Mothering Black Boys in the Face of Hate

I’ve been thinking lately about babies- maybe a new addition, a sibling for my daughter Nailah. Part of me is ashamed to admit that I am hoping for another girl.  They make such pretty, frilly things for baby girls.  And although I know Black girls face a myriad of hard times- see sexism, racism and their descendants- harassment, rape, repression, negative body image, and a history that might make her “the mule of the world”, I intimately know of those things.  Somehow, I’ve managed to flourish through many of them, and I’d hope I could teach her how to navigate them as well.   They are challenges that will surely bruise her, but I am optimistic she can survive them.  As brave as I am, and as difficult as it is to admit, I am afraid to have a son because I am too uncertain that he, and by proxy I, will survive in this nation.

My maternal grandmother had eight sons in a rural, southern Louisiana town during Jim Crow.  Eight.  My mother always speaks of how she counted them- how she couldn’t close her eyes until all of her babies, especially her boys, were home safe. We know the south, post slavery, was a dangerous place for Black boys.  A wrong look, a trivial dispute, or simply being could lend them to unimaginable terror- a brutal beating, a burning, a lynching.  It was an impossible time for the hearts of mothers.  I wonder, as I continue to read about the Trayvon Martin case, if anything, anything at all, has changed.

I’ve attempted five times to watch this interview with Sybrina Fulton, Trayvon’s mother.  I keep turning away. The pain in her eyes, in her voice, pierces my already battered heart.  That pain is only exceeded by Trayvon’s screams in the background of the 911 recordings, where he pleading for help after being stalked, attacked, and killed by George Zimmerman. Sybrina Fulton sits heroically, with valor and determination, a new activist- proving to the world that her son was a life, a child gone too soon, senselessly.  I’m certain though, that she would forgo her newfound activism, her displays of courage, her fight to demonstrate that her son deserved to be treated like a person whose life is valuable, if she could have her Trayvon back.

I’m sure Sybrina Fulton, along with Tracy Martin- Trayvon’s father, consider what they could have armed their son with to ensure his survival- much like I do as I contemplate the possibility of raising a Black boy in America.  Teachers have described Trayvon as a good student with a cheerful disposition- a good boy.  We can teach boys like Trayvon to be polite and kind, to say yes ma’am and no sir, to pull their pants up and stand up straight.  We can teach them even, for survival’s sake, to be calm and unthreatening when being approached by principals, police persons and others in positions of authority.  But we cannot teach them to not be hunted down and murdered by strangers in the streets, even while being the unthreatening son’s we’ve toiled to raise “right”, because they are Black. 

Becoming a mother, or even thoughts of becoming a mother, should not be sullied with contemplation over how one will have to continuously prove to the world that Black boys, and men, are human beings- complete with rights to survive and thrive.  At this point in this nation’s life, as we debate the concept of "post racialism", Black mothers should not have to continuously obsess over counting their children to ensure that they are not hurt, maimed, or killed.  My grandmother, and mothers like her, have worked much, and prayed much for our reprieve. The question is, when will it come? 

Josie Pickens is a writer, activist and social commentator who blogs at www.jonubian.com. Follow her musings on twitter at @jonubian