size and half his age when I married him, are subject to the same stereotype or just pretense of threat and the same consequence of extra-judicial execution.

So, as a white mother of a Black son, I also inherited a piece of the history of Black mothers in this country: a concern for the safety of my child in the presence of those pledged to protect. Maternal concern transcends spousal concern. It holds no self-interest. It mingles the tenderness of love and bonding with a proprietary protectiveness and a fearsome and ready reservoir of instinctual aggression.

Although I live a life fairly rich with diversity, I was largely alone in that formidable amalgam of maternal anxiety. White mothers could not appreciate my experience; Black mothers held a complex relationship to it. The demographics of my circles would need to narrow considerably if I were to seek out a pure commonality. Or so I thought when, in the wake of an increasingly frequent series of graphically portrayed murders of Black men and boys by police officers, including Alton Sterling and Philando Castille, at the moment when my grief and anger were peaking, something crossed my Facebook feed inviting me into a group called Mothers of Black Boys United. I clicked join and follow and almost instantly, I was in a community of over 160,000 women who understood. The frequent assertions that the group was for all mothers and primary caregivers of Black boys seemed like an undue generosity on the part of my hosts, but even that betrayed a bias on my part. In this particular Venn diagram of society, maternal identity eclipsed racial identity.

Fortunately, I was a part of this supportive community as the carnage continued with Terrence Crutcher and Alfred Olango, and we found ourselves suffering together a kind of collective PTSD. It is not for nothing that one of the pillars of this group is Promoting Self-care, that one of its committees is dedicated to Health and Wellness. But was it further fortuitous that I was a member of this group when last week’s presidential election voted in a candidate endorsed by the Ku Klux Klan? No, there was a continuous line that connected the array of dots between police brutality and the imminent Law and Order administration.

I have heard it said that when a white person has a child of color, they become a family of color. For me, it was as if an invisibility cloak of privilege had partially fallen from me, but then only when I was in the presence of my husband or children. I live a double life, marked by not fully sharing my children’s mantle of race but having an inside line on it. In this position, I began with a certain conceit that I had the opportunity to build bridges, that my privilege could be used to educate those who shared my complexion. But increasingly, in recent years, I have simply wanted to shake my fist and walk away from even some of those quite close to me. Now, post election, I cannot in good conscience shake my fist and walk away from the 60,071,650 people in this country who voted for the candidate of hate. That number, almost precisely half the voters in this election, lays stark the brutal divisions to which this populace bound together by geography is subject. It intrudes en masse upon the idealized complacency in which so many of the other 60,467,245 would like to take refuge. And we are a country that in many ways enacts the roiling of race relations for the world stage, broadcasting ideological tropes. Now we have to acknowledge and appreciate the rippling that is occurring for our children in all directions of our global community.

As mothers of Black boys, we muddle together in contradictions, admonishing our sons to be fearful enough to afford themselves a margin of safety, while simultaneously trying to instill them with pride, courage, and integrity. We seek to model and teach the morality of compassion and forgiveness, the value of intellectual inquiry and debate, while ever ready to strike out at anyone who would harm our babies, either physically or psychologically. We are more than ready – it need not even be said – to give our lives for them. This is not melodrama; this is not grandstanding; this is not the imaginary of fantasy any more than are the deaths of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and Freddie Gray. This is as real as the mourning of mothers; as real as the mourning after the election of hatred to power. Racism need no longer hide within institutions. It is written clearly now in the halls of middle schools newly emblazoned with swastikas.

Recently, I had an opportunity to help a young, black man who was in distress, while the white people in my liberal enclave stood around regarding him with suspicion. Having made eye contact with him, I noticed a trace of panic. Ushering him inside from a storm, literally, I learned he was having difficulty breathing. After I was able to provide him with the requisite inhaler, he looked at me with gratitude and he offered me a fist bump; he offered to give me ‘dap,’ but the gesture didn’t register for me so I didn’t return it. I think I smiled and said, “You’re welcome, no problem!” Afterwards, I felt so sad. I knew he was offering me a guest pass into a community that needs its signals to acknowledge friends among enemies, allies among indifference and ignorance.

It has been said that it takes a village to raise a child, but that admirable chestnut in our current world belies a trace of respectability politics. The village has a more important task at hand than rearing good citizens in this post-election world. It takes a village to keep a black child safe, and MobbUnited is now one of the players in that village of mothers and others, of partners and allies. We are ready to influence policy. We are ready to change perception. We are ready to demonstrate our power.

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