For the second Mother’s Day in a row, I helped stage a rally in Congo Square. Last year, 2014, I rallied with SISTAWorks to amplify #bringbackourgirls for the 200+ Nigerian girls who were kidnapped from their school. This year, 2015, I rallied with Mothers With A Vision to amplify #blacklivesmatter to stand in solidarity with all the mothers of Black children who have to live in fear for their child’s safety.
It would be hard to explain how just six years ago, these events might have gone unnoticed by me. Imagine if I had adopted a white child and thought to myself, how horrible that these killings have happened, but yet, I would have been able to sleep at night feeling some degree of separation from these events.
I would have felt that way because when I grew up there were no teachers, parents, adults, leaders, or mentors that I had pointing out to me all events are connected in this life, just like all of us are connected. Perhaps, I would have raised my white child under the same ignorance I was raised in, to think that these events were happening to other people and that they would not happen to us. We are safe because we are white.
That is the casualty of racism for white people. A lot of people like to call this white privilege but I now think of being white not so much as a privilege but as an affliction. The very definition of affliction is something that causes pain or suffering. As my Facebook feed began to enter the Great Divide, the one that separates Black opinion from white opinion, I began to see this affliction swelling.
On the Black side of the Great Divide, mothers were shouting BLACKLIVESMATTER, while the white side of the Great Divide countered with ALLLIVESMATTER. Back and forth they went – whites saying, well if they weren’t stealing, doing illegal things, if they just followed the law, if they had been parented right – Blacks saying, can’t you see you are killing us, can’t you see you are killing our babies, can’t you see that no one deserves to die for a bag of Skittles?
This is where the affliction comes in – because whites cannot see Black suffering. And if white people cannot offer sympathy to Black people, they continue to be the cause of pain and suffering. What does it take to say BLACK LIVES MATTER? What does it take away from a white parent to acknowledge that the lives being abused by police brutality in this country are BLACK?
There is the matter of young Black girls being kidnapped. There is the matter of young Black men (and women) being victimized by police officers. However, I want to address the pain and suffering that I’ve come to see as insidious. The suffering comes from not being able to think that these girls or those boys could be OUR girls or boys. Saying ALL LIVES MATTER is not the same. When Trayvon Martin was murdered, President Obama said, “he could have been my son.” There was outrage that our Black president said this in public. Really – our President is Black, Trayvon was Black. What he said was true – it could have been HIS son. And it could have been MY son.
As Sean Bell, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray and too many to list young men become hashtags, there is a growing sense of outrage, frustration, fear, and insanity that mothers of Black children feel. That these boys could have been OUR son. We do not wish that white children’s parents feel this crazy, we want, need, desire, hope and pray that parents of white children join us in our rally to end this madness. To see these youths as all of our children, but to also distinguish that they are Black.
A few years ago, an African American mother/blogger posted that there was a danger lurking in this white/black disconnect. She warned that white parents were in danger of not caring enough which might engender Black parents to quit caring. That Black parents, after not receiving any sympathy about losing our Black children to police violence might grow numb to the outrage that befalls white parents. That it might make it so all our goodwill was used up and that we might be silent and post FB photographs of butterflies and selfies on the same day when a white shooter enters an elementary and high school and causes damage. We might be so removed from your pain because you have been so removed from ours.
I have watched my friends become parents over the past decades. How once these friends have a child they “see” other children. They see that schools need help, that playgrounds need repair, that drivers should not drive drunk, that we need to know when pedophiles move into the neighborhood. This is the journey of these Mother’s Day rallies – to get everyone to SEE our Black children because if you see them, you cannot turn away from them. And you will truly know what it means when we say BLACK LIVES MATTER.
First three photographs by Peter G. Forest, fourth photograph by Andre C. Perry.