Just Breathe...Nov 14, 2020
I have tried many times to write this post. For weeks, I have wrestled with what to write to make sense of everything that has happened over the last three months (that go back 400 years).
I am terrified. There’s just no other way to say it. The confluence of so many traumas, each on its own difficult to get through, has been too much all at once. Death did not take its time getting here. It crashed full speed into our lives.
The pandemic hit first. We stayed home and watched the death toll climb and climb to unbelievable numbers, and now we continue to re-open as if the deaths of 120, 000+ people in this country mean nothing. Grocery stores and restaurants and gyms and barber shops and nail salons in my community are teeming with unmasked people.
Because I fear bringing a deadly virus home to my immunocompromised son, simple grocery store runs are now fraught with so much emotionality and time-consuming disinfection protocols that they too are exhausting. The unmasked—who have access to the same death toll counter as I do—communicate a clear message that we do not matter.
While emotionally exhausted, we are among the privileged. My son is well, we don’t have immediate family or friends who have contracted the virus, our monthly paychecks have continued, and we have medical benefits in case we get sick.
By slowing down our lives, the pandemic left us no choice but to bear witness to even more death descending into our living spaces through our televisions and social media feeds. Bear witness to the public murders of Black men. Bear witness to the unseen murders of Black women. Bear witness to Black mothers crying new tears for their recently murdered children. Bear witness to other Black mothers crying old tears for lingering injustice because their children’s murderers are still walking free. Free to murder again. As painful as our bearing witness has been, let me be very clear in acknowledging that my child is still alive and I am not mothering her child’s legacy instead of his future.
What do you write in this context? I sit reluctantly at my computer trying to find the right words to make sense of this moment not only for myself, but mostly for my 12-year-old son. I have rehearsed late at night what I’m going to say to him tomorrow, how I’m going to circle back to explain something I didn’t get quite right the first time, to answer his many questions about all that is taking place.
I have discussed with him the superficial mainstreaming of “Black Lives Matter” in the public sphere alongside the hundreds of years of Black lives not mattering in this country, and I have reminded him that young Black queer women built his generation’s Movement for Black Lives. I have had to answer the most painful question he has ever asked his father and me, whether he mattered in this country—all of this has been some of the most exhausting, high-stakes mothering I have ever done. He seems so much older to me this summer in comparison to last year, when our most difficult discussions centered around the implications of his decision to grow out his hair.
Now he and I trace the origins of police violence and anti-Blackness, not because I want to, but because I have to. This mothering moment epitomizes the impossible line between protecting my son’s innocence and saving his life. The impossible line between making sure he isn’t walking around naïvely about how Black boys are often perceived in this country while at the same time insisting that he define himself on his own terms.
The impossible line between how much to reveal so that he isn’t walking around in his body terrified to live while at the same time preparing him for a possible encounter with the police. No mother should have to walk such impossible lines. Parenting across these intersections for Black mothers means we have to make hard choices between nurturing our children’s innocence and resisting our own adultification of them because raising our children is a matter of life and death. Literally.
I wish I could end this post on a hopeful note, but that would be disingenuous. White supremacy will rage on, I’m sure of that. I take each day as it comes, trying to be present for my family and resisting my tendency to time travel to my son’s future. I continue to connect—virtually—with a very small circle of friends who remind me that I am not alone and who allow me to show up exactly as I am, no matter how good, bad, or ugly the day has been. I write in my gratitude journal every day thanking the universe for the small wins, remembering that the small wins become the support structure for wins yet to come. And finally, I remind myself to just breathe, and when I do, I call on the ancestors to protect all who are fighting for justice on behalf of those who no longer can.
Nichole Guillory, PhD, is Professor of Curriculum and Instruction at Kennesaw State University. She publishes on the experiences of women of color in the academy, including the Mothering in Color series for WellAcademic. She is mom to Nicholas, the love of her life.
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