Truth: I would not have wanted to parent my father when he was a child. He was a complete mess. As a toddler, he climbed over the fence and started to walk towards the circus. As a teenager, he rolled the car out of the garage and took it on a joy ride. He replaced the altar candles in his father’s church with fireworks (although someone noticed and stopped it, thank the Lord). He was a mischievous mess. I am surprised that my grandmother is still alive after all that stress.
Those stories, while funny now, strike fear in my parent’s heart a little bit. My guiding principle when making decisions about the level of supervision needed to parent now is, what would Pops do? (and how can I prevent it?)
Last night, my son and a friend were playing in our front yard with his new Nerf guns and they got the brilliant idea to target moving cars. Apparently, some lady stopped and read them the riot act. (Note: All of this was happening while we were holding a church dinner not 10 feet from where the boys were hiding out). Naturally, we’ve lost the privilege of using the NERF guns for a while and we might have to be supervised a little more tightly when we’re interacting with other humans for a while, but, all in all, that level of mischievousness doesn’t really worry me.
As I was reflecting on the situation, I couldn’t help but think of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old in Cleveland who was shot and killed by police as he played with an Airsoft gun in a park. Tamir was only 2 years older than my son. I’m haunted by his story. I’m haunted by the fact that one impulsive, idiotic decision (which, let’s face it, is bound to happen sometimes) could end a child’s life so quickly and definitively.
You might be tired of me talking and writing about police brutality and racism in the US, but I’m a mother and the threat to my son is real. My brown-skinned son, who should be allowed to make impulsive, idiotic decisions as a child without losing his life, will have to play it safer than other kids. We keep him on a pretty short leash now, but as he gets more and more freedom, he needs to understand how he’s perceived. He’s cute right now, still a kid, and his Nerf gun is bright yellow. But add two years and a few inches, change it for a darker colored Nerf gun and last night could have had a different ending.
Tamir Rice’s death was tragic. So were the deaths of Sandra Bland, Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Ralkina Jones, and Jason Harrison. You see, all of those people, whether they “deserved” to be in police custody or not, were someone’s baby. Their mothers grieve, just like we all would, for the loss of their children.
If you’re rolling your eyes and thinking “Just get over it already“, I need you to understand that you’re talking to a nation of mothers who are raising children of color and who are afraid. Every time another video comes out, like the McKinney pool incident or the more recent video of a teen being taken down for jaywalking, we can’t help but picture our childrens’ faces on the bodies who are being mistreated by officers of the law. We can’t just get over it.
I do need to say this: I know that my white privilege affords me and my son some protection. I’ve already seen it at school. The trouble child becomes the “troubled” child when it becomes apparent that his parents are white. If my son was shot and killed for wielding an airsoft gun, I would probably be consoled; Tamir Rice’s grieving mother was tackled and put into handcuffs.
Someday soon, my son will look more like a man than a babe and my ability to protect him using my white privilege will shrink. For when that day comes, for today, for mothers who don’t have white privilege to protect their babies, I can’t just get over it.